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Contingency planning: 10 business continuity questions for your organisation

The countdown to the London 2012 Olympic Games is entering its final phase. While everyone is looking forward to the spectacle of world class sporting events, many business leaders are putting the final touches to plans to cope with potential travel disruption and other impacts on work while the games are in progress. This has been a high profile example of an external event disrupting business operations, and has made a lot of people think about alternative ways of working – but there are other circumstances beyond the “worst case” scenario of contingency planning that can disrupt your business with no warning. Access to buildings can be blocked for reasons as simple as fire, flood or a gas main leak. Communications can be impacted by events beyond anyone's control, such as disruption to provider networks from technical failure, cable theft or even ground work machinery accidentally severing cables. Let's imagine there's a burst gas main outside a main business location, and the fire brigade have closed off the area. Can you answer these questions?

  1. Do your people know who to contact to invoke the contingency plan, and how to contact them?
  2. Is there a communication plan in place to notify people who haven't arrived in the area that the contingency plan is invoked?
  3. Where should people report to? Is there accommodation at other facilities, or should they go home and await further instructions?
  4. When people arrive at the designated alternate location or return home, can they access the IT systems they need to do their work?
  5. Are there any dependencies on physical records or documents? Are you able to implement electronic alternatives?
  6. What about phones, fax, telex and mail? Do you have arrangements to divert these? What about hunt groups or call routing systems for helpdesks and other business functions?
  7. How long do your continuity plans require to take effect – how quickly can you respond to a scenario?
  8. How long can you continuity plans be sustained before alternatives (such as accommodation) need to be provided?
  9. Do you have a “return to normal” plan for a smooth transition back from the continuity plan to business as usual operations
  10. Have you tested your plan for real? This is a major disruption to business, but essential to verifying that things will go as expected. A carefully planned and controlled exercise is the only way to know for sure that your plan will work.

The headlines from London 2012 have raised awareness of continuity planning in the minds of many people who would never otherwise have considered it. This is an excellent opportunity to review and promote continuity planning in your organisation.

About Gavin Martin

Information systems architect / technical design authority with over 20 years experience delivering small-scale through enterprise systems to commercial, finance and government customers.

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