A joint report from the Chartered Management Institute and Cabinet Office finds attempts to protect business operations are often haphazard and untested

Many organisations fail to provide adequate protection for their key assets, said a new survey.

Published by the Chartered Management Institute and Cabinet Office, the survey finds that organisations recognise a need to guard against disruption and face increasing pressure to do so. However, attempts to protect business operations are often haphazard and untested.

The survey, now in its ninth year, shows that only 47 % of organisations across the UK have a business continuity plan (BCP) – a figure that has barely changed since 2002 (45 %). Major differences also exist between organisation types, with BCPs most apparent in the public sector (62 %) and amongst listed companies (55 %), compared to only 40 % of private and voluntary organisations.

The low level of protection is surprising and suggests organisations are still only paying lip service to contingency planning. It comes, despite a significant majority of managers (76 %) reporting that business continuity is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to their employer, with 66 % claiming responsibility for implementation rests at senior management level.

Pressure to protect

The study indicates, however, that employers are coming under increasing pressure to develop BCPs. Asked to identify what influenced the adoption of a business continuity management strategy, most respondents with a plan cited corporate governance as the key driver (60 %). Amongst PLCs, this figure rises to 76 % and is 69 % in the public sector.

Central Government was listed as the second highest driver (33 %) followed by customer demand (32 %). The results also show that calls for contingency planning are increasing from auditors (30 %, up from 24 % in 2007) and insurers (30 %, up from 28 % in 2007).

“Too many organisations still do not have effective business continuity arrangements in place.

Bruce Mann, director of civil contingencies at the Cabinet Office

Bitter experience is also becoming a solid driver for business continuity planning. The survey indicates that 94 % of organisations which had invoked their plan in the past 12 months felt that it had been effective in reducing disruption.

Haphazard and untried

Yet, despite the obvious benefits, even those organisations adopting BCPs are haphazard in their approach. For example, only 29 % address the potential loss of people, but 35 % experienced disruption as a result of this in the past year. And, despite 73 % suggesting that ‘IT downtime’ would have a significant impact on costs and revenue, only 39 % of organisations focus on loss of technology.

Jo Causon, director, marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute, said: ‘Some hard questions need to be asked about why the mismatch between planning and protection is allowed to exist. It doesn’t matter whether the turbulent times we face are caused by economic or security concerns; the simple fact is that failing to provide safeguards for business operations does not make sense. The ability to manage risk is a critical skill and unless it is taken seriously businesses and jobs will remain at risk.’

Although there is some improvement, 33 % of organisations with a BCP still do not undertake any form of exercise to test their plan (down from 37 %, last year). A high proportion (78 %) of those who do exercise at least once each year said shortcomings had been revealed, enabling them to make improvements. However, 9 % admitted that no steps were taken to address the weaknesses that had been uncovered.

The evidence also suggests that staff training relating to BCPs remains limited. Among those with a BCP, 35 % include BCP training on induction courses (rising from 30 % in 2007). However, with an annual staff turnover rate of 12.9 %* there is a clear need for increased levels of training to build resilience.

Bruce Mann, director of civil contingencies at the Cabinet Office, said: ‘Whilst this year’s survey shows organisations taking steps to improve their business continuity arrangements it also shows, starkly, that there is much more to be done. Too many organisations still do not have effective business continuity arrangements in place. This view is echoed by the findings from Sir Michael Pitt’s review of the 2007 floods. It is bad news for employees, shareholders, customers and communities. Lessons need to be learnt, and acted upon, to strengthen business and national resilience, as a whole.’