Five minutes with...

Business Consultant, Stuart Hotchkiss

Having worked for almost 20 years in security and business continuity, Stuart Hotchkiss was perfectly placed to write our book on business continuity management. As we are featuring this as our Book of the Month, we asked Stuart about some of his experiences...

When we first published your book, the crisis in Egypt was causing a lot concern for some big international companies. With a further crisis last year, do you think there are still lessons to be learned?
Definitely. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Wherever you have a single source of anything is a problem waiting to become a crisis. Single source development or manufacturing in general is a risk, so don’t be surprised - there is no excuse for being caught out.

The other major lesson is people - contacting them and telling them what to do when a crisis happens involves both outreach and training and all too often this is done on a wing and a prayer rather than being planned in advance.

Some multinationals have the ability to operate from multiple sites and can move people to other country sites if need be - or at least they think they can until issues like visa or passports delays arise. Without planning and advance preparation this cannot be done. So, plan for this by simulating a scenario to see what works and what doesn’t.

What are three main reasons for companies not being prepared?

  1.  It won’t happen to us - it is far too unlikely
  2. It happened last year so it won’t happen again
  3. No budget - although most executives will understand that the cost of not being in business is a lot higher than the budget required to keep the business running. 

Another major problem is that business continuity plans are generally too complex and not focused on customers so they take too long to implement, cost too much and have little impact on what matters. This has given business continuity a bad name. Crisis management planning is often not done because of an attitude that people take exceptional actions in exceptional circumstances - this is no excuse for not planning.

When plans are developed they need to be sold internally as a competitive advantage for the company rather than something a company is obliged to do for regulatory reasons for example. Think positive!

As a consumer have you ever been affected by a situation where a business continuity plan should have been in place, and clearly wasn’t?
We are all faced with this when we travel on trains or planes. We find that the continuity plan is to wait when what we would really have liked is good communications about the problem, some alternative arrangements and some help. Last year I had two flights on the same day, both five hours late. One company gave me all of the above and had the worst delay and the other did nothing. I was most satisfied by the longest delay because they dealt with it professionally and had a minimal plan that worked.

Often customer satisfaction, which is the core reason for a plan, is maintained by good early communications but this is very often overlooked. Customers need to plan too but they can’t if you don’t communicate.

There are any number of reasons business could be disrupted. As we approach the cold weather season, have you got any top tips for what businesses should anticipate?
Start out by planning for what is becoming known as all-hazards. There are a very limited number of impact scenarios that can be triggered by any number of different events. You should however, plan for impact and not event. For example, how do you handle the business impact of having only 50% of your staff? For a planner, this is the important issue, not planning for HOW the impact happened (weather, illness etc) - this is more in the remit of emergency services. A plan that tidies up after a storm or flood does not provide business continuity.

The base scenarios for which a plan needs to be developed are - loss of staff short and long term, loss of facilities short and long term and a loss of technical infrastructure. Using templates, you can ask business people what they want to do when these things happen (and they WILL, regardless of the mitigation in place). Only when you have their views, can you develop action plans.

Recently we’ve run a campaign asking for career advice. What advice would you give for someone pursuing a career in this area?
Finding out what people really need and dealing with senior management is critically important in this area so learning the soft skills required for this is vital.

Are there any events that you would have liked to be involved, where the benefits of your experience would have maybe helped avoid a disaster?
I would like to be involved in the current Ebola crisis. The impression we get is that this has suddenly happened and that there is a lot of panic. There seem to be decisions being made that are unplanned and whilst the mechanics of the crisis are simple enough there are many stakeholders and no central control apparent.

Something also went wrong on the communications about the risks of this disease and it will happen the same way for another disease in the future. I feel that there has been no risk analysis and that there is no plan. I am sure there is a plan of sorts but not all stakeholders seem to follow the same plan.

Whilst the issue is essentially medical, the failures are at a project level. Managing a multi-country, multi-cultural project with no direct authority over the stakeholders is major challenge and this is typically what happens in a crisis plan for a worldwide company. The first thing to establish is a line of command and control where the current organisation is replaced by the crisis organisation temporarily. This does not seem to have happened in the Ebola crisis - on paper perhaps but not in practice.

Business Continuity Management: In PracticeBusiness Continuity Management:

This practical guide provides a clear and simple template-based approach to BCM. Includes templates for a quick start in creating a BCM plan.

Available from the BCS bookshop and other bookstores and ebookshops

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Our business and IT books cover a variety of topics. Here authors, colleagues and other professionals share their thoughts on related subjects.

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