If You Want Peace, Prepare for War

15 July 2010 (Last Updated July 15th, 2010 18:30)

Business continuity plans need to be honed to be effective. Nic Paton talks to Avalution's Brain Zawada to find out how device manufacturers can make sure their plan is not a disaster in the making.

If You Want Peace, Prepare for War

Business continuity can be summed up in three words: expect the unexpected. But what is 'the unexpected'? Many would say freak events or acts of God – the effects of fire, floods, storms and earthquakes – or coping with the fallout of a world-changing event such as the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.

But, according to Brian Zawada, co-founder and director of business continuity at consulting firm Avalution, the unexpected can often be much more mundane. And when it comes to events like theft, a power loss or a product recall, their mundanity makes them no less dangerous, damaging or difficult to handle.

"Business continuity covers much more than just a fire in the facility," says Zawada. "Yes, you want to have solutions in place for a problem like that and how you will respond, but you also need to have a wider framework that will help you respond to all hazards."

Preparation for production stoppages

For medical device manufacturers, an interruption or even a temporary blip in production can be devastating. Zawada explains that they are in the same position as technology manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies: they have little redundancy in terms of equipment, resources or staff, and little appetite to build up expensive excess of stock.

"Business continuity covers more than just a fire in the facility."

Because of that, they need to have a proper, robust and well-communicated risk management framework – particularly if they have invested in expensive equipment or their goods are produced with a long lead time.

"The first thing you need is a good understanding of what your customers will expect if the worst happens," says Zawada.

"What, for example, will be their tolerance for downtime? Would customers accept you going outside the organisation, if needs be, if it ensured you could continue to deliver? Do you have enough safety stock to cope with the sort of eventualities that might occur?"

Steps to recovery

Prioritising the most pressing steps for recovery must also be considered.

"Firms often assume that everything has to be recovered at once," says Zawada. "But the reality may be that there are a few core things that you will need to recover immediately while others may be able to wait for a bit longer. You need to work out what is critically important, what is going to affect your market share the most and what will improve the perspective of your customers."

Of course, disasters are events that come with no warning with no time for you to get your business continuity plan in place before they occur. That said, Zawada cautions against trying to anticipate all eventualities overnight.

"You want to position your organisation so that it is able to weather any storm."

"Don't expect to be able to put everything in place in one go," he says. "It makes sense to phase things in over time so that you increase the scope and maturity of your plan on an even basis."

There is a balance to be met between protecting the organisation and protecting its resources. You want to position your organisation so that it is able to weather any storm, but not to the extent that the time and money spent on continuity affects how you function daily.

"There has to be a balance between planning, testing, training and focusing on continuous improvement," he adds.

Roles and responsibilities

The management team will be a critical part of how well and how quickly the company recovers, as is the general workforce. Everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities.

"Companies and individuals that have been successful in this sort of scenario have had people who understood what they were doing," says Zawada.

"The management team will be a critical part of how well and how quickly the company recovers."

This is probably not going to be too hard to achieve for a small, single manufacturing site where most people know each other and can speak to each other easily. It is much harder if the organisation has rolling, 24-hour shifts or if it is spread across 20 different facilities.

"You have to figure out what everyone’s role will be and you need to talk to all the relevant stakeholders and have a plan in place for communicating with customers and suppliers," says Zawada. "It is about managing expectations. You may also want to draw up a hierarchy of the facility's units, equipment, people, raw materials and technology."

What you are trying to do is to create a sense of comfort. Your situation may be far from comfortable, but if you can control the process and take charge of it, then you can make it more manageable."