The coronavirus pandemic completely changed our behavior affecting every aspect of our lives and taught us an unforgettable lesson about uncertainty. It is worth analyzing the rapid changes we experienced in our personal and professional lives and how we navigated them in uncharted waters. The experience gained and lessons learned during the pandemic could apply to future business continuity and organizational resilience. In view of above, this article discusses business continuity and resiliency during times of uncertainty, ways to enhance situational awareness to create visibility, and the application of fundamentals of business continuity management to achieve organizational objectives.

Organizational resilience is the ability of an organization to absorb or adapt to a changing environment. Organizational resilience can be viewed through different lenses based on a corporate function. If an organization is self-sufficient, its approach to resilience can be different depending on third-party support for business continuity and disaster recovery. Regardless of the magnitude of dependency on products and services, we need to pay serious attention to increasing resiliency and reducing vulnerability in a dynamic environment where we conduct operations. As the word resilience implies, it’s about survival and thriving in the face of uncertainty. It is the ability to anticipate, prepare, deal with, absorb, and manage critical events to survive and thrive in challenging situations. The main pillars of resilience are people, processes, and enterprise systems. It is essential to understand the relevance of people, processes, and enterprise systems to continue business as usual or to meet predefined minimum business continuity standards in disaster recovery.

The critical aspect of organizational resilience depends on personnel availability to maintain essential business processes. Skillful people must possess related traits such as leadership, attitude, beliefs, and skills within the overall framework of organizational culture. It is no secret the success of any organization revolves around a unified corporate culture that shapes the outcome of business continuity management. It is also necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the overall organization and attributions at all levels.

Leadership and discipline remain the top spots in the list of resilience skills. These two traits provide the essence of dealing with stressful and difficult situations that need careful attention to execute business continuity management plans and maintain resilience. Resilient leaders can sustain their energy level under extreme conditions, orientate and cope with disruptive events and adapt quickly to changing environments. They can bounce back from uncomfortable situations while controlling their own emotions, staying focused and positive. In addition, foresight helps planners to anticipate internal/external developments related to organizational functions, identify threats and vulnerabilities that hinders critical functions and help to prepare the organization to maintain resiliency.

In a dynamic environment, resilience planning is critical for success and survival. Resilience planning involves using multi-step procedures in generating coherent action plans to prepare, connect, and partner with stakeholders to achieve strategic organizational needs. The steps include collaborating a well-informed planning team to determine goals and objectives to formulate a plan to achieve organizational resilience objectives as defined. It is also pertinent to establish integrated early warning systems and information gathering systems for predictive analysis to reduce uncertainty.

At the onset of the pandemic, most companies were severely affected due to the limited scope in their business continuity plans. This proves planners need to correctly identify the scope of the business continuity plan to ensure the survivability of their business if disaster should strike. Further, emphasis must be placed on all-hazard approaches during the planning process. As evidence shows, proper planning ensures operations can be quickly restored, regardless of what has caused the disruption. Companies that planned for remote work due to the inability to access workstations under different circumstances adapted faster than those without planning during pandemic.

A new era of risk requires innovative mitigatory measures to address emerging threats. Cross-functional skills can improve the overall resilience of an organization through better alignment with overall organizational goals. Working in a collaborative, cross-functional environment allows members to engage, brainstorm, communicate, and share expertise while gaining better insight into the project. This allows the team to visualize the journey from start to end productively and transparently. Such behavior will help the organization successfully navigate a disaster in the most demanding times. In the same vein, when we have a deeper understanding of our business, it is possible to identify correctable and preventable flaws in the system. For example, in some cases, only one person is specialized in certain critical functions which can only be performed in one location. Cross-train someone else to achieve the same performance level if the experienced person is unavailable and create capacity and ability to perform similar functions from an alternative location.

The degree of effectiveness of the business process decides the outcome of business continuity. The business process consists of a framework with resilient strategies capable of functioning under internal/external changing environments or events with the intent to reduce uncertainty, mitigate adverse effects, respond to changing circumstances as planned promptly, and recover fast to continue operations. The other integral component is the enterprise system that includes an information technology ecosystem, infrastructure facilities, services, and third-party products and services. System resilience is the ability of an organization to maintain an acceptable predetermined service level when there is a disruption to business operations or critical processes due to internal/external contributory factors. Before the pandemic, many organizations used a traditional office centric work environment. However, the pandemic changed the whole dynamic of the work environment and approach to business continuity. In many cases, organizations were forced to adapt different strategies to continue their businesses such as hybrid or remote work environments to mitigate risks. The adaptation of new strategies and rapid changes in the operational environment resulted in significant strain on the internal network and issues in critical functions such as prioritization of network access. These shortcomings were not previously documented under preparedness and only surfaced during execution and adaption of new strategies. The resiliency can be achieved through proactive planning and formulating a comprehensive disaster recovery plan as a part of business continuity management to achieve high availability.

In addition to the above, doing due diligence on dependences’ actual capabilities and capacity enhances the effectiveness of the plan. The dependencies include third-party product and service providers, own employees, and infrastructure, including information technology-related aspects.

In an era, where uncertainty has become the new normal with reduced visibility requires thorough planning. In this environment, we need to find ways to reduce uncertainty by focusing more on the current environment in response to challenges. During the times of uncertainty, the following measures can be used to reduce degree of uncertainty:

  • Conduct periodic audits on business continuity plans to ascertain validity.
  • Establish a clear communication strategy including specific communication channels and escalation procedures.
  • Establish coherent policies and procedures.
  • Perform regular testing and reviews to validate the plan’s effectiveness.
  • Conduct realistic training and exercises on contingencies and disaster recovery strategies.
  • Develop the ability to visualize disaster recovery strategies.

Fast-changing international security landscape with emerging multiple threats deteriorates peace and stability. Unsettling conflict in Ukraine in the absence of de-escalation measures, intermittent lockdowns in major cities in China, and China-Taiwan tensions add another dimension to business continuity challenges. The ripple effects of such situations can be seen around the globe affecting everyone. In addition to the above, climate change potentially causes future blackouts due to excessive demand for power supply in certain states with aging infrastructure.

Post-pandemic era, we continue to experience unimaginable changes in our personal and professional lives. Similarly, businesses in the transition to survive under trying conditions, and business survival depends on how well the organization plans and manages its essential functions while maintaining lead-time.

In conclusion, the critical point in resilience and business continuity is not to try every possible scenario of threats but to have the most comprehensive picture of potential risks facing the business and a deeper understanding of the organization’s capabilities. In this context, the planners need to clearly understand the risks and likelihood of occurrences, the degree of impact on a business, availability of resources, and the estimated time it would take to recover from an undesirable event. In a world where the future is uncertain and change comes fast, organizations need to look beyond their immediate future performance. In the context of resilience and business continuity, organizations must enhance their ability to withstand unpredictable threats, change and uncertainty, and to act on opportunities to emerge stronger.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suminda Jayasundera

Suminda Jayasundera is a retired military officer in the rank of lieutenant colonel. During his illustrious military career, Jayasundera has held many important appointments including a tour of duty in the United Nations. After his retirement, he entered the corporate sector, where he excelled in crisis management, global security management, and business continuity management. He holds a master’s degree in defense management and a graduate of Army Command & General Staff College, in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He acquired further education from New Jersey Institute of Technology in emergency management, business continuity.

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