EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt of an interview with John B. Copenhaver, MBCI, discussing his passion for community resilience and his views on the current state of business continuity management.
One of the key developments affecting BCM in recent years has been the emergence of numerous national business continuity standards. What is your view on standards and do you believe an ISO standard is important?
I have changed my opinion on this. I used to be a strong supporter of a single global standard, but now I am not sure. While I believe an ISO standard would be helpful, my concern is that the focus on standards is a focus on symptoms rather than the underlying illness. We have been talking for years about how to get the attention of top management, what methodologies to use, what the right terminology is and so on. However, while these things matter, they are not necessarily the root cause of why we as a profession are not as effective as we might be.
I think that there are deeper problems to address, such as what does effective BCM look like, where is the discipline heading and where will it be in five years time? As a discipline, business continuity has been around for a long time and it is unsettling that we still have not found answers to many of these fundamental questions. If top executives do not understand what we do, then is that their fault or ours? If we have been preaching the benefits of BCM, ERM, DR etc for this long and still very few executives get it, then we’ve got to accept responsibility.
There is much talk about “operational resilience” being a more encompassing discipline than BCM. What are your views on this development?
Let me start by saying that I do not believe we have done a good job of understanding what key stakeholders really need. We have been trying to sell them what we have rather than asking them what they think they need. Whether what we sell is BCM, ERM or operational resilience, the problem is that we are not optimising our ‘value proposition’ to those who pay our salaries if we do not understand the world they face. We need to map our skill set to their world rather than trying to make that world fit ours.
Where do you see BCM fitting in an organization, in particular with regard to ERM, emergency planning and crisis management?
I’m not sure – which is an odd answer for someone who has been in the profession for so long. There might not even be a singular “best answer” to that question. We need to start with an understanding of what is already there in organizations. For example, we know that there is a strong security presence for both physical elements and IT. We also know that there is ERM which includes elements of risk management generally outside of the BCM remit, such as financial and political risk. We know that there are a number of related disciplines within medium-to-large sized organizations, but I don’t think we have ever all sat down together to establish how we can work together for the greater good not only of our company but the community at large.
We have a certain level of understanding of the roles played by other disciplines such as emergency response, crisis management, operational risk etc. There is clearly value in what we do but I simply do not think we have ever got together with those who occupy the spaces around us to discuss where we fit in the overall hierarchy. We seem to be constantly battling to establish our particular territories rather then working together.
I believe that a particular passion of yours is community resilience. What changes do you think are needed in the way governments, local councils, NGOs and voluntary organizations deal with this critical issue?
We must get away from this top down approach which is based on the assumption that national government knows best. This is a questionable basis upon which to start any initiative. Often we do not speak to the communities themselves about what is important to them; which is usually that they get power and water to their homes, their rubbish is cleared away, schools are open and they can get to the supermarket. Often these things are overlooked. We need to provide communities with an opportunity to tell us what is important to them rather than trying to dictate what is important.
We must also help communities pull together and provide them with means of communication and co-ordination so they can better use the resources they already have. We need to give them the information they need to make informed decisions about how to respond and to provide guidance on best practice.
Finally, what are your hopes for the future of BCM?
I would like BCM to become a discipline which is better understood and one which works more effectively as a discipline with the other players in the ‘sandbox’. I see it as being more focused on goals and results, and less on specific plans and steps. I see it evolving into something which is more usable and provides greater value than the labyrinthine discipline we have today.
John Copenhaver, MBCI, is chief executive officer of the Contingency Management Group and a senior advisor at BCI. Copenhaver is has served in a number of senior executive roles, including as a presidential appointee to FEMA and as president and CEO of the DRI International.