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Yesterday Kim (fellow BC professional and wife) and I spent the day touring a cement plant.

We did the whole end to end process from the quarry, where the raw materials come from, through to the cement bagging plant; this included a visit to all parts of the process in between. This was an orientation visit to a plant in the UK before carrying out a full business continuity lifecycle development for a plant outside the UK. Once we had the full tour we started to think about ‘what business continuity for a cement plant could look like’.

I have worked with a number of defence manufacturers in the past and always find business continuity for manufacturing difficult. How do we apply the principles of business continuity to the manufacturing process when there is often only one end to end process and the item being manufactured cannot be produced elsewhere? Their strategy is often ‘we will fix whatever is broken and that it will take as long as it takes’. Is there any point in having a Recovery Time Objective (RTO) as it is an artificial time? The fix will take as long as it takes. Secondly, at this plant they seemed to have had every sort of disaster a plant could possibly have, from a close down of a key part of the plant by the Health and Safety Executive, adding an extra 30 days to a shut down period due to a fatality, to having a fire on site. How does the Business Continuity Manager carry out a risk assessment when they only have a day or two on site? How do they add value to a process which is highly managed and point out threats and risks to managers who have worked on the site for 40 years and seen it all? A similar thought struck me when dealing with datacentre clients: how would I do a threat analysis on a massive data centre over 3-4 hours when the banks will employ specialist electrical and chillier engineers to carry out an in-depth risk assessment taking several weeks?

How do we add value to the process and provide a credible benefit to the site rather than being seen as another ‘waste of time head office initiative’, or providing zero benefit for the money spent on consultancy?

Here are a few ways I believe we can provide benefit and add value:

1.     Identifying the activities which are carried out on site is always of benefit even to those who are very familiar with the site. Even within large sites, processes and activities can be siloed and it is not often people see the bigger picture and the independencies between parts of the site. By determining the Maximum Tolerable Period of Disruption (MTPD) and the RTO for each activity we can see how long particular parts of the process can be down for before they need to be recovered. This can help managers better determine between what is ‘an incident’ and what is ‘a day-to-day event’. These timings can also be built into upward reporting so that senior managers know they will only be informed of incidents with large impacts.

2.     It is difficult to second guess people who have been running a plant for years but I think you can still add value. By going through each part of the plant and looking at the potential threats and what mitigation measures are in place. Actually going through the plant in a structured manner and noting the information down in one document can reveal gaps. Furthermore, mitigation measures which the management would like to get in place but are perhaps too expensive can be addressed. This could be an opportunity for the consultant to raise the issue of implementing these measures at senior management level, so that perhaps the budget can be made available were it was not available in the past.

3.     Where in the past the strategy might have been to just fix the problem, there is an opportunity to look at how the service or product could be delivered if there was a catastrophic failure. This could be getting a competitor to deliver the service or looking at outsourcing the production. Either may not be very palatable but the possibility should be addressed.

4.     The other areas where I think you can add value to is in the management of incidents. The plant management may be very good at fixing the problem but the team has to think wider than this. Communication is key in all incidents and the management team has to communicate upwards as well as to staff, suppliers and customers. Get the communication right and there may be an opportunity to reconnect with customers and show the wider world what a good organisation you are and that you can deal with any problem. Incident management is a learned skill and all teams can benefit from planning and exercising.

A manufacturing plant can benefit from the same business continuity approach as all other business; you just have to think through how you might adopt the approach! 

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