Never waste a crisis

“Never allow a crisis to go to waste. Start planning for the future. This has to be the last pandemic that creates an economic depression.” Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and chief of staff to Barrack Obama, summed up the intent of this article beautifully when he recently appeared on ABC’s ‘This Week’ television program. Now that we are staring down the barrel of an unprecedented economic recession, how do New Zealand businesses make the most of this crisis?

Business continuity planning is about positioning your business to keep operating through the various crises that could affect it. Power cuts, earthquakes, floods, cyber-attacks; we could have handled most of these, but what do you do when the whole country shuts down in response to a virulent respiratory virus? A global pandemic and a government imposed four-week lockdown were at the bottom of the list when it came to business continuity plans for most kiwi businesses, if at all. Drudging up your business continuity plans, revising them, and taking extra care to align your technology strategy with them must be at the top of the list during this crisis. In this article I explain the importance of aligning technology strategy with business continuity planning and give you three reasons why now is the best time to be working on it.

Aligning technology with business
According to, business continuity planning (BCP) “pinpoints the most important parts of your business, identifies potential risks to these critical pieces and prepares you to recover as quick and easy as possible.” It’s no surprise that business continuity often revolves around technology – protecting and recovering data, systems and services will be at top of the list. But business leaders can make the mistake of thinking that if they can just keep their technology running, then their business is safe. Well, what if you can save your systems, but your staff have no computers anymore? Or nowhere to sit anymore? Or they can’t leave their homes? What if your customers can’t leave their homes either?! The COVID19 pandemic has been a, “wake-up call to organisations that focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience,” as Sandy Shen of Gartner put it. It’s not just about making sure you can recover data, or keep systems running, you need to make sure your business can continue under the widest range of circumstances possible. As such technology is a key tool that needs to be utilised correctly.

Our view is that business continuity is about wrapping the technology around the business requirements, not wrapping the business around the technology requirements. It’s a subtle difference in perspective. BCP is an organisation-wide exercise and informs what technology strategy needs to deliver. It’s time consuming, but it’s valuable for the business to do on a continual basis, and there are at least three good reasons that right now is a very good time to be starting the process for your organisation, or reviewing what you already have in place.

Three reasons to do it now

1 It’s easier to spot risks during a crisis
The easiest time to assess risk is when you are experiencing business interruption. When you’re going through interruption in real time you don’t have to rely on your imagination to determine the possible risk scenarios. During times of prosperity it’s a lot harder to imagine what could go wrong. Stan Lowe, CISO at Zscaler, speaking about the best time to evaluate risk says, “pandemics offer great opportunities for IT to evaluate their risk tolerance.” Use this time to carefully consider every part of your business that ‘broke’ as a result of the lockdown imposed on everyone, and that will provide ample areas to review under business continuity planning.

A couple of years ago, one of our clients had their server room flooded early on a Saturday morning. You could not imagine a more serendipitous set of circumstances. A tap left on, a kitchen without an overflow or drain, a datacenter right underneath and pipes and cavities that led the water right into their main production stack. The recovery was monumental, as you could imagine, and we managed to get them up and running for Monday. More importantly, they used the crisis to figure out a whole array of risks to their operations that they had never dreamed of, like the risk of water getting into their datacenter and destroying their primary servers. Experiencing the risks turn into a full-blown nightmare provided plenty of data and motivation to deal with a whole raft of previously undetected business continuity concerns, and rapidly update their technology strategy to align accordingly.

2 It’s likely to lead to competitive advantages
Keeping your business moving forward is all about competition. Your ability to produce better products and services, at better prices, to more people than your competitors is how you gain customers, market share and reputation. This is true, even in a crisis.

No one expects a crisis of the magnitude that we are currently facing, but imagine if you had established a business continuity plan that enabled you to trade higher volumes during lockdown, or implement contactless ordering technology quickly? You’d have a significant advantage over competitors who were scrambling to survive. In New Zealand, during the COVID19 lockdown, various businesses were permitted to keep trading, with the proviso that they undertook contactless customer interactions. Butchers and green grocers were among those and, anecdotally, many were simply not prepared for this kind of requirement. Those who already had eCommerce sites, or engaged their customers via Facebook, or other social media, now have a significant competitive advantage over their rivals.

David Gregory at Gartner says that ideally, “business continuity will evolve and be exercised more as a strategic rather than simply an operational discipline.” Business continuity, at its core, is a reflection of business strategy. Investing in your business continuity planning now could give you an advantage in the post pandemic recovery, and will certainly put you in a better position for tackling the next crisis, whatever that turns out to be. The post pandemic world is still going to be a heavily tech world, so making sure your technology strategy keeps pace is crucial.

3 New efficiencies will be discovered
Many years ago, we had a client who was very dependent on facsimile for customer communications. Every day they had to send out hundreds of faxes with their price lists, and the buyers would receive their copy sometime between 6am and midday. When the fax server failed, and customers couldn’t get their price list for a couple of days, they needed to find a backup solution. Email to fax services were a thing at that stage, so we suggested that as a contingency plan. Given that, for about the same price, they could get price lists out in only half an hour with this technology, it became clear that it was time to start mothballing the fax server altogether. It sat in the server room for a couple of years as a fallback position, until email was mainstream. It was soon forgotten though, the efficiencies and value they gained from moving to the email to fax service made the fax server irrelevant as anything other than a backup option.

One of the happy consequences of looking for backup solutions in your business continuity planning is that you always find better ways of doing things. We can say ‘always’ with some confidence, provided the business continuity planning is thorough. At the very least, businesses will find the areas of their processes and systems that are the most clunky, the most difficult to replace, and the least flexible, which will, in turn, guide the direction of the technology strategy development. With the downtime that a lot of businesses currently have, business continuity planning is an ideal way to pass the time.

More resilient, and therefore more valuable
There are other indirect benefits of business continuity planning. Business interruptions are expensive, with some articles estimating anywhere from $900 per minute up to $17,000 per minute in lost sales, repair costs, and reputation damage all contributing to the expenses of a business interruption. As you build resilience in your business, it will be less of a risk, which is more attractive for insurance companies offering business interruption protection. You could get better premiums if you have demonstrably reliable business continuity plans.

Your business will also become more valuable, which is great for investors and potential buyers. Particularly post pandemic, buyers and investors will be acutely aware of risk. Being able to clearly describe the various risks, as well as having implementable plans to mitigate them will be very attractive. So, business continuity planning and the process of aligning technology strategy is more than just a strategic exercise, it will also build real value into your business.

Keep security and business continuity plans balanced
There is one final point to make. Throughout the process of aligning technology strategy with business continuity planning, keep a constant eye on cyber security considerations. Cyber threats are a big part of the risk landscape, so will be a big part of continuity planning. David Gregory of Gartner puts it this way, “long-term resiliency includes optimising service delivery while reducing threats and vulnerabilities — cyber, natural disasters, pandemics and otherwise — to the business.” McKinsey have also drawn attention to the fact that this current crisis reminds us that cyber criminals also enjoy moments of social upheaval because it provides them with new opportunities as well: “The extraordinary efforts of many organisations to protect workers and serve customers during the COVID-19 pandemic have also increased their exposure to cyber threats.”

As convenient as it might be to lower security temporarily for the moment of a crisis, an essential part of aligning technology with your business continuity is keeping a high standard for security. Indeed, doing this exercise now will help to set up the technology you need now, so that you can keep delivering your products and services with a high security standard in any crisis. Your customers, staff, and technology partners will be delighted to know it.

At Unify Digital we live and breathe technology, and help customers turn unthinkable situations into advantages with good technology solutions. Check out our website to see some of the case studies:

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