BCM – The Long Game


From its humble beginnings in the importance of cooling large mainframe computers in the 1970s to September 11th, 2001 when the world watched lives being lost and businesses falling in what we now know as 9/11, Business Continuity Management (or BCM in my world) still did not really roll off the tongue in the way it does now in the midst of the current pandemic. In fact, it is becoming so much a part of the business norm, that its planning is predicted to reach $1.9 billion in the US alone by 2029 from a mere $400million only last year. From keeping computers cool to guiding organisations to keep their cool through situations which would shake even the sturdiest CEO, how did BCM come to play such a vital role in our business lives today and are we still catching up with the game?

It was only in the 1980s that the goalposts changed, and we started to look at the entire organization and work to protect it and not just the beautiful new world of computers. Having said that, it still sits in many minds as the Disaster Recovery Plan and something that belongs with IT. But, like everything that “sits with IT”, it usually takes a crisis for the business to realise that not everything SHOULD sit with IT. I learned this in practice several years ago where it seemed like everything that the business didn’t want or know how to handle went to one of two places, IT or my domain, Business Excellence. Lucky for me that, a) I loved Business Continuity, once I learned what it was about, and b) I enjoyed anything new that worked to improve the business so that is how my story in BCM started, but fortunately did not end.

Fast forward a few years and numerous case studies, risk assessments and the like, about black swan events and the next big risk (digital crises more so than pandemics), and the Business Continuity Management Systems (BCMS) were still struggling to be embedded in organizations. I spoke with a large international company not that long ago who clearly told me (once I explained what BCM was) that it just did not exist in that part of the world. It had not reached their shores, they said. Not true at all in fact, but it gave me an insight to where the confusion with BCM often lies. Because for many organizations, if it is tech related, it sits with IT; if it is people related, go visit HR and so on. But that is the problem, because crises & serious or even quite small but repetitive incidents do not differentiate and so, really don’t know which department they are disrupting; and that is the crux of the matter because, if everyone thinks that it sits somewhere else, you might just not have a plan or at least an up to date one. Communication is key.

So back to those 1970s computers, I assume, perhaps incorrectly that the reason for protecting those mainframe computers all those years ago happened because they were so valuable, either in cost or in what they contained; so if you consider the value, then you have to consider as an organization that you have many valuable commodities, in particular your people, because even though we have those gorgeous computers, albeit in a much smaller, glossier form these days, much of business is still done between the minds of people, the organisation’s most valuable and very human asset. That same organization which I spoke to seemed to do business in that way too. That is not to say that they did not have written contracts and other documentation in the same way as all large organizations seem to have now, but for what they did, day to day, they just did not have a backup plan, meaning that if the current pandemic took down their workforce, their projects would come, for a period of time, to a halt and I’m talking large projects, build a network of skyscrapers kind of projects. I found it both shocking and fascinating all at the same time when I considered the kind of impact this pandemic could have on an organization like that.

So how do we get into the game of BCM or get the game into the minds and daily business norms of all of us? Well, that is the $1.9 billion question that is worth answering.


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