Our guide on what businesses should be doing to ensure continuity during a pandemic.
Outsource UK is currently supporting its clients with their business resilience planning and asked Sarah Armstrong-Smith, Security & Resilience Director at Secure Horizons, to compile a helpful guide to those areas that businesses large and small need to focus on at this uncertain time.
About Sarah Armstrong-Smith
Sarah has over 20 years’ experience in business continuity, disaster recovery, cybersecurity and crisis management. She has been named one of the most influential women in cybersecurity and UK tech.
Whilst COVID-19 is an evolving incident, and no one can predict how the situation will escalate or subside; what is clear is that all businesses should be proactively assessing the potential impact and options available to them against a range of potential scenarios.
Business continuity plans need to be able to flex to the changing situation, and in collaboration with your employees, customers and suppliers.
A rational approach is important – events may be difficult to predict
As the situation with COVID-19 continues to develop across the globe, it is important that all businesses across the public and private sector continue to take a pragmatic approach.
As with many variants of influenza viruses, it is often difficult to predict what may happen and when and how bad things could get. Scientists and medical professionals are reliant on data from various sources to model how people become infected, what the incubation period is, what are the symptoms, the rate of contagion and projected number of cases and fatalities. This often relies on complex models and statistics to extrapolate information, so that authorities have a basis from which decisions and counter-measures can be made. Such models can vary and as more data and medical information is gathered, better advice can be provided based on known facts, rather than assumptions.
Finding bonafide sources of information to avoid misinformation and panic
In the early days of an epidemic or pandemic, there is often inconsistent information which gets picked up and circulated around, often perpetuated by the media and other sources. Because of the modelling of ‘what if’ scenarios, people sometimes misinterpret that as fact. This in turn leads to misinformation and panic amongst the general public, who are trying to make sense of an evolving situation.
It is important therefore, that when seeking out information and guidance, this is from bonafide sources such as the World Health Organisation and government agencies, such as Public Health England and the National Health Service. It’s also important to understand that countries and governments may vary the guidance given to their citizens as they have different contingency arrangements in place. So, whilst we have seen quarantines and isolations happening in China and now Italy, we need to ensure that we follow the guidance issued by UK Government, this includes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), who provide guidance for people travelling to and from other countries.
So what can businesses do to prepare and protect themselves from the potential impact of COVID-19?
From a business continuity perspective, we typically consider four key scenarios and we will explore each of these in turn:
- Denial of access to a key location
- Loss or failure of a key IT system
- Loss or failure of a key supplier
- Loss of people
1. Denial of access to a key location
This could be as a result of partial / full closure of buildings, transport disruptions, protection of critical
infrastructure or quarantines impacting geographical area
Things to consider:
- Security and surveillance of the building whilst unoccupied
- Ability for employees to work from other buildings
- Ability to transfer services to non-affected locations
- Ability for employees to work remotely
- Co-location to assist other businesses without premises
2. Loss or failure of a key IT system
Often in situations where people are forced to work remotely or from different locations, this can put a
strain on the availability and integrity of network and telecommunications infrastructure
Things to consider:
- Ability to flex capacity and performance to meet demand
- Resilience to protect against component failure
- Proactive monitoring and system checks
- Adoption of cloud-based services
- Number of concurrent network connections
- Test ability to failover IT services
- Ability to shut down non-essential services
3. Loss or failure of a key supplier
All businesses supply goods and services to other businesses and consumers, and hence they collectively form part of the supply-chain ecosystem.
It's important that as far as possible, these goods and services can still be provided albeit at potentially reduced levels to avoid upstream and downstream issues that may cause a ripple effect.
Things to consider:
- Relax SLAs and penalties
- Allow longer lead times
- Prioritise deliveries
- Assess alternative suppliers
- Reduce demand for ‘just in time’ manufacturing
- Support local suppliers and communities
Panic-buying and stock-piling can cause more impact to supply chains, because it causes a backlog in manufacturing, logistics and distribution networks and the retailers ability to restock items. By observing as much normality as possible, we can help make sure that businesses can continue to operate and supply the goods and services required in the short term, as well protecting the mid-long term economic outlook.
Furthermore, those businesses supporting critical national infrastructure and public welfare services
such as healthcare and emergency services should be prioritised as much as possible, based on the
wider societal impact.
4. Loss of people
During a pandemic type of scenario, it’s often prudent to consider a 25-50% reduction of people over
the short, medium and long term due to denial of access, illness or caring needs.
All businesses can help to alleviate any fear, uncertainty and doubt amongst its employees, by proactively reviewing and communicating their family-friendly, health and safety and absence policies
Things to consider:
- Prioritise essential and critical services
- Perform key skills gap analysis
- Perform additional training and awareness
- Upskill other employees to be able to perform additional tasks
- Adjust working practices to manage workloads
- Enable remote working, where feasible
- Utilise temporary staff and contractors
- Perform succession planning
- Request additional support from suppliers
- Collaborate with other businesses providing similar services
It is important to note that there are multiple industries where working from home is not feasible because of the nature of the work that they perform. Furthermore the self-employed and those working on zero-hours contracts can often feel like they are obliged to work, or can’t take time off work without detriment to their livelihoods. Therefore, any changes in policies should consider the impact on all employees.
Contact us if we can help you take care of your projects
At Outsource UK, we’re here to help you manage your staffing issues and work with specialists such as Sarah to ensure business continuity for our clients.