The need to maintain Contingency Plans
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Nowadays, most organizations are part of highly dynamic and competitive environments, and therefore have a strong drive to improve their capacity to satisfy client demands, fulfill requirements of business partners, adapt to new technologies and markets and comply with internal and external regulations.
Every one of these requirements implies that the organization needs to guarantee a minimum acceptable operational level in any given scenario.
Ensuring operational continuity is therefore a relevant quality characteristic for most organizations given the potential impact of an interruption, not only from an economic standpoint (tangible losses) but also considering the damage to the brand image and client trust (intangible losses).
It is clear then that it’s critical for every modern organization to have a comprehensive Business Continuity Solution, preferably at the corporate level. This solution should be structured around Teams of people trained in the actions required to detect contingencies in a timely matter and respond to them in a proper way given the infrastructure and other resources still available.
While most companies who have developed Contingency Plans are aware that maintaining these plans is a critical requirement to ensure the effectiveness of any Business Continuity Solution, in practice it’s very rare that this task is done properly. This might happen for a variety of factors, including:
- Difficulty to detect –in a timely matter– situations that might require a change in the Plans (e.g. organizational structure, technology platform, business units, stakeholder requirements)
- Lack of resources, knowledge or experience to determine which procedures or tasks need to be modified
- Lack of coordination between the Teams responsible for each Plan (particularly if these teams are geographically disperse), which might introduce errors
- Lack of a clear definition of who needs to approve changes made in the Plans
- Difficulty in controlling and updating version information for each document
- Difficulty to coordinate, execute and document tests to the Plans, both unitary and integrated
When the maintenance procedures for the Plans are inadequate, most of the effort invested in developing them is wasted since they become obsolete and must be rebuilt, usually starting from scratch. This is exemplified in the following diagram:
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A Contingency Plan that hasn’t been properly updated or properly tested is in general more dangerous than not having one altogether, by creating a sense of false security in the organization and even obstructing or delaying valid ad-hoc responses during an actual contingency while personnel attempts to execute the obsolete procedures listed in the plans.