The operational resilience and business continuity debate
- Published: Tuesday, 02 August 2022 08:02
Continuity Central recently published ‘Business continuity and operational resilience – how different are they really?’ - an article exploring where the two disciplines merge together and where they don’t. Here are comments received from readers in response…
I agree with the main arguments in the article. Business continuity is often presented as deficient or retrograde in resilience arguments. Advocates of operational resilience tend to highlight the differences to gain traction. I also agree that business continuity done well starts with an end user and stakeholders' perspective, which seems to be the main point of contention in the article. The slide presented in the article is helpful in this regard.
A key strength of business continuity alluded to in the article is also its biggest challenge - it is perceived to be a technical discipline led by specialist professionals. Operational resilience is presented in a way that is appealing to anyone in an operational or leadership, or Board role. Operational resilience also has the distinct advantage of being mandated by the regulatory authorities in one of our most influential industries.
As the Cranfield University Resilience Grand Challenge lead, I am excited by the prospect of a transdisciplinary approach to this field. Both business continuity and operational resilience draw inspiration from many different disciplines (from psychology to ecology). Currently, practitioners and researchers of business continuity and resilience often take a practical and pragmatic approach to their work, sometimes borrowing or transforming concepts from other fields. They frequently assemble various building blocks of models, ‘best’ practices, and tools into new explanations.
Whilst complex social phenomena cannot necessarily be well understood from a single perspective, the danger is fragmentation and proliferation and duplication of measures, terms, concepts, and paradigms, making it difficult to discern in what direction the field is progressing. It can also lead to turf wars between advocates of different approaches.
Ultimately, the aim of both business continuity and resilience is to help people, organizations, and communities better prepare for and respond to disruption. In my experience of enabling dialogue between resilience researchers from different disciplines, terminology and application are always different, but the core principles are shared. For example, redundancy is a core feature of both financial resilience, cyber security, and ecological resilience but is achieved in very different ways.
There is an urgent need for collaboration and conversation that may not provide ‘answers’ but could assist in breaking down disciplinary silos and offering alternative outlooks on matters that have previously received limited attention, thereby creating solid foundations upon which to build debates with the prospect of directing a much-needed research agenda into ‘what works’ and, ultimately, an evidence-based approach to resilience practice and policy.
As such, I think that the Operational Resilience Report 2022 and Helen Molyneux’s comments are valuable in addressing how different perspectives are synthesised, linked, or at least juxtaposed to generate a more inclusive view of business continuity and resilience.
A key, albeit controversial theme, or quote, made by numerous respondents to the recent BCI Operational Resilience Report 2022 was – “isn’t operational resilience just business continuity done right?”. This was picked up in Helen Molyneux’s article in response to the report.
In talking to professionals before the issuance of the report, and certainly over the past few weeks since the report was issued, I find some people are offended by this statement, some instantly embark on a comparison of the two efforts, and others simply agree. But when we step back and acknowledge the many interpretations of ‘good practice’ when it comes to continuity and resilience, as well as the application of good practice in our organizations based on need, many practitioners focus on different outcomes and therefore one’s interpretation often influences the reaction to the quote.
But I would like to offer this. If you made the customer the centerpiece of your business continuity program, or if you worked to prevent disruption while recognizing that disruption is evitable because not all forms of disruption can be prevented, you might agree with the statement. However, if operational resilience thinking pushed you toward some new concepts such as impact tolerance and plausible scenarios, then it may have introduced some significant value and therefore operational resilience is different from business continuity.
As such, I would challenge all of us to leverage the best and most applicable elements of leading practice – from business continuity to operational resilience and even other disciplines – to ensure a continual capability to meet customer and market demands by appropriately investing to prevent disruption when possible and to build a response capability to minimize impact when the uncontrollable or unpredictable happens.
Don’t get hung up on words or titles. Instead, let’s use our collective experiences and the influence from studies such as this report to help organizations build a capability to ‘bend, not break’ regardless of what happens. Hopefully we can work to prevent disruption and respond favorably, regardless of what we call the work we do or the discipline in which we operate.
Brian Zawada, FBCI, Chief Operating Officer, Product and Delivery, Castellan Solutions.