Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ERM-BC-COOP: Shot in the arm

Many of us think Business Continuity is a (relatively) new idea.

It isn't.

I was introduced to Business Continuity - as distinct from Disaster Recovery - as a small child.

How can that be?

In my childhood days each small fry was obliged to be probed and prodded and needled before he or she could go to first grade.

What happened to us was called "preventive medicine" and what happened was that we were carefully examined and given a series of shots (sometimes in combination) and vaccinations.

Preventive - or preventative - medicine is nothing more than a Business Continuity preventative; keep the kids healthy by preventing illness or at least by mitigating the severity of an illness.

Another Business Continuity preventive measure was stored in containers along the walls at Eli Lilly & Company's Indianapolis properties. What was this critical product? Salt pills.

In the first case, the puncture wounds to my skin served multiple purposes. First, and the direct result, was to keep me healthy so that I could attend school.

If I was healthy, my parents could be productive at their jobs.

If I was healthy, I would not be a health threat to the staff at P.S. #2 and the other first graders would be safer, too.

In the second case, Eli Lilly knew that it could spend small change on salt pills or lose valuable production from its line personnel.

Lilly was, at least "back then" an organization that realized its personnel were the key to a positive bottom line and it treated them accordingly.

But Business Continuity goes back farther than even my childhood.

Those British sailors didn't get to be known as "Limeys" for nothing. The term dates back to the 19th century (1800s) when, according to http://www.wikpedia.com/, "The term is believed to derive from lime-juicer, referring to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy practice of supplying lime juice (an anti-scorbutic) to British sailors to prevent scurvy in the 19th century. The term is believed to have originated in Australia in the 1880s."

The citrus juice was for the obvious reasons - the sailors needed to be as able as possible to make the extended journeys from shore to shore.

While most stage coaches probably lacked an on-board spare wheel, most wagon trains carried spares, and often spare draft animals were tied to the back of a wagon. The business of the wagon train was to move people and goods from point to point in a timely (read "in decent weather") manner.

It is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that Business Continuity goes back to the first strategic military thinkers who, as they sent troops into battle, held back a certain number of soldiers in reserve, prepared to enter the fray should the tide start to turn against their flag. Could this be a case of primary and alternate responders?

Business Continuity, unlike Disaster Recovery - and certainly IT disaster recovery - has been with us almost from the beginning. It just was not called "Business Continuity."

Business Continuity as a military device can be linked back to Biblical times. Moses sent 12 men to "spy out" the land of Canaan and Joshua, one of the 12, later sent out two men to spy out Jericho. In both cases, the spies were sent so that Israel would be prepared for what could happen next. The ancient Israelites were in the "business" of conquering the promised land.

Susan Fish, a Business Continuity Specialist with Florida's Transporatation Department (FDOT), wrote in Continuity Insights' Final Thoughts September/October, 2005 issue that she thinks Noah was the first Business Continuity planner; trumping the spies by several hundred years. (See http://www.continuityinsights.com/).

Preventive medicine probably was the first Business Continuity experience for most of us.

But because it was called something else, we never realized that we were indeed introduced to "Business Continuity."

Business Continuity is any action that is performed to keep a business in business. Any business.

We normally think of Business Continuity in terms of an organization of some size. It can be a commercial or industrial enterprise, a non-profit organization, or a government agency.

Business Continuity is all that and more.

If the organization depends on people - and what organization does not - than Business Continuity has to be implemented on the personal level, the preventive medicine level.

Business Continuity, in the most simple terms, is the process which

  • identifies the reason an organization exists
  • identifies risks to the reasons the organization exists
  • identifies ways to avoid or mitigate the risks

Certainly Business Continuity includes responses in the event a risk occurs. That and much more - crisis management, training, maintenance, safety and awareness, to name but a few components of a complete Business Continuity program.

Business Continuity is a holistic approach to making certain the desired results are attained. Those results can be as simple as keeping a first grader in school to keeping a multi-billion dollar business functioning.

John Glenn, MBCI, SRP
Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity
Planner @ JohnGlennMBCI.com

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