A Business Continuity Interview With Randy Till

As I’m putting this blog together, I’m wrapping up instructing an Incident Command System (ICS) 300 “Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents” course at Webster University (www.webster.edu ).  The majority of students in the class are members of the university’s emergency response team.  The class has been terrific with full engagement by all.  And what a beautiful facility!

Unfortunately, beginning with FY2012, the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP; www.cdp.dhs.gov ) will no longer be supporting indirect (local) ICS training.  I’m guessing this is a result of the economic challenges everyone is facing.  I hope this is short-lived and CDP’s support will return in FY2013.  If your organization wants to know more about how implementing ICS can strengthen your business continuity efforts, or if you want to schedule ICS training for your organization, please get in touch with me.  I can solve your ICS training needs before the November 2011 deadline.  And now, on with the show …

For this installment of my blog, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with one of business continuity’s true professional’s, Mr. Randy Till.  Randy is the founder of Till Continuity Group  www.tillcontinuity.com .  Through his practice, Randy has been helping clients build fully integrated Business Continuity Management solutions that encompass all planning areas and aspects of their business.  Randy is also a featured speaker and workshop facilitator at many of the leading industry conferences.

TB:  Randy, how is business continuity different today than it was 10 and 20 years ago?

RT:  Twenty years ago, companies were just beginning to develop business continuity planning practices.  The focus was primarily on IT system recovery (DR planning). Since then, business continuity has broadened, taking a more holistic approach that includes managing all the risks associated with continuing critical operations.

Today, the four main BC components—risk management, crisis management, business continuity and disaster recovery—help to manage the entire operational spectrum. We’re seeing successful organizations build more formal BC management programs, and they’re taking advantage of new technologies to achieve greater results.

Major changes over the past few decades include:

  • BCP methodologies and practices have continued to mature, though there is still much room for improvement.  We have seen BCP
    expand to include business area recovery and the integration crisis management planning.
  • Better tools and software, such as notification systems, planning software and SharePoint technology: These have really helped to automate and advance planning techniques and provide more robust solutions.
  • Networking and communication enhancements, most notably through increased bandwidth/speed and the Internet.  Companies can now quickly move and store information in more than one location, and they have more flexibility in accessing stored data. This has made recovery plans better, not to mention making work-at-home a viable recovery strategy.
  • With the migration towards advanced DR strategies and internal recovery solutions, systems are more resilient. High availability, replication, virtualization and cloud computing are all contributing to improve system recovery capabilities.

TB:  For a business continuity professional to really be on top of his/her game, what must they excel at and why?

RT:  The BC professional needs to be a strong communicator. A big part of this role is educating and marketing BC concepts and practices, being the “BC Champion” within an organization.

Just as importantly, BC professionals must have a strong business acumen. They must be able to understand the business well enough to help manage risks and address business needs. To do BC planning effectively, therefore, planners must be able to understand the business and communicate in familiar terms with key business personnel to help the users understand the importance BC planning.

The bottom line is if you can communicate how BC planning will help to improve operations and produce more resilient business services, it’s more likely that BC planning will become part of the company culture and provide the most value.

TB:  What things do you see “trending” today in the field of business continuity?

RT:  I see a closer alignment of business continuity practices with risk management and mitigation processes. Instead of conducting a traditional BC risk assessment process to determine vulnerability and potential impacts—for example, assessing threats, such as hurricanes—BC planning should gain a closer relationship with risk management and mitigation practices.

In reality, crisis management and business continuity plans are nothing more than steps that mitigate perceived risks.  Business people are often well versed in managing business risks. They’re familiar with risk management practices and understand the importance of risk mitigation. But BC planning has often been perceived as an audit requirement or an insurance policy.  As BC planning matures, we’ll see it take a more integral role in managing business risks.

For example, have the business look at the risks that could disrupt or negatively impact the delivery of a particular business service.  Don’t focus on the loss of the building but instead focus on the business risks that could cause a loss of the service.  This requires business personnel to take a close look at risks from a different perspective and hopefully take steps to mitigate the risks, which may include building of BC plans.

TB:  If you had to pick one thing that needs fixing in our profession, what would it be and why?

RT:  We could see a big improvement in the business value of our BC planning processes by focusing on maturation. By this, I mean that we’ll need to move away from focusing on audit findings and regulations as the reason for BC plans. While compliance is certainly important, it should really be a by-product of planning processes. Regulations and standards should be used as a guide that ensures we’re staying on track and meeting the primary goals for the program.

A business continuity management program that builds mature plans will be most concerned with managing risks, protecting company assets and ensuring continuity of operations.  Planning should be done around these goals and in partnership with the business areas. So, we’re looking at how well an organization builds plans that address business needs and their ability to effectively execute the plans when needed.

The great thing about taking this approach is that developing BC plans can double as an excellent business planning process. Done right—and not as just an annual activity for updating plans to meet audit requirements—business continuity planning can optimize the management and operation of the business.  It becomes a normal part of conducting business, a method to mange risks, woven into normal business operations and culture.

I’d like to thank Randy for taking time to sit with me and share his views concerning business continuity.

TIP:  With summertime heat affecting many parts of the country, it’s wise to consider the following …

  • Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside
  • To reduce risk during outdoor work, OSHA recommends scheduling frequent breaks in shaded or air-conditioned
    environments (www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index )
  • When possible, reschedule strenuous activities to the early morning or evening
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke
  • Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing when possible
  • Drink Plenty of water
  • Keep an eye on the young and the elderly
  • Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool shaded location
  • Heat stroke is an emergency – Call 9-1-1 immediately

Visit FEMA’s “Extreme Heat” website www.fema.gov/hazard/heat/index  for more information.

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