Many South African enterprises may not be able to survive a critical incident, despite having a business continuity plan, says Allen Smith, MD of ContinuitySA.
Even though business continuity planning has become part of doing business in large enterprises, companies often pay so much attention to business processes, hardware and alternative locations that they forget they will also have to deal with complex people issues when disaster strikes. Moreover, they are so focused on preparing for historical events they ignore new types of disasters South African businesses may soon have to face.
"What use is a state-of-the-art backup location if you do not have people to make it work?" Allen Smith, MD of ContinuitySA asks. "Does corporate disaster planning take injuries or fatalities into account? Are you prepared to deal with the myriad human emotions that will surface in a disaster? What if a company has 50 backup workstations and 300 employees, how are they going to make that work?"
These questions all need to be included in business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Fortunately, they are all easily addressable, but only if considered beforehand.
Smith notes that these plans are often lacking because we are used to separate business continuity and disaster recovery disciplines. These are managed by different people with no interaction or combined planning. The result is planning gaps that only appear when disaster strikes and often prove to be the undoing of otherwise effective plans.
"And while there is little interest for this integration among practitioners at the moment, the issue will come to a head as newer forms of disasters need to be dealt with," he explains. "Along with issues such as strikes, pandemics and the ever-popular power outages South Africa faces, there is a wider range of disasters that need to be included in today's continuity planning."
As we get closer to 2010, there will be a mass of people heading to South Africa, not to mention the thousands already crossing the Zimbabwe border each day. Are companies prepared for the political implications of this influx, which, together with the political instability the country is heading towards in 2009 could make existing continuity plans inadequate?
In Europe, business continuity plans are more sophisticated as the integration of disciplines is already in force. Companies there have already made the transition to taking care of people first and preparing effective responses to alternative types of disasters.
Their plans manage the complicated interrelationship between people, applications and processes more efficiently and more cost effectively than we are able to at the moment. Most importantly, Europeans have ensured there is a coordinated approach to disaster management between governmental disaster management services and business. This is currently lacking in RSA. Therefore, the choice we have is to learn from their experience or wait to learn from devastating experiences of our own.