The human element of business continuity

When a business goes into disaster recovery mode, the initial concerns naturally tend towards keeping systems and infrastructure operational. But the effect this can have on employees shouldn’t be forgotten.

Unavailability of personnel is one of the greatest risks to business in a disaster. In a pandemic, even if the employee themselves is not affected by illness, they may need to care for a family member or simply be unwilling to expose themselves to the risk of infection by others in the workplace. We see the same instinct for self-preservation kick in following a terror attack. Public transport disruption, childcare problems and major sporting events are other, more common, causes of staff absence.

Covid-19 is a case study in uncertainty. Nobody knows how long the outbreak will last or how bad it will be. We can only speculate as to how the virus, or fear of the virus, will ultimately affect a particular business and the economy as a whole. The only thing we can be sure of is that, as with any crisis, how well we fare will depend on our people.

When a business goes into disaster recovery (DR) mode – as many companies are during the current pandemic – it’s important not to neglect the effects on its workforce. The human element of business continuity management is equally as important as the technology aspect to mitigate the effects of any business interruption, whatever its cause. While everyone is focused on the pandemic, it’s vital to remember that the next disruption will undoubtedly occur for a different reason, and there are some fundamentals to take on board.

It’s important to recognise that IT teams have people, workplaces and supporting systems like any other business department and face the same challenges. Their advance preparation should include business continuity (BC) plans that anticipate changing customer behaviour for IT service areas.

This may include more calls to the IT helpdesk due to personnel working remotely (likely to include numerous password reset requests), greater network traffic as customers switch from face-to-face meetings to online services, and differing demands for IT applications. Email systems and collaboration apps such as Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are likely to see heavy demand from dispersed teams, while you might reasonably expect considerably lower demand for, say, the corporate meeting room booking system.

Your business might see changes in demand for products and services – positive and negative – unexpected consumer behaviour (such as panic buying) and may also need to cope with a degree of supply chain disruption. Organisations need to plan for these knock-on effects.

Finally, during a disruption isn’t the time to find out that parts of your business continuity plan don’t work. The only way to be confident that they will work when called upon is to put them to the test – ideally well before you need them.

Six people considerations in a crisis

  1. It’s all about the people

The reason we focus on keeping systems running is to make them and the data they hold available for people to use. Bringing data systems back online will be futile if the data they host can’t be accessed by those who need them, whether through lack of an alternative workplace or an inadequate VPN system.

  1. IT staff are a critical part of any DR plan

They bring the operations up and keep them running, even with automated solutions. Any misconfiguration problems need people to fix them, but the people who set up the systems may have left the organisation, be unable to access the systems in question or, in a worst case scenario, may be incapacitated.

  1. Working from home creates its own challenges

As well as the inevitable technical issues, your people may experience feelings of isolation and have difficulty finding somewhere to work without distractions, particularly following school closures.

  1. A workforce at risk puts the business at risk

Performance and ability to work may be seriously affected by the impact of the disruption on your workforce’s family and colleagues. This may be through outbreak-related illness, fear for personal and family safety, grief for any relatives and friends affected, and anxiety about personal finances.

  1. Predefined roles and responsibilities are essential

An effective and agile response requires the right people to be in place to make the right decisions, to respond and recover. These people must be prepared in advance for the task.

  1. Don’t just plan, practice!

Just like any other business continuity scenario, tabletop exercises are important to ensure understanding, challenge the planned response, identify any technical issues and rehearse communication mechanisms.


To learn more about disaster recovery planning and execution, contact Sungard as on 0808 238 8080 or visit www.sungardas.co.uk

by Chris Butler, Principal Consultant Risk, Resilience & Security, Sungard Availability Services

Copyright Lyonsdown Limited 2020