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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Does business continuity in the public sector work?

Written by  Russ Parramore April 25, 2014

bcilogoMany larger companies which have Business Continuity Management systems produce or deliver products. Failure to deliver as a result of any interruption will very likely impact upon the business financially and could ultimately put companies out of business. Is there any wonder therefore that the management of such businesses are often quite willing to spend money on protecting their interests.

Public Sector organisations tend to be on the larger size, often having a few hundred employees at the very least and in some cases going into the several thousands of staff. So why is it that the willingness of managers in the public sector to deliver BCMs is not always on the top of the priority list? I should say at this point that I am fortunate to work for a large public service organisation that is wholly behind BC and which has continued to invest in BC despite the financial restrictions which are currently impacting upon us.

In relation to public services there is often little chance of losing business as a result of an interruption and even less chance of being put out of business as a result of financial implications. There is often a cushion of ‘the public purse’ and an assumption that we can manage without BC. However there is every chance of reputational damage being done to the organisation or even to a whole group of organisations. Damage to our reputations is probably under greater scrutiny than at any time in our history.

BC is implemented in the private sector as a matter of necessity or indeed because it is seen by the companies as beneficial. It provides protection against unintended events and may even be a requirement of insurance companies to mitigate any foreseeable risks.

In the public sector BC is often implemented because it is a statutory requirement for plans to be in place. In particular the Civil Contingencies Act 1994 imposes a duty for many public sector organisations to have BC plans in place. The feeling of having something imposed upon you without having the buy in from senior management can only be detrimental to the introduction of BC planning within an organisation.

Many Public Sector organisations utilise ISO22301 to align their BC planning to, or certify their planning against. Is this standard really suitable for the Public Sector? I have heard comments from various sources that the standard doesn’t work for certain organisations.

Many public sector organisations rely upon specialist equipment, very often things which can only be supplied by one manufacturer and sometimes with extremely long lead times. For instance if an individual piece of medical equipment, or a specialised vehicle, is rendered unavailable, no business continuity plan would provide resilience, or would it?

I firmly believe that ISO22301 provides all organisations with the opportunity to create BCMs which are appropriate to their individual requirements. Alignment to most parts of the standard can be achieved and for those organisations wishing to certify against the standard then there are ample opportunities to achieve this.

Due to the very nature of public services, usually a ‘can do’ attitude and the ability to obtain mutual aid from each other, perhaps the very existence of Business Continuity Plans provides the opportunity for us to document this reliable form of restoring services. Borrowing both staff and equipment is not unusual throughout much of the public sector. There will always be occasions when a single point of failure cannot be wholly mitigated against, but this is a rarity and should not be used as an excuse not to establish a course of action, as a minimum, should a failure occur.

In the current climate, where most public sector organisations are trying to deliver services with less financial backing there seems to be an increase in appetite for BC plans to identify resilience, especially in relation to reputational issues. It is clear to the majority that massive reductions in staff numbers across the sector lead to a reduction of services and certainly do not allow for any depth of resilience should the worst occur.

It is imperative that public services spend their available finances wisely. A small amount of expenditure spent now to provide suitable resilience could save large chunks of their budget in the future.

The smallest of changes can make a difference. BC managers should grasp every opportunity to join groups of BC professionals, enabling them to share experiences and collaborate with each other. They should take advantage of training opportunities, which don’t always have to be expensive, participation in webinars and locally arranged events are a great source of information. They should also take advantage of organised promotions to put plans in place and embed them throughout their organisations.