Business Resilience – Why?
Category : Preparedness
My mission is to scare business owners by telling them about all the things that they should be lying awake at night worrying about. Things like, what if the power is cut off? What if the staff are off sick? What if my suppliers let me down? What if someone digs up the telephone cable?
Estimated reading time 4 minutes.
Luckily, because I have been in this line of work for a few decades now, I know how to help those people sleep soundly, without resorting to drugs and alcohol, unless they want to of course.
I spent the past 27 years as a Coastguard Officer dealing with emergencies at sea and on the coast of the UK. My last 15 years were spent in a variety of roles, dealing with planning and responding to emergencies. The last 5 years were as a senior officer responsible for resilience, working primarily with government, devolved administrations and the other emergency services to improve the resilience of the UK to disruptive events. As part of a re-organisation I found my role as Head of Resilience being relocated to Southampton. I didn’t want to go so I took the package. I tried retiring but it didn’t suit me.
My ‘why’ is that having spent so many years trying to make the country safer and to improve society’s response to emergencies I felt I wanted to continue. I have often seen small and medium sized businesses struggle and even fail because they didn’t have access to advice on how to make their business more resilient. Most businesses don’t need full blown business continuity plans but they would all benefit from advice and that is what I set my company up to offer. Good, pragmatic, inexpensive advice.
One story I often tell that illustrates how my ‘why’ came about revolves around a story many people will be familiar with.
On 1 November 2006 Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who was living in London became ill and died 23 days later from Polonium 210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Remember that?
Now the bit you won’t be familiar with (unless I have told you it already) is that one of the outcomes of this incident was that the authorities set about tracing where the polonium 210 had been. They wanted to isolate any traces of it because it’s obviously dangerous! They traced its path around London and wherever they found a trace they shut the building down.
John Smith (I’ve forgotten his real name) had his office supplies business in one of those buildings. He had spent 15 years building his business but now he was denied access to the building. By the time he was allowed back in, his business was in ruins.
As you know, the office supplies business is a very efficient supply chain but that efficiency makes it vulnerable to disruption. As a good business owner, you order your printer juice or paper today and you want and expect it to be delivered tomorrow, just in time. The problem with Smith was that he hadn’t anticipated being denied access to his building and had no way of accessing his computer or his phone. He hadn’t backed-up any data and everything was held in his office so he had no way of letting his customers know of his problems and his customers had no way of placing their orders. The customers wanted their order delivered tomorrow or their business was in trouble. So, they phoned one of Smith’s competitors. They got their office supplies and were satisfied with the service they got and stayed with their new supplier. John Smith’s business was destroyed in a week.
So, what could Smith have done to avoid his enforced early retirement? He could have called me when he started out in business and I would have advised him to back-up everything to the cloud so he could access his customer records and still operate. I would have advised him to invest in a VOIP phone so that he could easily divert his calls to any phone or computer he wanted in minutes. There is a load of other things as well but they could all have been put together and detailed in the plan called ‘Polonium Incidents’, ready for just such an event (I assume you all have one)? His business would have carried on without his customers realising there was a problem and without losing a single sale.
I know it’s simple, though it gets more complex the larger the company but bad things happen to good people if they don’t ever think ‘what if’. My ‘why’ is that I want to help good people avoid the avoidable through planning and preparation. They might also manage to sleep better.