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Business Continuity in the Public Sector

Published on December 14, 2018

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Business Continuity planning is an essential aspect to consider for any business, and the public sector should be no exception to this.

While commercial organisations will consider financial impact as one of the most disastrous elements coming from a business disruption, public companies must ensure that they are able to meet national and international regulations, satisfy public expectations and keep up with technological advances.

Local authorities can also be majorly impacted by risk to reputation following an incident – particularly as they are often at the forefront of the type of incidents whereby the impact can be huge, and they have a responsibility to provide information and communication to the public in a completely transparent way.

Local authorities have a legal obligation to implement adequate contingency plans in order to maintain public safety and guarantee that essential services can still be provided. They must plan for emergencies, including setting up methods for coordination with other emergency and local services and communication with the public, under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

This Act was put in place following a review on the responses from local authorities to a number of national crises, including the fuel shortages and flooding of 2000 and the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. The Act also requires local bodies to provide advice and support to businesses and voluntary organisations in their area regarding business continuity and emergency planning.

Additionally, embedding a business continuity culture within public sector organisations is important to ensure alignment with best practice according to the Civil Contingencies Act, alongside other Business Continuity Management (BCM) best practice frameworks including the BCI Best Practice Guidelines and ISO 22301 standard.

Despite these obligations to adhere to the terms of the Act, the methods to be utilised for Business Continuity (BC) planning and management are not provided, and instead these are left down to each local body. Public sector organisations are often large both in terms of services covered and in geography, yet BC efforts are often found to be relatively low, which can be down to lack of awareness, understanding, information or resource.

As is the case for any business, a clear strategy and defined framework is important to ensure success within a Business Continuity plan, and there are a number of barriers which will be experienced by the public sector attempting to undertake BCM, from governmental pressures and scrutiny, ambitious performance targets and deadlines, and time and staffing constraints.

The acquisition and utilisation of automated BCM software designed to alleviate and assist with the day to day management of an organisations BCMS would prove a beneficial tool in these cases for several reasons.

Use of BCM Software in the Public Sector

Firstly, it is widely known that public sector bodies often partner with neighbouring authorities – both to adhere with the communication requirements from the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, and to improve productivity, efficiency and services across organisations. Using software ensures symmetry across plans when these partnerships are embarked on and helps to facilitate the coordination of plan management, exercise and testing and much more.

Secondly supply chain resilience is a hugely important element for public sector organisations – they rely heavily on external suppliers to be able to manage and maintain operations. In an age whereby supply chain disruptions are becoming increasingly difficult for companies to handle due to the globalisation of operations, increase in cyber threats, and pressures to provide greater services at lower costs, a comprehensive business continuity software tool can help to build and manage strong supply chain resilience plans for the organisation.

The automated nature of the software in an industry whereby staffing constraints are an issue is of a huge benefit – instead of the traditional paper or spreadsheet based plans, a savvy system which can automatically collect data plus control, review and distribute plans alleviates the need for manual hours spent carrying out these tasks and thus frees the resource and allows efforts to be concentrated elsewhere.

Additionally, public bodies have a responsibility to be �always on’ – with responsibilities to ensure continuity of critical services such as water supply and electrical sources – and the adoption of BCM software can facilitate business continuity planning and management on a 24/7 basis, without the need for additional resource.

The management of BC within a local body which is typically large and spanning a wide geographical base is made simpler whilst still maintaining value for money when a software is adopted, with the centralised, automated nature of the tool allowing various individuals and teams to take responsibility of their area within the organisational BCMS far more easily.

Additionally where the limitation of awareness or understanding of business continuity may inhibit the creation and management of plans, the external support services available by implementing BCM software can be of a huge advantage to local bodies – a reputable software supplier would provide teams of highly experienced industry professionals who would support clients though every stage of the process, from initial deployment right through to plan management.