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On resilience

Being a ‘resilient’ business means more than CEOs think, writes Carmel Owens, EMEA Sales Director, at the IT recovery services company Sungard Availability Services.

The term resilience seems to be the business buzzword of the moment, but what exactly is business resilience and why is it so important? “Resilience” refers to a broad range of business capabilities – from anticipating risk, to the mitigation of disruption, and to move forward with confidence after a period of duress. In today’s IT-centric business landscape, that means ensuring critical applications and data are always available, regardless of the source of disruption.

Being resilient means understanding the source and impact of disruption and being able to limit its overall effects, both on the business itself and the people within it. Here we look at the questions that every business must ask to determine its resilience.

What are the potential causes of disruption?

Disruption can be intentional, accidental or environmental. Furthermore, sources of disruption — whether hazards or threats — can be external (like the environment in which you operate) or internal (like your offices, your people, and your set-up). They can emanate from having sites located on a flood plain, from using old and unstable infrastructure, or from being over-dependent on a small number of skilled staff. Businesses must also consider the non-physical impacts of disruption, such as the reputational damage that can be wrought by unfavourable coverage of a disruption in the press or on social media. This exacerbates the already tremendous pressure that can be felt by an organisation dealing with a major disruption or crisis. Bad press can instantaneously destroy hard-earned share values, undermine market reputation (sometimes irrevocably) and negatively influence staff morale.

How will a major disruption affect the ability to maintain operations?

Disruption can vary in severity, from casual nuisances (like applications running slower than usual) to major barriers (the loss of mission-critical infrastructure) which can cause business operations to grind to a halt. Nonetheless, any form of disruption can cause a customer to turn to a competitor or a member of staff look elsewhere for a job. While much focus is placed on an organisation’s technology (cyber security, back-up/disaster recovery and so on) to ensure business resilience – and rightly so – the ultimate victims of business disruption are people. The first step toward building a business resilience strategy, is looking at the way in which disruption manifests for those who are impacted – both employees and customers.

How does the impact of disruption impact critical assets?

Organisations rely on vendors for solutions that reduce complexity and boost efficiency, which makes it all the more frustrating if these solutions fail and become a source of disruption. Regardless of whether the source of disruption is deliberate, accidental or the result of uncontrollable environmental factors (such as natural disasters), businesses must be able to restore operations in as small a delay as possible to get customers back online and maintain service-level agreements (SLAs). Simultaneously, disruption creates an enormous amount of pressure on staff, who often must race against the clock to locate, diagnose and find a fix for an issue before more damage can be wrought. Improvisation is a valuable trait among staff, but no-one should be expected to know exactly what to do when in uncharted territory. What can be done, however, is train staff with the right skills and encourage a culture of positivity, confidence, and inter-departmental support to build resilience from the ground up.

What skills do staff need to be resilient?

Looking after your staff is vital as they are the most important asset to your business. However, people can be the source of – or contribute to – disruptions, just as much as they can be the solution. It must be considered how to keep staff safe, maintain their skills, and help them adapt to major disruption. Every business needs a team of dedicated staff to receive special training in assessing, resolving, or managing disruption. Teams equipped with this knowledge can then it to lead others in an organisation to addressing the issues at hand. Senior leadership also need to be capable of managing a crisis so those elsewhere in the organisation can focus on their own aspects of resilience during a disruption. These individuals will let staff know their roles, where to go, and how you’ll communicate with them when everything suddenly changes due to a disruption. It’s equally as important to test these skills to ensure staff are always ready in a crisis. Senior colleagues can test these capabilities through IT disaster recovery drills, workplace recovery drills, communication drills, and incident management and crisis management exercises.

Building a culture of resilience among staff

Sources of disruption are diverse, which means that even the most resilient organisations can’t guarantee that disruption can be avoided 100 per cent of the time. Instead, business resilience helps strengthen both the people and the tools they use to reduce the potential impact of disruption. As a result, any business resilience strategy must not only identify, locate and resolve sources of disruption but also apply the same processes on the people who are most impacted by it. Any business that understands that resilience is not only a strategy for protecting mission-critical services and assets, but also a method of protecting the most valuable asset of an organisation, its people – will be best prepared to counter the inevitable effects of disruption.


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