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Gaston Boisson
Director, Business Resilience Services
Washington, D.C.
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A Prepared New World - The Institutionalization of Continuity Planning in Public and Private Sectors

There has been a revolution in government and corporate views on planning and preparedness in recent years. For the first time ever, Business Continuity Planning is becoming institutionalized in both the public and private sectors of the United States.
Written Sep 29, 2009, read 1211 times since then.
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There has been a revolution in government and corporate views on planning and preparedness in recent years.  For the first time ever, Business Continuity Planning is becoming institutionalized in both the public and private sectors of the United States.  Government agencies and companies alike are now making the investment necessary to maintain ongoing Continuity Planning support and are viewing this as an essential component to public sector / business resilience.

The 911 Effect

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, multiple Presidential Directives have highlighted an increased emphasis on Homeland Security, and explicitly mandated that the United States Government improve preparedness across the entire Public Sector.  We have since also seen primetime television ads urging businesses to prepare, and the relatively newly formed Department of Homeland Security has incorporated both public and private sector preparedness into its operational mission.  That said, it took several years to see results, but starting with the formation of DHS in 2003, a new culture of preparedness began to take hold.

The Business Case for BCP

Today, even as we remain in the midst of a Global recession, fears of corporate meltdown as a result of failure to effectively manage disruptive events is also driving Corporate Executives to budget for planning and re-weigh the importance of advance planning.  Why now?  Well, today we have multiple examples of otherwise stable companies that lost millions as a result of not making the upfront investment in creating adequate operational, infrastructure, and technological redundancies. A poorly fleshed out response can quickly cost a large enterprise millions in productivity and value, a particular concern for publicly traded companies.  Conversely a strong continuity strategy can mitigate those losses and even lead to increased market share at the cost of ill-prepared competitors.

A 911 Case Revisited

One firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, lost 658 employees in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.  While the firm lost two-thirds of its workforce, and endured scars that will last a generation, their investments in disaster recovery and business continuity allowed them to survive this tragedy.  Within a week of the disaster, the company was able to bring its trading markets back online, and its CEO, who lost his own brother in the attacks, vowed to keep the company alive.  After a difficult 3 years of rebuilding, Cantor Fitzgerald again started realizing growth. Some might argue that the tragedy of 911 strengthened the company’s core, with management making the commitment to aid the relatives of those that passed for the foreseeable future and to keeping going at all cost. The company certainly proved to have the resilience to go forward valiantly and once again prosper within a few short years. 

That said, there is little doubt that without effective continuity plans the company would have had a very different fate.

Some Statistics

In a 2002 study, the research firm, Gartner, reported that 40 percent of small-and midsized companies that experience a sudden misfortune, will go out of business within five years. A more recent article by Yatish Mishra, published by the Disaster Recovery Journal estimated that 94% of businesses that suffer a large data loss go out of business within 2 years.

On top of potential for lost productivity and reduced revenue, companies without continuity plans face potential lawsuits from shareholders for failing to meet their fiduciary duty to avert foreseeable adverse impacts. 

In Conclusion

Government agencies and corporate executives alike are finally seeing that the cost benefit analysis weighs heaving in favor of continuity planning.   This is leading to increased spending on preparedness and raises the potential for increased collaboration, coordinated responses, and economies of scale in planning.   All told, in the coming years we will likely see that the majority of Government and medium to large companies develop sophisticated strategies that incorporate a range of data, voice, infrastructure, and functional redundancies, and which incorporate strategies such as telework, to ensure a scalable level of continuity, regardless of the size and scope of the disruptive event.

Learn more about the author, Gaston Boisson.

Comment on this article

  • Private investigator   
Seattle, Washington 
John Hays
    Posted by John Hays, Seattle, Washington | Oct 01, 2009

    Nothing personal, Mr. Boisson; however, you have pushed one of my buttons.

    All of this is well and good. Protecting business facilities and systems is important.

    However, government and business have done a miserable job of preparing and protecting the workers who inhabit their facilities and who operate their systems. But then, in our system, workers are considered to be the least valuable input into the profit making process and the most expendable.

    BCP, without serious and in-depth preparation in the areas of disaster survival, medical and light rescue training and the equipping of rank and file employees is nothing but expensive game playing.

    Most people involved in business continuity planning efforts have no training and experience in on-the-ground disaster response; so, they have no basis on which to appreciate the realities of being in the middle of a major event, minus the infrastructure that functions pretty well in dealing with the lessor events of our usual day-to-day experience and which is, by definition, inadequate to the realities of disaster events.

    As someone who was deeply involved in this whole matter for many years as a responder and as a trainer, I consider the bulk of what constitutes business continuity efforts in this country to be nothing but rhetoric, unsupported by realistic effort.

    I thank you for broaching this topic on this forum. I would like to see the conversation continue.

  • Director, Business Resilience Services 
Washington, D.C. 
Gaston Boisson
    Posted by Gaston Boisson, Washington, D.C. | Oct 01, 2009

    I agree wholly that business continuity planning must go hand in hand with emergency preparedness and disaster response. For too long consultants have been peddling one or more of these areas as distinct disciplines without a need for collaboration. My consulting firm actually formed a collaboration which we call the Resilience Implementation Partnership to offer our clients a complete solution. Our partner firms specialize in related areas including incident management, GIS, emergency response, facility engineering, disaster logistics, and disaster recovery. We focus on continuity strategy development.

    I too am at times disgusted at what some of the larger consulting firms are providing under the caption of Emergency Preparedness. And I intend to write another articles that talks directly to the issue of "What it Takes to Truly Be Prepared.

    That said, however, this article focuses on the fact that Preparedness finally has sponsorship at the executive levels. Post cold war, that seemed to disappear and since the Internet revolution and our dependence on electronic data, its never existed. I believe companies are going to continue spending on preparedness. What needs to happen next is that we need to educate the executives buying these services.

  • Private investigator   
Seattle, Washington 
John Hays
    Posted by John Hays, Seattle, Washington | Oct 01, 2009

    @ your last paragraph: I would argue that executive buy-in to an incomplete program of preparedness is grossly inadequate. You are absolutely correct in the need for education to address the shortfall in understanding. In spite of 9/11 and Katrina, there is still an attitude out there on executive row and among the general populace that the government will save us.

    My belief/bias is that personal safety is an individual responsibility that must be supplemented by government, generally, and by business in the workplace. It seems to me that our society has ceded that responsibility to government. One of the objectives of any educational effort should be getting people to understand and exercise their personal responsibility. With that as a base, disaster planning at the business and governmental levels will end up making more sense at a lower cost overall.

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