• Can your IT business continuity plan defend against coronavirus?

Can your IT business continuity plan defend against coronavirus?

18 March 2020

Companies across the globe are being affected by the coronavirus virus and financial stability is being impacted. On 9 March, the FTSE 100 experienced the fifth-largest single-day fall in its history and the worst since the 2008 financial crisis. For companies dealing with the health and financial consequences of the outbreak, defensive measures can include restricting employee travel, cancelling events, facilitating remote working and shoring up supply chain connections.

Nigel Morris from our Technology Advisory Services team looks at what measures your business can implement to mitigate the financial fallout?

For organisations of all sizes operational resilience must be a priority. As the board member responsible for IT you have a key role to play. If you already have a robust business continuity plan in place, now is the time to review and improve it. If you don’t, or if it hasn’t been evaluated within the last 12 months, you will need to move fast to outpace the threat.

Your business continuity plan

Due to the infectious nature of coronavirus and government advice on reducing infection, your business continuity plan is likely to include remote working, either at home or from alternative premises. This places IT at the centre of business continuity plans.

The primary objective is to enable people to continue working while reducing the impact of any infection and the risk of the business being affected. You will need a IT business continuity framework that consists of seven key elements:

Roles, responsibilities and authorities

Decide who will do what and when. Ensure staff are aware of their responsibilities and the actions required of them, and make sure they have the authority and technical capability to enact them. Document the chain of command and communications.

Creation and activation procedures

Define who is ultimately responsible for implementing the overall and IT specific plans, how the plans will be activated and who will trigger them. This may well be you and it should be someone at board level or from the senior management team.

Implementation procedures

Create an implementation check list, with a sequence of actions, and directories of internal and external contacts. Ensure IT systems are pre-configured for operation in extraordinary circumstances, and staff are trained and ready for any change in technology or process.

Communication requirements and procedures

Your people are your most important asset and you must ensure clear lines of communication at all times. Decide by what means, and how often you will communicate with staff, customers and suppliers. Consider the use of web portals, emails, SMS and instant messaging platforms to inform and deliver key messages.

Internal and external interdependencies and interactions

Decide which business functions are critical to your company’s survival. Ensure both your back office and customer facing IT systems continue to support business as usual. Prepare alternative supply chain options if your regular providers are unable to deliver and pre-configure your ERP system to operate with alternative suppliers. Plan which roles require a physical presence on site and which can be carried out remotely.

Resource requirements

Determine what resources are required to support your most essential functions. Ensure you have the IT equipment, network bandwidth and infrastructure to support enough remote workers. Test to make sure your employees have laptops, telecoms and robust broadband connections to work at home. Confirm that essential security measures such as VPN access are pre-installed and configured. Consider remote desktop solutions such as Microsoft RDS or Citrix Virtual Desktops and apps that facilitate rapid deployment and centralised management.

Information flow and documentation processes

Fast and accurate communication is a fundamental requirement when the situation is changing on a daily basis. Test your IT infrastructure to confirm it is robust and capable of operating at all times, regardless of the workload. Document the procedures that are critical to business continuity to avoid dependence on key personnel who may be unable to work.

Quick wins and effective communications

Based on the framework above, your business continuity plan, particularly the essential IT component, needs to be both quickly actionable and robust enough to successfully steer your business through the coronavirus threat.

It’s a fine balance between being timely and being thorough and that is something you and your team will need to consider. Nonetheless, there are some specific tasks that you can initiate straight away. As well as preparing for remote working with the provision of devices and infrastructure, consider the applications that will facilitate effective remote collaboration. Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are just some of the many options available to you.  

Short-term strength, long-term gains

Remember that any new IT systems and measures you put in place now will not only positively affect your business survival, but will also strengthen your business in the long term. For example, an IT-based business continuity plan that enables and promotes remote working may improve productivity, reduce your dependence on expensive office space, and lead to a reassessment of the working environment. This is a good example of an immediate action that may deliver benefits far beyond the lifecycle of the current coronavirus threat.

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