Complacency over business continuity risks turning drama into crisis


Many British businesses continue have their heads in the sand when it comes to preparing for disruption, despite clear evidence that disaster planning has real business benefits, according to new research.

The survey published by the Chartered Management Institute and supported by the Cabinet Office and Continuity Forum has highlighted the significant impact of disasters at home and abroad, including a potential influenza pandemic.

But the study, 1,150 public and private sector managers, has also uncovered worrying signs of inactivity and complacency, with a worrying gap between perception and reality.

Although the majority of managers (77 per cent) believed business continuity was viewed as important by their senior management teams, fewer than half said their organisation had a business continuity plan in place.

Organisations were also failing to rehearse plans as often as they should – only 37 per cent of those with plans tested them at least once a year, compared with 52 per cent in 2005.

This was made more worrying by the fact that where rehearsals did take place, the majority (79 per cent) revealed shortcomings in their plans.

Inanimate objects still dominated business continuity management, with IT covered by 67 per cent of plans, despite organisations admitting to a fear of losing people and skills.

For example, almost all (92 per cent) believed they would suffer disruption caused by higher levels of absenteeism and illness in an influenza pandemic, yet the majority (83 per cent) did not have robust plans to cope with this absence.

Fewer than half perceived terrorist damage or environmental incidents as a major threat to business.

This was despite one third of organisations experiencing disruption after the London bombings in July last year, 14 per cent facing problems as a result of the Buncefield oil explosion and some 9 per cent feeling the impact of the Asian Tsunami.

Just one out of 10 with plans shared these with suppliers and shareholders, while just one in five communicated this information to customers – despite such communication being cited as key drivers for creating business continuity plans.

And just seven per cent required all suppliers to have a plan, with a third of organisations requiring only business-critical suppliers to have plans.

Jo Causon, CMI director, marketing and corporate affairs, said: "We are now in the seventh year of conducting this research and it is disappointing to see that organisations still fail to manage business continuity effectively.

"There appears to be a mismatch between perception of the need for business continuity and the reality of little action to prepare and plan.

"Unless appropriate and effective business continuity processes are thoroughly considered, organisations leave themselves wide open to a variety of threats and potential disruption," she added.

The research suggested that managers would particularly benefit from guidance on creating a plan, case studies illustrating others' experiences and guidance on the potential disruptions they faced.

John Sharp, policy and development director at the Continuity Forum, said: "This research highlights the need for organisations to benchmark and assess their business continuity management processes against nationally-recognised standards and frameworks so that any readjustments can be made and potential room for error is minimised."