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Charlie discusses the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to business continuity documents.

This week I have been reviewing the level of emergency response, business continuity and crisis management of a utility in the Caribbean. As part of the review, I was asked to look at their security documents and procedures. I came across an inch-thick security manual, which I had to blow the dust off before looking at the contents inside.

The manual was created about ten years ago, when the company had a USA security and engineering consultancy look at their security procedures and come up with the manual and recommendations for security improvements. When it comes to large manuals, consultants are inclined to have a standard set of documents which they don’t do much with, aside from changing the client’s name. This was obviously not an example of someone taking that shortcut. It was a magnificent piece of work. Lots and lots of client specific information, a risk assessment which ran to twenty pages and loads of really good detailed recommendations. As well as being a very thorough piece of work, I suspect it was pretty expensive.

The problem was not the quality of the work, but the amount – it was too much. If it was a piece of work for a large engineering build that would have been taken forward by engineers, it would have been very appropriate. It was too much to be taken forward by a Head of Security and his contracted guard force. So, the manual has sat on the shelf unloved and unused for the last ten years.

So how does this apply to us business continuity people?

I’m a firm believer in not overengineering our business continuity. I have seen lots of BIAs produced by consultants, contractors and internal BC people which are just too complex. They contain vast amounts of detailed information, but a lot of it is information for the sake of it and does not take the analysis part of the BIA anywhere. This means that when the next person inherits the BIA, they don’t know what to do with it. The new person won’t dare change it in case they break it, or because they think the consultant is more knowledgeable, so all the information is valid and shouldn’t be altered.

I have seen a similar situation in plans. There is lots of good information in the plan, but because there is so much information, the poor person using the plan doesn’t know where to start. In an exercise or in real life, they would pick up the manual, read the first two pages – one of which is an introduction by the CEO and the second contains the scope and a long list of assumptions – then throw the plan in the corner and make up the plan up as they go along. Weeks and months of the authors life all for nothing!

As consultants and contractors, we have a responsibility to the client to give them something workable which can actually be used. In instances where the client is going to take on responsibility for the ongoing maintenance, there needs to be a good handover, preferably a period of ‘hand holding’ and the solution needs to be workable for the level of sophistication suited to the client. For consultants and contractors, the more time we spend on a job the more we get paid, so there is reluctance to make the job too simple and therefore spend less time on it. There is also a desire to give the client value, and by producing lots of complex documents, it looks like you have done lots of work.  On the other hand, it is a brave and self-assured consultant who produces a two-page BIA and a one-page plan after six months’ work. It is actually much more work to make things simple than it is to make them complicated, but sometimes the value is not seen.

So, for consultants, contractors and those commissioning them, don’t think that the quality of the job is reflected by the number and thickness of the documents delivered. If you deliver your work and it is still in use a year on, although it may be unrecognisable from the original piece of work as it needs to be adapted, updated and changed by the client, then you have succeeded. If it sits on the shelf unloved with only the date on the front page changed each year, then you have failed, and your time and the clients’ money has been wasted.

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