Business continuity planning (BCP) has become more relevant lately as South African companies look to maintain productivity in trying times. 

Mark Ogden, senior manager at Ernst & Young South Africa, says: “With dramatic changes in national critical infrastructure in recent months, the relevance of BCP has become clear.
"Further to that, companies which have a sound approach to business continuity are showing that even in these changed circumstances, it remains quite possible to maintain productivity and performance with a little flexibility and lateral thinking.”
National critical infrastructure is those services which are provided by government for consumption or use by businesses and citizens. Falling into the category are services such as electricity, water and the roads infrastructure, among many others.
“These services tend to be interrelated and any issues with them tend to have a compounding effect. For example, the state of the roads has an effect on the delivery of coal for the power stations; when the electricity goes off, water infrastructure is placed at risk,” Ogden adds.
Taking into account the new reality with which businesses are faced, Ogden says that from a BCP perspective, it is incumbent upon directors to work within a new set of constraints.
“What we try to achieve with BCP is to deal with any incident which impacts on the ability to perform normal tasks. Electricity shortages, problems with the roads infrastructure including congestion and the condition of some routes, and the possibility of water shortages are such incidents,” he notes.
When the outrage and attendant emotion caused by these seemingly avoidable issues passes, he says sensible directors should return to what they do best – amend planning to deal with the problems logically and innovatively.
“Analysis of business processes and an examination of where improvements, such as savings or distribution of load to avoid peaks is a good starting point; quantifying consumption or usage [in the case of roads] of these services is the first step in creating a strategy for more efficient consumption."
This information gives the company the ability to not only introduce savings but also to negotiate with the service providers.
“Careful consideration can result in benefits for all concerned, not the least of which is the company itself. Given the historic freely available and inexpensive availability of these services, many organisations may find themselves using them inefficiently. Improving usage lowers costs, leaves the service provider under reduced pressure and frees up resources for others,” Ogden notes.
Negotiation is essential for those processes which cannot be interrupted; Ogden uses the analogy of baking a cake. “Many companies have functions which must have an assured supply of power or water for their successful completion – an interruption, even for a short period, can be costly and affect production. With a plan to save in place and quantification of consumption, a business case can be presented and negotiated with the service provider for guaranteed delivery,” he says.
As frequently noted elsewhere, time -and timing – is also of the essence.
“Knowing how long a service might be unavailable and when is further essential information for the BCP. It may also impact on how the BCP is configured; a remote secondary site may, for example, become useless if it falls into a different load shedding zone. Also, while some services might be prioritised, protected and maintained by a generator, over time, every business service becomes essential, right down to air conditioning and coffee machines.
Ogden says effective strategies which are being put in place by businesses with sound BCPs include looking for alternatives such as flexi-time, reducing consumption by powering off non-essential equipment, performing business impact analysis studies and making arrangements with service providers to ensure that essential processes are not unexpectedly interrupted.
“Companies are finding ways to shed their own loads to reduce their impact on the limited resources which are at their disposal. This is business continuity planning at work, and smart companies are making it work for them.”