I love McDonald’s french fries. Whenever I pull into the drive-through, I might contemplate getting a small green salad but the french fries win out every time. My order arrives steaming and extra salty – and half of it is eaten before I pull out of the parking lot.
I know that eating right, along with exercising and getting enough sleep, is critical to living a healthy life, but salads are so dull and flavourless – at least when compared with fries. It’s the same with business continuity planning. We all know it’s good for the long-term health of our businesses but there are so many other projects that need attention – and that would be far more satisfying to tackle.
Why do we find working on a business continuity plan so unappetising? First, it’s natural that we would rather not think about what could go wrong and thinking about worst-case scenarios is essential in BCP. And when you start singling out what parts of the business may fail, you have to admit to the weaknesses in the people, processes and technologies that you rely on every day. It can make you feel insecure – who needs it? The prospect of spending a week or two contemplating life-threatening events like earthquakes, firestorms and floods and all the havoc they could wreak on the business is a lot like acknowledging that you’ll have to lose 100 pounds before you can think about attending your high school reunion in six months. You could do something about it but avoidance feels so much better.
Second, it’s a hard sell convincing management that what goes into the BCP needs funding. So instead we deploy our companies’ scarce resources on projects that make the board of directors happy by increasing sales or reducing costs.
Avoidance may work in the short run but we have a fiduciary obligation to our shareholders to protect their investment, to our customers to safeguard our business and to our employees to provide a safe working environment. A good BCP does that. So how can we create interest and fund a good plan?
One underhanded approach might be to create a disaster. Of course, if it gets out of hand, the real disaster could be that you’re out of a job (much as you could be if a disaster you didn’t create and weren’t prepared for cropped up). A more responsible alternative is to demonstrate how BCP saves money. You can do this by calculating your revenue losses for the most likely natural disaster outage and documenting how your key customers and their businesses would be affected.
To make the dangers clear to management, ask the executives how much they were able to accomplish with the staff that was available during the recent holiday period. Do they want to be unprepared for an event that could leave you with such low staffing for weeks on end? You might also get buy-in from executives who have outside charitable interests, by expanding your business resumption plan to include assistance to the community.
Finally, you could bundle BCP costs associated with mandated activities, such as those required by Sarbanes-Oxley. Managers can think about how to avoid or recover from disasters while they review processes for compliance.
And remember, you’re not just protecting your company; you’re potentially protecting your job.
Virginia Robbins is a consultant helping banks complete data conversions. She has served as a CIO for 12 years. Contact her at vrobbins@ sbcglobal.net.