Learning to expect the unexpected is a significant advantage in the world of tendering. With the state of the world in constant flux, buyers need to be reassured that the service you provide is reliable, even in unforeseen circumstances. It’s therefore good business sense to look ahead and consider how outside forces can be planned for – ensuring ‘business continuity’, so your customers are always protected.
What is business continuity?
‘Business continuity’ is the ability to provide your service at all times, and is cultivated during the planning stage by considering all possible emergencies. Depending on the nature of your business, this procedure could span many different possibilities. The best way to figure out which areas concern you is to simply sit down, and ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my critical assets; what does my business rely on?
- What events might threaten those critical assets?
- Could my business survive without them in the long- or short-term?
- What can we do to mitigate those threats?
- Are there any replacements available?
- Are there any ways to mitigate their absence?
- Is there a better alternative?
These questions will help you form a business continuity plan, which will reassure customers and other businesses of your reliability.
How do I make a business continuity plan?
Once you’ve identified the sensitive areas of your organisation, it’s time to figure out how to safeguard them. Outlined below are several key risks and mitigation techniques, implemented as best practice across various companies:
- Inclement weather: Severe weather conditions can prevent employees from getting to work. To mitigate this, employers could maintain a back-up pool of staff, giving them contingency labour for those unable to attend work; or, providing an even simpler solution, allocate local workers to the project, who don’t have as far to travel. This creates a highly localised contingency measure, ensuring your resolution is customised to the contract at hand.
- Sickness: The ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for businesses to plan for illness/injury resulting in employee absence. This could include basic measures to reduce the chance of illness (e.g. COVID-19 testing, the use of masks and gloves) or adapting your staff resource allocation, to ensure you always have enough workers to service your contracts.
- IT system failure: As many businesses now rely on IT systems to complete work, their failure can result in a complete standstill for the company. It is important to plan for such events, reducing the likelihood of failure in the first instance by using a high-quality system (e.g. storing information in the cloud, where it can be easily re-downloaded), and limiting the impact of failure by creating reaction plans (e.g. a system of escalation for suspected failures). To prove their suitability, these measures should be assessed on a regular basis – for example, through penetration tests.
- Industrial action: with ongoing industrial action such as strikes, the effect on service delivery cannot be underestimated. For example, train strikes can cause significant staffing issues as staff cannot travel to specific locations. Similarly postal strikes, and the delays associated with deliveries, should be factored in when considering supply chain.
- Lack of resources: The availability of fuel and other resources has been drastically impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, and is a recurring consideration in tender questionnaires. To reassure the buyer, you should demonstrate the resilience of your supply chains – for example, by adapting a thorough vetting process, considering the suppliers’ own business continuity plans; procuring emergency or back-up suppliers; or by emphasising your history of good service with the company.
Communicating business continuity plans
For a continuity plan to be effective, it must be fully understood throughout the company. It is therefore important to inform employees how to respond in an emergency. This could be as simple as maintaining a clear management hierarchy, providing a system of escalation in an emergency, or by training your employees in emergency protocols. Subcontractors, if in use, must also be adequately aware of business continuity plans, ensuring a collaborative response.
Experience using the plan/lessons learnt
When writing a tender, describing your business continuity plan is simply the first step. You must then prove the effectiveness of your plan, by discussing how it’s been used previously, and turning a negative experience into a positive one. For example – if you experienced IT failure under a previous contract, you can discuss how quickly you were able to mitigate the effect, and how delays were effectively mitigated. This can include ‘lessons learned’, detailing the ways in which you used the experience to augment and improve your plan further – making your company even more reliable.
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