Six ways business continuity can keep a building going in an emergency

by FM Media
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The built environment is constantly at risk of disturbance from external factors, such as natural disasters, power outages, fires, accidents and even bad weather.

With both public and private spaces exposed to potential disruptions, facility managers must prioritise business continuity planning to help protect people and property alike.

Business continuity planning involves developing a practical strategy for how a building’s management team can prepare for an incident or crisis and continue to operate afterwards. It is such an essential tool for facility management that the International Facility Management Association has identified it as one of the 11 core competencies of the industry.

Business continuity planning mitigates the impact on a facility when critical infrastructure is compromised or interrupted. Developing an effective business continuity strategy can be challenging, as there are so many factors to consider.

These factors can include anything that threatens a commercial facility: a physical break-in, heat wave or a serious water leak, just to name a few. They could also include incidents that undermine any IT infrastructure housed in a facility, such as a power surge or a security breach. Even something that threatens personnel, like a disease epidemic, can put a facility at risk.

A business continuity plan provides the groundwork that lets a facility get back on track in the minimum time possible after a disruptive incident. Business continuity encompasses three core elements: resilience in how a facility functions and how infrastructure is designed, recovery to restore systems that fail and a contingency to cope with disasters that may occur.

Facility management teams that do not have a business continuity plan in place are at risk of not being able to recover in the event of an incident. The strategy they choose affects their downtime, which in turn impacts the bottom line and whether or not they successfully continue overseeing the facility’s operation.

Buildings now house complex IT infrastructure, broadening the types of business operations facility management teams must consider. As such, business continuity planning for facilities needs to include a burgeoning array of business technology.

By carefully identifying and implementing a mix of existing internally managed infrastructure and outsourced technology with the help of a hybrid IT provider, facility managers can develop a company-wide business continuity strategy that will not only help keep the physical aspects of a facility running, but also the IT systems that reside within it.

There are six key ways business continuity planning can save your facility and your bottom line:

Refreshing and testing business continuity plans
Business continuity isn’t just about putting a plan in place; it’s about putting a plan in place and then making sure it still meets the facility’s needs over time. If you’re not thinking about business continuity as a continual process, then your strategy could be outdated. And if you’re not building validation into your disaster recovery strategy, you’re not nearly as protected as you think.

Balancing cost
It can be hard to make a case for business continuity because the only real way to measure return on investment is after your systems or infrastructure have gone down. The reality is that it’s expensive to keep everything optimally operational at all times. Not every system is mission-critical all the time. An effective business continuity strategy balances cost and risk, and determines which systems must operate continuously and which don’t need to.

Human error
Humans make mistakes. You may have a highly resilient facility infrastructure from a technical perspective, but if the appropriate operating procedures aren’t in place, you may not meet your actual resiliency requirements. Always verify that your outsourced service vendors follow correct procedures. Actively seek out service providers with a demonstrated commitment to quality, which can be shown through certification through organisations like the Uptime Institute, Six Sigma and ISO.

Vendor assessment
Conducting third-party vendor evaluations is a critical component of validating a business continuity plan. It starts when you sign up with a vendor, and it continues whenever you assess your strategy. Ask questions and, every time you validate, ask these questions again. Conduct regular audits and pay special attention to the business continuity plans of the providers of any services you regularly use. If they operate in a way that doesn’t conform to standards, you’re shouldering the risk.

Evaluating what service-level agreements (SLAs) really mean
For facilities that house IT infrastructure environments that come under the jurisdiction of the facility management team, it is important to make sure that you have a clear idea of the service-level agreements you have with IT service providers and vendors. For example, if you assume you’re covered because you have a 99.999 percent uptime guarantee under your existing SLAs, you may want to dig deeper into what that means. An SLA may guarantee 99.999 percent server uptime, but there is other infrastructure associated with a server too, like the IT backbone that connects the server to end users. It is important to find out the SLA guarantees for all elements of your facility’s IT infrastructure to develop an adequate business continuity plan.

Data centre redundancy
If your facility houses a data centre, it’s important to check whether it’s in a location that’s susceptible to natural disasters, such as a geological fault, cyclone zone or flood plain. Next, make sure you have the right level of redundancy. For example, most corporate offices that are used to house critical IT in comms rooms do not have redundant building power from two different sources. This means a simple power outage can bring down the entire corporate data centre. To reduce costs and risk, centralise your corporate IT into no more than two data centres per region. This will also enable you to build strong business continuity plans without the added complication of having to include too many facilities locations.

The author, Stuart Mills, is regional director, ANZ of CenturyLink, an enterprise IT solutions provider. This article also appeared in the February/March edition of Facility Management

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