Rethinking Business Continuity Plans

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 9th  2020

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu

The COVID-19 pandemic remains a source of great uncertainty. This uncertainly has been greatly felt in the world of business.  Many businesses have been hit hard in different directions. For example, some hotels in Kenya have completely shut down. Other businesses have reduced their operations and many others have transitioned to remote working. Besides, a number have sailed through with much ease. Also, a few such as those offering online services have experienced an expansion of their operations as the pandemic has unfolded.

When the pandemic hit, some businesses immediately activated some sort of a business continuity plan. Others had to make quick decisions at the moment. Many other businesses had no idea what to do; they let the events unfold. Those that already had a plan on what to do in case of a crisis are in the minority.  Very few businesses if any had even thought about the possibility of a pandemic. I do not ever recall attending a pandemic preparedness conference or webinar or having covered pandemic planning in business school.  Why did we not think of that? A pandemic has definitely not been on our list of business continuity threats. Further, a pandemic is different; it presents too many unprecedented challenges, some come at a go and others as the crisis unfolds.

The concept of business continuity management (BCM) has been in existence for several decades. Initially, business continuity was considered as a response to interruptions such as those resulting from technical hitches or disasters such as fires or earthquakes.  Over the years, businesses started identifying other possible sources of threats and putting together response plans.  In the past three decades, business continuity has largely focused on how to keep data safe and accessible from different locations. Several businesses I have interacted with have continuity plans in case of cyber-attacks. This has led to rise in data centers offering management, security and recovery of information. Further, disaster recovery sites have been established to offer restoration of technology infrastructure and thus support continuity of business operations. However, I doubt if continuity planning in many businesses had even scratched the surface of the threat of a pandemic.

Pandemics are unique because they go beyond interfering with business operations to putting the health of the people at risk. They are about preventing the risk of infection amongst employees, customers, partners, suppliers and the community at large. Pandemics are also clouded in too much uncertainty. Many questions continue to linger in the minds of many. These questions include – will there be a second, third, or even a fourth wave? How soon are we likely to get a vaccine? How can we continue to conduct business if the pandemic goes on for much longer than anticipated?  It is easy to recover technology infrastructure but impossible to restore human life. Most of the measures  that the government has taken during this pandemic are beyond the control of businesses.

Businesses need to continue preparing continuity plans to guide prevention and recovery from potential threats. It is time to also rethink those plans and add pandemics as a potential threat and have in place a pandemic plan. Maybe it is only through pandemic plans that issues specific to pandemics can be addressed. In such a plan, business continuity would take into consideration the risk and fear of infections, workplace safety, travel restrictions, sicknesses, and absenteeism among other risks posed only by pandemics.  Are you rethinking your business continuity plan?

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy

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