Jun 11 2014, 11:52am CDT | by Forbes
By Suhas Sreedhar
A renegade attack. A military coup. Regime change. Riots. Invasion. For many businesses in politically unstable situations throughout the world, coping with dangerous uncertainty is an everyday reality. Safety for employees is always the primary concern, but as lights flicker and network signals cut out, thoughts inevitably turn to how well your business can weather the chaos.
Twenty-first century threats are evolving, and places once considered safe now also face risks to their stability. To be caught without a plan for these circumstances puts employee safety and business survival in jeopardy.
So how do you prepare for the unpredictable?
Assess Your Threats
Whether instability is expected in a place, like Bosnia, or comes as a surprise, as in Boston, there are some basic steps to take to create a plan for business continuity:
“No one could have predicted that commercial aircraft would bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Center,” says Ron LaPedis, Workforce Continuity Strategist for Sungard Availability Services. “But companies that put advanced planning into place after the 1993 bombing stood a better chance of keeping their operations running.”
Know Your Environment
It’s not always worth maintaining operations in a hazardous situation. With the recent turmoil in Crimea, McDonald’s decided to close its three restaurants in the region and relocate them to Ukraine, while providing an opportunity for employees to move, as well. The actions of McDonald's highlight the importance of having an offsite backup location if your business absolutely relies on physical property to operate.
But for some companies, moving is not an option. Since 2011, General Motors in Egypt has had to deal with a revolution, a coup, and the constantly looming threat of upheaval and violence.
“Egypt is our second biggest automotive market in North Africa,” says Ghada Soliman, communication manager for GM North Africa. “The safety and security of our people is an overriding priority for us.”
To deal with the turmoil, GM Egypt developed a system of company-wide SMS texting to alert employees about safety conditions and operations, encouraged strict adherence to government curfews, and rallied workers together through a long-established sense of community.
According to GM, its 30-year presence in Egypt has been a driver of business continuity as its vast, expanded networks of suppliers and components providers have helped overcome losses, fuel local job markets and contribute to the Egyptian economy.
“We were one of the first companies to come back after the revolution,” says Soliman. We wanted to show our trust in the people and the economy, and to say,’We are here to stay.’ Our local supply chains and investors were also very eager for us to continue to develop new products.”
This is business continuity through entrenchment: By planting roots deeply into a regional economy, a company can weather difficult circumstances simply by being a major presence and a source of growth.
Since 2011, GM has managed to not only continue operations, but to embark on new vehicle production, relying on the large factories its been operating in Egypt since 1983 and the loyal and highly skilled workforce behind them.
“We have a fixable assembly line in place which can respond to sudden market needs or changes with high levels of agility. For example, if we find that the market is shifting from passenger to commercial vehicles due to the the current political environment, we can quickly shift our production line to produce more commercial vehicles. ” Soliman says./>/>
Such a robust combination of size and agility has given GM the ability to not only overcome a tough political climate, but also to act as a market leader in helping Egypt’s economy recover.
“ We value our customers and our customer base is very big. We cannot afford to just disappear; we have to support our customers in all circumstances.”
Data in a Disaster
However, not all businesses are large enough or have enough physical assets to build up robust supply chains and act as economic movers. Most companies that rely on information as their primary asset face unique threats when it comes dangerous situations.
“You may need backup power and communications links, remote data storage with synchronous or asynchronous data replication, backup processors, networking, PCs, and additional contractors or employees,” SungardAS’s LaPedis cautions.
Even then, the sensitive nature of information could pose a problem if governments or rogue regimes decide to crack down on communications and international traffic.
For example, restrictions on cross-border data flow already exist, and could make it difficult to convey valuable financial or business information if policies were suddenly changed. For this reason, it is crucially important to properly evaluate and prioritize what data are most vital for business continuity when developing a business continuity plan.
Political disasters can be alarming and highly disruptive to companies and their employees. Although no plan can account for every incident that might occur, a well-crafted continuity strategy with accurate risk assessment and impact analysis can help companies better prepare for the unexpected and increase the chances of surviving chaos.
Suhas Sreedhar has been covering trends in science and technology for six years, writing on topics from cloud computing to audio engineering to neuroscience. He has previously written for IEEE Spectrum magazine.
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