Why being a ‘resilient’ business means more than CEOs think

What exactly is ‘resilience’ and why is it so important?

By Noel O’Grady Sungard

THE TERM RESILIENCE seems to be the business buzzword of the moment. Earlier this year, for example, Ireland’s Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, told businesses that upcoming political and economic uncertainty represented “an unprecedented challenge but we are nothing if not a resilient people”.

But what exactly is resilience and why is it so important? Resilience can refer to a broad range of capabilities – from anticipating risk to mitigating disruption and being able to move forward with confidence after a period of duress.

In today’s tech-centric business landscape, resilience is frequently associated with  ensuring critical applications and data are always available, regardless of the source of disruption. 

Being resilient also means understanding the source and impact of disruption and being able to limit its overall effects, not just on the business itself but the people within it too.

Recent research has shown that almost two-thirds (62%) of Irish business leaders admit damage to their well-being when business disruption occurs.

While things like IT resilience are imperative, for chief executives, resilience strategies must be holistic – taking into account the potential for disruption at every level of the business. 

Potential for disruption 

Disruption can be intentional, accidental or environmental. Sources of disruption,  whether hazards or threats, can be external, such as the environment in which you operate, or internal, like your offices, your people, and your set-up.

They can emanate from having sites located on a flood plain, from using old and unstable infrastructure, or from being over-dependent on a small number of skilled staff. 

Businesses must also consider the non-physical impacts of disruption, such as the reputational damage that can be wrought by unfavourable coverage of a disruption in the press or on social media.

This exacerbates the pressure that can be felt by an organisation dealing with a major crisis. Bad press can instantaneously destroy hard-earned share values, undermine market reputation and negatively influence staff morale.

From the casual to the severe 

Disruption can vary from casual nuisances, such as applications running slower than usual, to major barriers such as the loss of critical infrastructure, which can cause business operations to grind to a halt.

Nonetheless, any form of disruption can cause a customer to turn to a competitor or a member of staff to look elsewhere for a job. 

While much focus is placed on an organisation’s technology to ensure business resilience, and rightly so, the ultimate victims of business disruption are people.

The first step toward building a business resilience strategy is looking at how disruption manifests for those who are impacted – both employees and customers.

Looking after your staff is vital as they are the most important asset to your business. However, people can be the source of, or contribute to, disruptions, just as much as they can be the solution.

How to keep staff safe, maintain their skills, and help them adapt to major disruption should be major considerations.

Every business needs a team of dedicated staff to receive special training in assessing, resolving, or managing disruption. Teams equipped with this knowledge can then use it to lead others in an organisation to address the issues at hand. 

Senior leadership also needs to be capable of managing a crisis so those elsewhere in the organisation can focus on what they need to do. These individuals will let staff know their roles, where to go, and how you’ll communicate with them when everything suddenly changes due to a disruption.

It is equally as important to test these skills to ensure staff are always ready in a crisis. Senior colleagues can test these capabilities through IT disaster recovery drills, workplace recovery drills, communication drills, and incident management and crisis management exercises. 

Managing the impact

Organisations rely on vendors for solutions that reduce complexity and boost efficiency, which makes it all the more frustrating if these solutions fail and become a source of disruption.

Regardless of whether the source of disruption is deliberate, accidental or the result of uncontrollable environmental factors, such as natural disasters, businesses must be able to restore operations in as small a delay as possible to get customers back online and maintain service-level agreements. 

Simultaneously, disruption creates an enormous amount of pressure on staff, who often must race against the clock to locate, diagnose and find a fix for an issue before more damage can be wrought. Improvisation is a valuable trait among staff, but no-one should be expected to know exactly what to do when in uncharted territory.

What can be done, however, is train staff with the right skills and encourage a culture of positivity, confidence, and inter-departmental support to build resilience from the ground up. 

Building a culture 

Sources of disruption are diverse, which means that even the most resilient organisations can’t guarantee that disruption can be avoided 100% of the time.

Instead, business resilience helps strengthen both the people and the tools they use to reduce the potential impact of disruption. As a result, any business resilience strategy must not only identify, locate and resolve sources of disruption but also apply the same processes on the people who are most impacted by it. 

Any business that understands that resilience is not only a strategy for protecting mission-critical services and assets but also a method of protecting the most valuable asset of an organisation, its people – who will be best prepared to counter the inevitable effects of disruption. 

Noel O’Grady is the sales director in Ireland for Sungard Availability Services

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