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Business continuity strategy: Employees are the vital link!

Many organizations today are focused on formulating an optimum business continuity strategy. Large amounts of money are invested in commissioning recovery

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sites and building redundancy into networks and systems, as part of the overall business continuity planning process. However, organizations sometimes forget that employees are a vital link in managing continuity of the business. If you fail to identify the “people” asset as a fundamental part of your business continuity exercise, the entire strategy could fall flat when it comes to the crunch.

Here are some pointers to help you take care of the employee factor while devising a robust continuity program.

Notification system

A structured notification system is essential for efficiently relaying information to the employees. The objective of a message delivery system is to relay accurate information with the least amount of time and effort. Telecom is obviously central to any such system, but do build in redundancy to avoid any single point of failure. Employees can be notified in several ways as detailed below:

  • SMS: The preferred option nowadays is to use bulk SMS services for delivering text messages during an extreme situation. This is an easy and cost-effective solution. However, don’t forget that bulk SMS services are often banned by the government during emergencies, to prevent spread of rumors.
  • Phone call: Calling up employees on the phone is another speedy and reliable option. A computerized system with recorded messages could also be used to automatically dial the employees when a business continuity challenge is feared. However, the whole process is a time consuming one, and can also prove to be an expensive option if the workforce is geographically dispersed.
  • Email: If most employees have access to email wherever they may be, then sending information messages via email is desirable, as it is the most inexpensive and easiest option to implement. However one has to ensure that emails are accessed frequently, or that mobile devices are configured appropriately to receive email instantly.
  • Social networking: Incorporate social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter into your business continuity strategy. As almost everyone has accounts on these sites, publishing and relaying relevant information is a quick and effective way of communicating during extreme situations.

Regular testing of the notification system should form part of the business continuity plan, as also training of the employees regarding what they can expect from the notification system during an extreme situation. Ensure that every employee subscribes to the notification system as desired.

Cross-skilling requirement

Cross-skilling of employees pays dividends during extreme situations, and investment in this area is money well spent. A multi-skilled employee is not only the proverbial silver bullet during a business continuity incident, but also becomes an asset to the company at other times as well. Simultaneously, planning a backup force should also be given high priority. Build in sufficient redundancy, as unplanned absenteeism during any crisis can play havoc with operational tasks critical to business continuity.

Lodging and boarding

Basic needs of food and shelter for all employees working during an emergency situation need to be taken care of. Business continuity contingency plans must include arrangements for lodging and boarding. Adequate quantities of snacks and beverages must be made available at all times at recovery sites. Contracts with nearby hotels for accommodation need to be negotiated in advance, with clauses for giving your organization priority during emergencies.

It is inevitable that employees would need to work overtime to deliver on SLAs and complete pending work during a crisis. Hence your business continuity strategy should involve the HR department and operations teams, with appropriate budget provisions in the business continuity plan.

Employee motivation

During any extreme situation, employees would naturally be more concerned about themselves and their families, rather than the organization’s SLAs. The relationship between the organization and employee plays a major role here, in terms of motivating employees to perform their jobs optimally. While there are several important factors that determine this relationship, monetary rewards often serve as an excellent motivator in such situations. A mutually supportive relationship between management and the workforce will ensure that employees turn up in large numbers to deal with business continuity challenges and manage their SLAs, even as they are compensated for going that extra mile.

Education and training

Various employees who are made part of the crisis management team need to be trained in the role they will play when responding to an incident, both in terms of personnel safety and business continuity issues. Internal employees as well as contractors and vendors should be made fully aware of their roles and responsibilities during different types of crises, in order that the business continuity strategy is implemented effectively and successfully.

 

About the author: Sanil Nadkarni has over eight years’ experience in Information security risk management, IT security audits, network security assessment and BCP. He has also worked on PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, SAS 70, ISO 27001 and BS 25999 implementation and certification projects.

This was first published in August 2012

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