Of droughts, and flooding rains, of businesses and broken business continuity plans.

Well, this is a blog entry, and I have a thing for bad business poetry.  In Brizvegas, as you may have heard, we’ve had droughts a-plenty until the last two years, and then the flooding rains that just created a seeping, growing, black mess that crept stealthily towards everyone’s place of business or abode.

Well, that might seem a little melodramatic, but you know what?  It’s not.  We’re all affected here in Brizvegas, even in little ways such as losing our carparks (my wife doesn’t think that’s so little) or daycare centre (my daughter, yes, same attitude as her mother).  My house was perfectly fine, halfway up Mount Cootha, but I went for a ride on my pushbike to see how my daughter’s daycare centre was faring.  As I rounded a corner and ran into deep, black water quite some time before I rather thought I would.  Squealing on the brakes, I thought to myself, ‘That’s not good!’

I also came to the realisation that my five-year old daughter was not going back to daycare tomorrow.

And so from my back deck, all seemed fine as I looked over the tall trees of Mt Coot-tha, but at the same time some people were cut off from food and petrol – friends of mine were refused service after the floods because they ‘looked grotty’. Well, how would you look after 5 days without power or a shower?

It was an odd flood, bright sunny day, and yet still I noticed the Lexus dealership madly moving cars, and the people at the Brumby’s bakery madly moving flour to the only bakery down the road that wasn’t flooded (it appears they rather had some trouble finding the key, and saved the flour only just in time or the western suburbs would have had to start eating crushed up gumleaves spiced with mud. And then having to drink the wooded Chardonnay left in the wine rack – oh the humanity!)

But the point (and there is one!) is that we precisely do not know what will ever happen to our homes or places of business.  Some of us thought we were really very safe at the time.  That idea’s comforting, but not always true (I can see a mountain full of trees from my back deck – so one day bushfires are on the cards).

Here’s a video I took of a house normally way, way above the river:

All of us banana-benders are looking at each other now, after inland tsunamis, floods-that-weren’t-supposed-to-happen, and Cyclone Yasi, and saying that if we had a blizzard come down Queen Street we’d let loose a suitable expletive and get down to it.

So how do you as a business prepare for these things?

Well, fortunately we do have best practice approaches available such as COBIT and ITIL.  A year or so ago, when I was lecturing at QUT in IT Governance, I asked the students to use COBIT’s framework to help with the development of a business continuity plan.  This is what it, rather drily, says:

DS4.2 IT Continuity Plans: Develop IT continuity plans based on the framework and designed to reduce the impact of a major disruption on key business functions and processes. The plans should be based on risk understanding of potential business impacts and address requirements for resilience, alternative processing and recovery capability of all critical IT services. They should also cover usage guidelines, roles and responsibilities, procedures, communication processes, and the testing approach.

The exercise for the student was to take a look around their bedroom and work out what they might lose, what they could afford to lose, and how they might get back on deck.  I seem to recall one student came up with a contingency plan that involved explaining to his lecturer how he didn’t need to submit the assignment that week – I believe I may have said he needed to improve that excuse for his risk register.

Anyway, business continuity plans are things that are really hard if you don’t know where to start.  So I took that reasonably vague statement above from ITGI’s COBIT and turned it into something like the below.  Feel free to borrow it as a template if you like for your business.  It’s not great, it’s not fantastic, but it’s a start, and at least you get thinking about what you need to do in the event of problems like droughts, flooding rains, bushfires, cyclones, blizzards, alien invasion, or inland tsunamis.  Try adapting this for your purposes:

And so I’m going to leave this blog entry right about here, now that I’ve gotten to use some great phrases like ‘a seeping growing black mess’ (seriously, anyone who saw that floodwater will agree that it was pretty yuck).  Readers, please take a look or download the example business continuity plan – a BCP doesn’t need to be hard, it just needs to work.  In fact, if it’s big and hard and ugly, it’s likely it’ll never work.  ‘Keep it Simple, Silly’ is the appropriate rule of thumb.  It’s a good start for some businesses, possibly not for others.

But please don’t find yourself caught on the hop and having to remove those files from the basement where they’re stored to the top floor of your building in your pyjamas and best thongs, like some people I’ve heard of.  Or the people at the Lexus dealership, who were frantic because they couldn’t find the keys to the four wheel drive blocking the driveway.

PS:  I hope I rickrolled somebody in one of those links up above…

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