Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Financial Turmoil and Business Continuity

‘Eurozone at tipping point’, ‘Greece may be forced to default’, ‘Is the euro doomed?’ The headlines alone make you want to pull the covers over your head.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, tells the BBC: “This is the most serious financial crisis at least since the 1930s, if not ever.”

He then went on to call for a calm reaction to the crisis; which led to a few wry smiles!

If the financial crisis does get appreciably worse or, heaven forbid, the euro were to fail, what does this mean for business continuity professionals? Because, call the eurozone meltdown what you like, it’s certainly a crisis: and crisis is what we do isn’t it?

Contingency planning makes us all gaze into a crystal ball from time to time in an attempt to predict what might happen so we can plan accordingly and provide contingencies. But inevitably: ‘All plans imply an attempt to impose the values of the past...on the future.’

So it doesn’t mean we always get it right. But if the world’s economy or ‘just’ the eurozone does take a serious dive then at some point organizations are going to look to us to help get them out of this mess.

So what can we, as business continuity professionals, do to help: and how can our specialist knowledge be leveraged to help those trying to overcome the financial crisis?

We have a responsibility to understand as much as we can about the financial situation, but clearly it’s not our job to solve it.

For that there are leaders and governments; though some might argue it is just such people and institutions that got us into the crisis and of course within companies, particularly banks, there are experts assigned to investments, governance, auditing and PR who are trying to mitigate risk.

We stray into those fields at our peril. But what about the aftermath of a crisis? Many predict that inflation will go through the roof and this could spark further looting or civil unrest on the streets.

There could also be lengthy utility failures, fuel shortages, disruption to public transport and pressure on supply chains.

Perhaps staff won’t be able to travel to work or prefer to stay at home to look after their families. The fallout from these kinds of problems has our name written all over them.

The job of the business continuity professional is to identify risks and impacts to critical processes.

For each critical process we have to identify ways of providing a structure that enables these processes to be performed during or in the wake of a crisis.

Once the resources needed to perform these actions are identified this can form the basis of a plan, which can then be tested to see whether core critical processes really can continue to operate in extreme circumstances; and it doesn’t get more extreme than the uncharted territory that we would enter should the European banking system or the euro fail.

Unravelling a financial crisis may be way outside our skill set, but our business as usual is business as unusual and crisis our stock in trade.

Perhaps it’s a good time to review business continuity plans in the light of the societal impacts that could occur.

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