Continuity of business

Business continuity has always been thought of as something effecting IT and used to be about addressing issues like ensuring your business could continue to operate following fire, flood and theft of equipment and issues related to key personnel.  Boy, have things changed in a very short number of weeks.

Covid-19, better known as the Corona virus, has exposed businesses to a much broader set of risks, both on the supply and the demand side. Not only have some businesses been unable to count on the availability of their staff due to self or forced quarantine, but even the availability of offices, factories, retail outlets and warehouses cannot be taken for granted. Their ability to continue to receive materials essential to their own processes through their supply chain is not guaranteed, impacting their ability to ship their own products and generate their revenues.

The reliance of companies on China as the source for well priced products and materials over recent years bears reconsideration. It is inevitable that companies will be looking to broaden the geographic location of their sourcing, even though this will increase costs, as a part of their business continuity policies.

The interlinked nature of our economies also means that, like a company needs to look at its supply chain, their clients will be looking at their own supply chain too.  Even if you are in a business which my not been straining under supply chain issues, your clients may be and this could lead to a softening demand for your own products and services.

On another angle, last week’s tragic collapse of a family’s home in St Venera, Malta, led to a number of businesses who are adjacent to other building sites being faced with the need to protect their own staff and vacate their offices. For instance, faced with such a situation, a cab company in St Julians was forced to shut down as their systems were unable to be operated completely remotely.

Businesses need to reassess their business continuity plans. Of course, not all businesses have the same opportunities. An IT business or a taxi company may be able to ensure that their Businesses can operate 100% remotely: all staff, telephone systems including their reception, access to all their systems and data can and should be set up for remote access. Other businesses may not be so lucky: take manufacturers who rely on operators of their machinery, or auditors who may need to send staff to client sites, hotels, restaurants. Clearly these are more severely challenged.

As usual planning, preparation and testing of the plan are key.  Where does your company stand on this issue? Shireburn Software planned its infrastructure to enable complete 100% remote access. Being that the offices are at the Skyparks Business Centre at Malta International Airport, there had to be a plan for a situation in which a major incident at the airport would result in the inability to access the airport and the offices.

Last week Shireburn Software ran a complete business continuity simulation: all staff were advised at 6:30pm that we were implementing our 100% remote access procedure and asked all staff to work from home. All staff have laptops and they take their laptops home. The telephony system is available remotely via laptop, iPads and iPhone and Android phones and receptionists can answer from home and route the calls to any of the staff, wherever they may be.

The result was a great success and our clients did not notice that we had invoked our business continuity procedures.

All businesses need to assess how able they are to survive the “loss” of their offices and other such premises.  Now we have a broader set of scenarios that we need to be able to cope with.

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John de Giorgio

John is the founder of Shireburn Software, a software products company based in Malta and a number of other businesses. Entrepreneurial in nature, he looks at a business process and identifies ways in which process improvement and technology can be married in a practical way to provide value. He is passionate about helping communities and individuals through his work with Rotary International. He is a keen sailor and loves travelling, food and wine.