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The recent coronavirus (COVID-19) has created a sense of urgency among organizations worldwide to update their business continuity plans and review their operational resiliency. Having already been declared a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO), the coronavirus presents serious global economic consequences.

There is reason to hope the spread of the virus can be contained but organizations need to be vigilant and monitor the spread of the virus while preparing for the worst-case scenarios of workforce or supply chain disruptions.

Your organization’s viability is predicated on a healthy and available workforce, and it is imperative to protect that precious asset. A pandemic will incapacitate some employees and result in other employees being quarantined. The consequence would be a major disruption to normal operations, with potentially large numbers of employees working from home or remote locations.

To protect your workforce and help ensure its continued productivity, it is important that you complete the following:

  • Establish a strategy that enables employees to continue to function without endangering them.
  • Have a plan to isolate your employees if the threat of possible infection arises.
  • Ensure your employees can effectively work from home.
  • Verify you have the tools, technology, capacity, and security measures in place to support a large, remote workforce.
  • Review your HR policies to ensure your employees will not be personally impacted if they must be quarantined for an extended period and modify any policies as appropriate to give greater flexibility to normal working arrangements.
  • Determine your priorities and minimum staffing requirements to support these in case you need to function with a significantly reduced workforce.
  • Identify key employees and ensure other staff members have received appropriate training to comprehensively cover their absence.
  • Create a communications plan that includes providing regular situation updates along with actions taken to your employees and other stakeholders.

Being prepared does not mean just having command and control of your organization’s ability to respond to a pandemic. In a global economy, virtually every organization is connected to or dependent on others. You may not be directly affected by a pandemic, even when a vendor at a critical point in your supply chain is. Understanding your dependence on entities outside your organization is critical. Are your critical third parties (suppliers, vendors, service providers, etc.) prepared?

To protect your operations and ensure continuity of services or products to your customers, it is also important that you:

  • Map your dependencies to understand where disruptions might impact your value chains.
  • Review the preparedness of your critical third parties (suppliers, vendors, service providers, etc.).
  • Identify single points of failure in your ecosystem.

When assessing the impact of a disruption to your ecosystem it is important to recognize the amount of time before the actual impact occurs.

While you are evaluating your plans, you should consider the following:

  • What is your current strategy to deal with a disruption to your workforce or supply chain? The best strategies will result in the least disruption to your operations.
  • Do you have the appropriate tasks documented to execute the strategy? Are there clearly defined teams with the roles and responsibilities necessary to execute these tasks? The best method of determining readiness is to conduct walkthroughs of the tasks with the appropriate teams, ensuring everything is properly documented at every step.
  • Do you understand the decisions that might need to be made if your workforce is affected, and do you have access to the information necessary to make those decisions quickly? The faster you can respond, the more effective you will be at minimizing any impact.
  • Have you mapped all of your dependencies within your organization and within your ecosystem? Understanding upstream dependencies enables you to establish triggers when suppliers or processes are impacted. This will ensure you respond more effectively. Understanding your downstream dependencies enables you to more accurately articulate the impacts to execute management which empowers better decision making and provides greater command and control.

There’s an army axiom that Dwight D. Eisenhower often used: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Organizations need to heed his advice as they work through their plans and identify the resources required for dealing with the possibility of a pandemic disrupting a significant portion of their workforce or the workforce of one of their critical suppliers.

As you review and update your plans, you should also conduct walkthroughs and exercises. This is the best method for identifying gaps in your procedures and will give you the highest chance of successful execution. Active participants will become familiar with the goals and objectives of the plan and begin to use it as guidance rather than a prescriptive list of tasks to be followed without applying rational thought. Practicing the execution of your plan ensures all necessary parties understand their roles and responsibilities.

During your preparedness reviews, you should also assess the tools used to maintain relevant information and assist in the execution of your plans. Old technologies and obsolete tools will put successful execution of even the best plans at risk. Identify any deficiencies in the tools you have available and create a comprehensive list of requirements that will enhance your ability to execute. The sooner you begin to upgrade your tool set, the sooner you will be able to reduce your execution risk.

Your organization’s ability to effectively respond to a disruption of the workforce, or the disruption of a critical third-party, not only depends on how effective you were in the planning process, but also how effective you were with the tools you have and the training you implemented. The tools you use to communicate, maintain situational awareness, and provide current and accurate information will also have a major impact on the execution of the plan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Sibik

Bob Sibik has nearly 40 years of experience in the areas of IT disaster recovery and business continuity, data protection, and risk management. During the 1980s, he built and operated SunGard Recovery Data Centers and developed new products and services. At Deloitte in the early 1990s, he led the recovery testing and management areas of the IT computer assurance services practice. He subsequently joined Comdisco and became senior vice president of sales engineering and product management. As one of the founders of Fusion Risk Management, Sibik has worked with clients developing strategic solutions in all areas of business continuity and risk management using the Fusion Framework System.

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