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What does the future hold for work area recovery sites?

The traditional work area recovery site has been a mainstay of many business continuity plans for at least two decades; but are WAR sites yesterday’s solution or do they have a future? Charles Boffin says there are two distinctive views about the future of WAR sites…

An old truism: when you start a journey, it’s more important to know where you’re going than where you’re starting from. This is true of most things in life and, certainly, successful people, organizations, projects, initiatives or whatever, rely on an agreed vision as a core start point before the route map can be planned. As far as I am aware, relatively few people start their holiday by heading to the nearest airport and hopping on the first plane to take off! I was reminded of this as I had the pleasure of joining a discussion panel at the recent BCI World Conference on the subject of the future of work area recovery (WAR) sites. What is the future? Discuss!

There was a healthy debate with a clear mix of views ranging between the almost polar opposites of ‘slow/little change’ to ‘fast/significant change’ as traditional WAR sites disappear or are replaced with more effective alternatives thanks to technology and other considerations. But, the key aspect that struck me was the clear differentiation between the two groups of fast and slow and I reflected upon why this was the case. Now, of course, commercial considerations come into play here – if I’m in a business that relies heavily on income in this area, I may not be too keen to promote rapid change as it hits my bottom line, but we have seen from the past that successful companies are those that can and do adapt to changing environments. The Encyclopaedia Britannica was convinced that, despite the Internet, people would always want weighty tomes on their bookshelves; and so they were late to that particular digital party…

However, in the context of WAR sites, it seems to me that these two approaches will bring remarkably different results:

View one: slow/little change

This starts with the premise of changes to an existing infrastructure. We have WAR sites: what might these sites look like in the future? Will they be reciprocal sites, used for other purposes in general day-to-day operation? Will this focus on better estate management by organizations, taking this capability in-house? Will WAR sites remain but have more/better technology and so be more effective/efficient? When will all of this start to happen - creeping evolution rather than radical revolution?

The end result is the view that there will be WAR sites for some years to come, although perhaps not exactly as we currently know them.

View two: fast/significant change

This takes a different approach by looking at the end game – the resilient future, be it real or aspirational. WAR sites as they stand at present are part of a wider recovery strategy(ies) and if we look at a future where we have greater technological resilience and services delivered virtually/remotely, it is difficult to contemplate that empty buildings full of technology waiting for people to arrive will form part of the solution. This is for a number of reasons, not least of which being that the traditional WAR site scenario already feels very 20th Century. A case in point: if my service provider suffers a massive disruption, would I expect wholesale movement of people to continue business or might I envisage services to be delivered by different media/channels in the short-term, at least, while full recovery is undertaken. The high street office is closed so I access services by Internet/phone/other channels.

A key question

There was a wide-ranging discussion at the conference and, as above, there were clearly two camps who each put forward strong arguments. However, I was struck by the observation of one member of the audience who responded to the comment from another participant that face-to-face emergency management/invocation teams in control centres will always be more effective than virtual ones. He pointed out that whilst for us that may be the case at present, our children will (and already do) have no such concerns about working in virtual groups/communities. So, perhaps we should be building an organizational structure for the next generation rather than focusing on ourselves? This future is already with us. Case made as far as I am concerned!

Conclusion

When predicting the future, we can be sure of one thing: we can never be 100 percent accurate and the challenge is to be flexible, to assess trends and to think outside of our own personal boxes. Look at that end game. Organizations that succeed are those that are willing to change (and this doesn’t have to be bleeding edge) to stay ahead of the game. Traditional WAR site providers need to be thinking about this now and not just assess changes that are coming in terms of existing infrastructure, but more radically considering how the market is changing and indeed whether WAR sites in their present guise will form part of the solution for organizations going forward. And, equally importantly, how fast this change will happen.

For business continuity in our more resilient future, solutions will involve an array of elements including virtual teams, AI driving key decisions, multiple service and delivery channel options, mobility of workforce through technology (not physical) plus a range of ideas that have yet to appear.

A final thought. At the great risk of being complacent or thinking that this is always an issue for the other party, we can see these fundamental changes happening all around us. It is relatively easy in these times to list a number of businesses where there will undoubtedly be fundamental change over the next few years. A quick and very random list - fossil fuels (oil and coal), libraries, high street retailers, medical services, music providers, transport etc etc. Question: are they now looking towards that end game and planning for change?

The author

Charles Boffin is CEO of ClearView Continuity.



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