The power of being proactive: business continuity planning for facility managers

The power of being proactive: business continuity planning for facility managers

Part 1: Understanding the role of business continuity planning

Imagine if, just for one day, your IT system went down. Or you work for a university and a core building on your campus suffers from a flood and can’t be used. Do you have the appropriate measures in place to be able to respond quickly and provide alternative solutions?

Behind IT/IT infrastructure, assets and facilities offer the biggest risk to an organisation. Anything that could cause downtime in a facility, such as a flood, power surge, break-in, or, as we’re seeing now, a crippling disease pandemic, greatly diminishes an organisation’s ability to bounce back if a BCP isn’t in place.

Business continuity planning (BCP) as a theory has been around since the 70’s, when organisations began to rely on computers. Initially BCP was focused on making sure the computers and data centres stayed cool and operational, using large sets of water-cooling pipes to continuously run flowing water through.

While the computers we know today take up a fraction of the space compared to the bulky units of the 70’s, the need to be kept cool hasn’t changed. Maintaining a constant temperature and keeping humidity low in a server room is, even today, a core component of any continuity plan.

Over time, as data became a commodity and our reliance on computers strengthened, BCP plans became more formalised and morphed into the integrated discipline we know today. The focus shifted to an organisation’s overall risk appetite and ability to get back up and running: analysing employees, technologies and business processes, the risks they present, and understanding what strategies will keep an organisation operational should a crisis occur.

Enterprise risk management is a broader, umbrella category, with BCP being the most critical aspect. It lays out the tactics that an organisation should employ should a crisis take hold. And not having a business continuity plan is a risk in and of itself.

The role of facility & asset managers

Behind IT/IT infrastructure, assets and facilities offer the biggest risk to an organisation. Anything that could cause downtime in a facility, such as a flood, power surge, break-in, or, as we’re seeing now, a crippling disease pandemic, greatly diminishes an organisation’s ability to bounce back if a BCP isn’t in place.

Despite this, the facility team is often overlooked as business-critical, even though there’s a good chance they will be the team on the front-line should a crisis occur. It would be remiss for an organisation not to include them in the planning process.

While we have seen a worrying trend of many organisations not having a BCP developed and being forced to quickly put one together when a crisis strikes; where a plan is in place and the facility and asset team has been involved early on in its development, the organisation has a greater chance of responding faster.

More than anyone else in an organisation, facility managers understand the nuances and intricacies within their asset portfolio. They’re far better placed to identify impending levels of risk and evaluate and recommend contingencies to help mitigate risk to an organisation.

They’ve built relationships with external suppliers and vendors, meaning they know who to go to in order to help get the supply chain up and running as quickly as possible. Understanding potential risks posed by vendors gives organisations a chance to put measures in place should a crisis impact an external supplier.

Planning for the unseen

Some organisations mistake continuity planning as either general facility maintenance (which helps mitigate risk on an ongoing basis but isn’t a continuity plan), or looks only at IT infrastructure and data recovery: a loss of IT infrastructure could be crippling, but continuity planning needs to be much broader in scope.

Many organisations struggle with risk identification because there are so many factors at play: technological, financial, safety, even political or reputational. The list can seem endless as it’s impacted by so many areas of a business, which is why it’s crucial for senior leaders in each of these areas to be involved in the implementation and maintenance of a continuity plan.

For facility managers, a simple way of identifying risks is to group them into areas such as the below:

  • Protecting occupants, visitors and contactors
  • Protecting assets
  • Ensuring security is in place to act on directives
  • Maintaining high levels of cleanliness, particularly for high touch point areas

Identifying the risk areas within these groups could be as simple as taking a walk through all assets within a portfolio. Taking the time to do a structured walk around each facility helps to identify any gaps or weaknesses that could cause an issue down the track.

Other ways to identify risks could be by:

  • Seeking information from employees. Those on the front line will have a different perspective and a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not.
  • Examining customer/user feedback. Understand what’s impacting (positively or negatively) customers or a user base will give an outside perspective to the gaps that exist within an organisation
  • Consult an expert. Risk management consultants can provide an in-depth understanding of risks that affect an industry. Even providers such as insurance companies or banks have trend information that can help identify risks and their potential impact to guide the development of a continuity plan. They could also advise on specific financial risks that may arise.

Don’t “set and forget”

It’s not enough to develop a plan then leave it. It needs to be a living, breathing document that is revisited and revised regularly. The world changes constantly, and with that comes a range of new or changed set of risks.

Business continuity planning should be at the forefront of leadership strategic planning, as well as in the day-to-day operations of an organisation.

For FMs Facility and Asset teams, this could include:

  • Overcommunicate. Communicating, updating, and educating occupants, visitors and contractors on a BCP at any opportunity is vital. Should a plan need to be put into action, the FM team is likely to be a key player in its implementation. It’s critical for the FM team continuously monitor the situation and regularly communicate if/when a pivot in the strategy is mitigate further risk and get the organisation operational.
  • Undertaking regular maintenance activities to keep facilities and assets up-to-date to reduce the risk of planned/unplanned downtime where possible
  • Keep staff trained on the plan and undertaking regular implementation testing to make sure the plan will be effective
  • Maintain communication with other areas of the business/senior leaders to understand any developments (e.g. internal, economic, political) that may impact the plan or force it to be revised

Final thoughts

Once developed, perform a risk assessment on the plan itself. It shouldn’t be a single point of failure that could bring a business to a halt. For each activity in the BCP, determine who will perform it, what tools will enable to them to perform it, and how will risks be mitigated if the team or tools aren’t available?

Periodically run through the plan: what’s changed since it was written, are there new areas or risks that need to be evaluated? The emergency services and military regularly practice their emergency procedures, and it makes good business sense for organisations to do the same.