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Leadership & Communication | Mining & Resources

The changing nature of business continuity

11 Feb 2015, by Informa Insights

Is your organisation keeping up with the evolving nature of business continuity?

The ability to maintain, or rapidly recover business critical assets and services in the event of sudden disruptions requires a complex mix of operational resilience, business continuity, disaster recovery and emergency response planning. When co-ordinated effectively, this has a direct impact on the bottom line by reducing the frequency and duration of outages, and minimising loss of production.

We caught up with Alex Lal from Velrada – who gave us detailed insights into the changing nature of business continuity, opportunities created by digital technologies and the ways in which the resources sector can capitalise on these, particularly in the current environment.

Alex Lal, Business Transformation and Technology Consultant, Velrada
Alex Lal, Business Transformation and Technology Consultant, Velrada

Business continuity has seen a number of changes in the last decade given the introduction of technology, and focus has shifted to an integrated approach of business resilience management – what are your thoughts on this?

Business continuity planning in the resources industry has traditionally tended to be largely responsive, focusing on creating contingency plans that describe how to manage risks and recover systems in the event of a major incident.

However, modern standards such as CERT-RMM and ISO23001:2012 emphasise the importance of operational resilience: ensuring that key assets and services remain available during a major incident, or at least restored quickly and reliably in the event of an outage. We would add to this the need to be adaptive to the circumstances of the event.

Cost pressures on the industry frequently dictate that only the most critical production equipment and control systems are designed with this in mind, meaning a more adaptive planning approach is required for those assets and services that may need to be recovered or replaced during a crisis.

Fortunately, digital technologies – some now fairly mature, others emerging – are allowing this adaptive approach to be achieved in a more cost effective way.

Companies that adopt these techniques can identify pressure points and common failure modes in advance, and manage these risks in a way that provides confidence that they will continue to be able to operate safely and securely under duress.

The application of digital technologies such as mobile, cloud, spatial and analytics has numerous advantages and helps to ensure effective business continuity – what role do these technologies play?

These technologies have had the effect of allowing central planners and analysts to collaborate much more effectively with decision makers and field workers on operating sites, providing them with the information and tools they need to either plan for or respond to major events. They allow organisations to manage asset safety, resilience and security at a more granular level.

This is underpinned by the ability to visualise and understand the operational status of equipment or systems – and take action to remediate potential issues – in real time (or near real time). So called ‘digital field’ or ‘smart operations’ approaches combine the ability to gather large volumes of data remotely with analytics techniques that allow it to be aggregated, visualised and analysed extremely rapidly. This allows operational decisions to be made quicker, based on a clear and comprehensive understanding of the data.

Location awareness (or spatial intelligence) is another key area of development. Information captured from remote sensors can be visualised and analysed in its spatial context to forecast whether particular changes in environmental conditions can be used to predict – and therefore mitigate – potential threats. For example, an organisation might notice that important production or safety equipment degrades more rapidly in particular locations, which in turn may indicate more proactive condition monitoring may be required.

Mobile devices are changing the way field workers operate. Mobile-enabled workflow tools allow them to initiate maintenance requests or report incidents, geolocate them accurately, and capture supporting images or information on the spot. The ability to locate relevant information via a mobile application or browser might even enable them to take action and resolve the issue immediately. GPS or RFID data from mobile units can be used to identify where workers or vehicles are in the event of an emergency and provide them with the quickest route to safety.

Taken together, these technologies can significantly enhance an organisations ability to identify and plan for threats and maintain business continuity more effectively.

“The key to mitigating the ‘depth’ of the disruption (i.e. the amount of damage caused) is preparedness”

Business Continuity Management can be defined as “the management of the total event from the time it occurs through to achieving pre event status again” – is there a particular stage at which these technologies yield optimum results?

Some business continuity events are unavoidable. The most adaptive organisations are successful in limiting the depth and duration of disruption caused during the course of the event.

Organisations that are able to resume normal operations quicker than their competitors are often able to achieve a sustained operational advantage by gradually optimising their ability to respond to future events. Those that take longer to recover tend to struggle to fully restore their pre-event capacity for an extended period.

The key to mitigating the ‘depth’ of the disruption (i.e. the amount of damage caused) is preparedness. Technologies that enable key teams, equipment, systems and processes to continue to operate under duress – even if at reduced capacity – have a major bearing on the level of preparedness. Examples include predictive analytics that model how major events might impact these assets or cloud technologies that allow them to operate remotely.

Minimising the ‘duration’ (i.e. the time it takes to recover) involves planning to ensure these assets and services can be restored or replaced when they fail. This involves securing robust supply chains (a particular challenge for resources companies, who often compete for scarce resources in areas in which their competitors also operate), as well as ensuring that these are built using skills, hardware and infrastructure for which replacements are freely available wherever it is possible and prudent to do so.

The resources sector carries a unique set of challenges associated with ensuring effective business continuity management– are there specific methods and processes available?

It is true the resources companies often face a fairly unique combination of circumstances that can make effective business continuity planning incredibly difficult.

“We see disaster recovery planning as a natural extension of business continuity”

The need to operate in remote and often challenging physical and geopolitical environments, operate heavy and highly specialised machinery and equipment, store and transport large volumes of hazardous materials and secure basic resources such as food, water and electricity are all factors that complicate matters. The potential for significant human and environmental damage if the risks associated with these are not controlled appropriately mean that stakes are very high.

However, we believe that the principles that underpin effective business continuity planning continue to form the basis of the right approach: identifying the assets and services that are critical to the operation in advance; empowering teams and individuals to quickly assess the impact of any disruption and decide on a course of action; providing them with the information and tools they require to act swiftly; and seeking to restore normal operations in a controlled, predictable way, reconvening regularly to reappraise the situation and being ready to move quickly to respond to new threats.

Disaster recovery refers to the recovery of the IT component of the business that occurs during the crisis management phase – what is the significance of digital technologies in this phase?

We see disaster recovery planning as a natural extension of business continuity. Technology is so ingrained in the operation and management of most operations that it is not really possible (or sensible) to consider one without the other.

It is important to understand the interdependencies between operational processes and technology systems so that these can be planned for in the event of an outage. Operating sites can be exposed to technology risks far away from their physical location, for example in corporate data centres or external IT service providers.

Core technology services such as networks and telecommunications are often critical in the early stages of the response to a major incident: reliable access to information and the ability to communicate are fundamental to assessing the impact of a business continuity event and planning an effective response. For this reason, they should be among the higher priorities when it comes to planning for resilience.

Digital technologies such as mobile and cloud can help ameliorate some of these issues by enabling information to be accessed or telecommunications to occur from outside the corporate network – public carrier services may be unaffected by the incident, while cloud enables technology services to be abstracted from the physical locations in which the organisation operates. At the very least, they might provide cost effective back up services that ‘buy time’, allowing operations to continue at a degraded level (or to be shut down safely) until core services can be restored.

Catch Alex Lal at the inaugural Business Continuity in the Resources Industry Conference next month in Perth.

Hear from Alex at the Business Continuity in the Resources Industry Conference
Hear from Alex at the Business Continuity in the Resources Industry Conference

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