Say what you like about Robert Baden-Powell but he did a good line in mottos.
‘Be Prepared’ (BP), the two-word mission statement drummed into every Boy Scout, and Girl Guide, too, through the ages has never gone out of style.
Framed, somewhat egotisically, around his surname, Baden-Powell squeezed the BP mantra for all it was worth the seminal 1908 manual, ‘Scouting for Boys’. (A title that might struggle to find a publisher today.)
“Be prepared for accidents by learning beforehand what you ought to do in the different kinds that are likely to occur,” he wrote. “Be prepared to do that thing the moment the accident does occur.”
More than a 100 years later, the same sentiments lie behind the essential, but rarely discussed, corporate document – the business continuity plan (BCP).
But post-coronavirus the BCP has come into its own and might even give a leg-up to businesses (at least those with a well-implemented plan) when the crisis subsides, according to Phil Doak, Mosaic Financial Services Infrastructure partner.
Doak said almost three weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown the NZ financial services industry was still functioning well overall but noted that the smoothness of BCP implementation varied across businesses.
“In fairness, transitioning your entire workforce (or a significant part of it) to working on a remote basis while contemporaneously dealing with client concerns, volatile markets and the welfare of your people is very challenging. Some organisations made the transition smoothly and within a relatively short period of time were fully functioning, focused on their clients and, where practicable, maintaining momentum on key projects,” he said. “Once we emerge from lockdown it may be that it is these firms who will be able to accelerate quickly and gain competitive advantage over those who have needed to adopt a more conservative approach.”
BCPs that have successfully mapped out remote working systems, flexibility and a “high-trust operating model” will set financial services firms up to perform well in lockdown conditions, according to Mosaic founding partner, Myles Allan.
Allan said businesses coming into the crisis with strong, clearly articulated values and goals supportive of remote working, agility and flexibility have transitioned well under their BCPs.
“During this lockdown we are very likely to see the outperformance of those firms who have genuinely embraced those elements,” he said.
In general, the coronavirus experience should accelerate the financial services industry push to automation, introducing digital processes whereever possible from front-end client engagement to back-office processes.
“If organisations needed any further incentive to automate and move key processes to a straight-through digital basis, then COVID-19 is it,” he said.
Good BCPs identify how every aspect of the business can operate during extraordinary circumstances, and cover details such as paper processes, communication with customers and suppliers, staff relocation, location of other documents and emergency contact information.
And emergency plans should’ve been tested during normal times to familiarise staff with how they would work in practice. Role-play and “pressuring testing” BCPs also red-flags any weak points in the plan, Allan said.
“But any BCP is useless without the right technology,” he said, citing a number of points to cover including:
- Good, scalable virtual team collaboration with services such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom (although note the recent security issues in the case of the latter);
- Use cloud-based solutions for all processes if possible, ensuring the right amount of licences have been purchased (a team BCP licensing program, for instance, might not be adequate for the whole organisation);
- But make sure cloud storage is accessed from a secure system rather than a shared drive; and,
- Create digital versions of internal planning and business structure diagrams – often they exist only in physical form on whiteboards and the like – for reference and ongoing development for the distributed workforce (with appropriate permissions).
“When your entire workforce (or a significant part of it) is working on a distributed, remote basis the dynamics are very different,” Allan said. “Each person needs to fulfil their roles; their team needs to perform its function and manage internal workflow; and each function has to interact with other functions (with workflow) to execute processes across an organisation.”
Despite the ever-present threat of pandemics, and a few trial runs (SARS, MERS and Ebola, for example), he said many BCPs focused on a disaster recovery event where the entire business shifted to a new site, instead of the prolonged work-from-home scenario playing out now.
Given the unexpected shift to managing far-flung employees, some BCPs may have fallen short at a basic technology supply level, Allan said, with not enough laptops, security access tokens and printers to go around.
“Firms need to quickly learn and implement changes from the issues thrown up by COVID-19,” he said.
Most, but not all, sectors of the NZ financial services industry would’ve had some form of BCP prior to the coronavirus outbreak – licensed managed investment schemes (MIS), for instance, must have a plan in place.
“It’s never too late to create or update your BCP,” Allan said. “And the regulator will be paying even closer attention now to anyone who doesn’t have a fully-formed one.”
At any rate, he said BCP plans should be a “work in progress”, capable of responding to changing threats and new technology.
Even the Boy Scouts (and Girl Guides, too) have updated their ‘be prepared’ advice from the Baden-Powell era.
In place of what, to modern eyes, are bizarre tips about mad dog management and walking with a lady (“a scout should always have her on his left side”), today’s scouting manual reads more like a corporate document with a ‘commitment to safety’, ‘code of conduct’ and insurance sections.
Still, some old Baden-Powell nuggets have stood the test of time.
“Be Prepared,” he wrote in 1908, “for what is going to happen to you in the future”.
“If you are in a situation where you are earning money as a boy what are you going to do when you finish that job? You ought to be learning some proper trade to take up; and save your pay in the meantime, to keep you going till you get employment in your new trade.”