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Building a career in BCM

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As the risks facing business grow, and the obligation to manage those risks becomes entrenched in law and codes like King III, a new profession has emerged: business continuity management (BCM).
These professionals have the responsibility of ensuring that the business understands the risks to which it is exposed, and can recover its critical business functions as quickly as possible in the event of a disaster—thus ensuring business continuity.

The disaster could be anything from a strike or power outage to a fire, a tsunami or outbreak of flu or Ebola.

Business continuity needs to be managed because a company’s risk profile keeps changing, as do its business processes and staff. All of these factors need to be assessed regularly, and the necessary mitigation measures put in place and then exercised/ tested.

“Business continuity managers need to be able to identify risks and what their impact on the business would be, before establishing what level of risk mitigation is appropriate—strong analytical skills are a must, along with objectivity,” explains Pete Frielinghaus, senior advisor at ContinuitySA, Africa’s leading provider of business continuity services.

“Business continuity managers also need to be good communicators because they are constantly interacting with people regarding the value of business continuity management, and extracting from them the risks that threaten their particular portion of the business as well as ascertaining the potential impacts of not being able to provide the service or product they are responsible for.”

Business continuity managers also need a high level of self-confidence—they will have to interact with everybody within the company, from the chairperson to the cleaners, says Frielinghaus.

Traditionally, business continuity managers drifted into the discipline, mostly because their companies asked them to fulfil this role. But as the role grew and became more professional — the industry body, the Business Continuity Institute, has issued The Good Practice Guideline and the International Standards Organisation has established a set of standards, the most important of which is the ISO 22301 — professional consulting firms were established.

Although no dedicated degree in business continuity exists, Frielinghaus believes that it’s only a matter of time before it makes its way onto university curriculums, however Diploma courses already exist. Graduates in Risk Management are the most common original source of “career” business continuity managers at present.

So if you’re thinking of business continuity as a career, how to go about acquiring the necessary skills?

Provided you have the necessary combination of analytic and communication skills, Frielinghaus advises starting with acquiring project management skills first. It’s also important to hone presentation and wider communication skills—especially the ability to listen, he stresses. Providers like ContinuitySA also give short courses in the standards mentioned above.

“Then decide if you’re going to specialise or remain a generalist,” says Frielinghaus. Specialisation areas would include business impact analysis, crisis management, exercising and testing, training and auditing in terms of the standards. There’s also the opportunity for those with a technical background to specialise in IT disaster recovery.

“Courses are one side of the equation; equally important is the need to get practical experience,” Frielinghaus says. “Finding a mentor is perhaps the most important thing you should do. Whether you’re working within a company or for a business continuity consultancy put your hand up for any of the practical activities related to business continuity. These are great ways to build experience.”

Business continuity is a great career choice for women, Frielinghaus adds, noting that many of the best consultants are female.