Business Continuity planning redefined – will you be resilient in the next crisis?

Dawn Turpin

Lead Consultant | AUA Consulting

Dawn Turpin has 20 years’ experience in leadership and management positions within the higher education sector with expertise in corporate and academic governance and regulatory compliance across UK nations.  A former Head of Governance at The Open University, Dawn is now a Lead Consultant with AUA Consulting. 

When the first wave of COVID-19 hit you probably did have ‘pandemic’ somewhere on your business continuity plan. You may well have reached for that plan – or perhaps your hastily established crisis management team just got on with it. Sadly, the second wave is now upon us but there will come a time when it is over (I trust). As colleagues have commented in previous blog posts many institutions will need to review their strategies and plans for the future and it will be equally as important to review those business continuity plans. 

Business continuity planning is traditionally about planning for your operations to continue as normal in the face of a crisis but there was nothing normal about the need to rapidly move teaching online, to having campuses closed and to having all staff working from home – the business of higher education simply needed to continue. So alongside planning for business continuity, plan also for business resilience – a plan that will enable your institution to adapt when the next disruption occurs.

And yes, I know these things take time, but that investment can reduce the time and cost of any response to the next ‘crisis’ through informed rather than rushed decisions. And – once written – plans should not just be put on a shelf, they should be tested and regularly re-evaluated.  

Three points to consider:

1. Risk management is about identifying, assessing and mitigating risks and is the starting point. Business Continuity is about responding to risks that have materialised. They should be connected processes. In my experience they are not always. Are they in your institution? If not, why not, and what, if any, was the impact on your response to COVID-19 of insufficient connection?  What can you do to improve for the future?

2. Business continuity plans can often focus on disruptions directly affecting the organisation while the external environment remains stable. Plan also – looking outwards – for the impact of a disruption on students, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders and for the impact of national decision making and global market behaviour

3. Ask what lessons, if any, can be learnt from how well your business continuity processes served you during this crisis. How were decisions taken at all levels and how might they be improved? Have weaknesses in your systems, processes and procedures been revealed? Are they in need of review? What are the opportunities that can enhance services to students in future?

Higher Education Institutions are well versed in navigating change, complexity and uncertainty. They have a crucial role to play determining society’s response to the ‘new normal’, whatever that may mean, but in so doing they need to be able to anticipate, prepare for, respond to and withstand whatever the next disruption might be. Business Continuity Resilience Planning, combining both strategic and operational factors, will enable your institution to take the blow, adapt and recover quickly.

For clients approaching AUA Consulting for support, we offer a flexible range of options, drawing on a depth of expertise in governance, policy and leadership among our consultant team.  If you’d like to find out how AUA Consulting can help your organisation explore the issues discussed in this blog, email  consulting@aua.ac.uk, or if you would like to have a conversation, call +44 (0)161 275 2063.  Find out more at www.aua.ac.uk/aua-consulting.

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