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Using the business impact analysis (BIA) as a planning tool

Use the business impact analysis (BIA) as an efficiency tool. It can serve as a guide in tough economic times and a roadmap when the economy rebounds.

These economic times are challenging at best. More often than not, you hear about a company attempting to be more...

competitive by implementing staff reductions in response to economic conditions.

The question I pose is simple: With all the financial analysis that's available these days and all the computer modeling already being done, why hasn’t anyone thought of looking at the business impact analysis (BIA) for use as an efficiency tool? After all, the data for the BIA comes from the business units themselves.

The BIA -- which gathered all the relevant information on the operational and priorities of the departments, usually just gets a nod and a check-off by management, only to be put on the shelf to collect dust.

Let’s review and analyze some of the information that is sitting unreferenced and unused, and how it can be so productive and effective to the organization.

Organizations perform information system, financial, cost, economic, and political analyses, hold strategic planning sessions, and forecast staff needs. One would never think of putting any of these on a shelf to collect dust. A business impact analysis (or assessment, as some prefer) is performed for the sole purpose of documenting potential quantitative and qualitative impacts to the organization should an interruption or disaster occur. This is no different from the other analyses an organization performs, and does not need to wait for a disturbance to be used.

The BIA can be of use proactively as a planning tool. A pandemic plan, for example, is a plan dealing with resource allocation, moving personnel from one area to another to cover some functions, allowing staff to work remotely and planning for uncertainty. In tough economic times, we again address resource allocation; resources can be staff, equipment, and facilities, and that data is already collected in the BIA.

The BIA is a close look at the business processes, from their own viewpoint, listing operational priorities, dependencies, staff level, contacts (both internal and external), the financial contribution to the organization, whether one can work remotely or not, resources required such as office equipment, any regulatory requirements and, most importantly, the minimal operation level which will allow the organization to operate. All of this information is crucial for making prudent business decisions for the organization.

So, let’s review how organizations react in a down economy. One of the initial steps is to perform a reduction in force or layoff, or whatever term you prefer. The decision to reduce staff across the board affects those areas that are contributing less but also penalizes the departments and processes that are important and a priority. A mechanism or report to help decide where the organization can afford to save money and utilize resources more effectively yet not hurt the operation would be more helpful.

Using the BIA you can determine, directly from the business area’s own view, the process priority for recovery, process details, time criticality, dependencies and resources needed. All you need to do is to view the BIA in a different light.

Looking at the staff resources needed, you can determine who in the staff is more critical to the tasks required. This information can assist management in defining the optimal staff level to perform given functions. This approach is more effective and efficient than across-the-board reductions.

Reference the resources section of the BIA, where the business function outlines what it needs to continue operations. This will include hardware, peripherals and other resources. This should appear in the BIA under minimal resources needed.

Why is this important? Well, if you can view and optimize the necessary resources, perhaps you could see where savings could come from either delaying purchases or sharing resources such as network printers or combination scanners/fax/printers. If you can be just as productive with staff working from home for an extended period of time, you may find that you can reduce your immediate office space needs.

Another drawback to indiscriminant, across-the-board reductions is an area which already operates at a skeletal level will further be reduced affecting other departments if they are dependent upon this department.

Don’t save that valuable information for use only in the event of a disaster. Use the BIA information and analysis you already have tucked away somewhere, it really is a treasure trove of information. The BIA can serve as a guide not only to get you through these tough times, and later be a roadmap of what and how to do when the economy rebounds.

About this author: Harvey Betan is a certified business continuity planning consultant with experience in disaster recovery in both technology and business functions. He migrated to business continuity after the restoration of a large insurance company with a major presence in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. His career has spanned a dozen years in business continuity after a 15-year career as a senior manager in information technology for the financial, insurance and nonprofit sectors.

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