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When a services business is faced with an unanticipated disruption or disaster beyond its control, it can quickly result in lost profits, productivity and reputational damage. One way to ensure a business's ability to continue its operations in a crisis situation is by creating and testing a business continuity plan (BCP) - a process that outlines the procedures and instructions an organisation should follow in the face of potential threats. A few months ago, 2020 was touted the year of remote working. Fast-forward to now, and the hypothesis has been proven true: remote working is a business resiliency strategy that more and more companies are implementing in their BCPs. One of these companies is Broll Property Group, a leading commercial property services business with operations across Africa.
For Broll, an effective business continuity plan is a key initiative in an ongoing process of fine-tuning. Bev Esterhuizen, Group Risk and Compliance Executive at Broll, says the company's BCP has been in place for many years and its individual components are regularly audited. What makes the business continuity testing exercise of 12 March 2020 unique is that, for the first time in the company's history, the BCP in its entirety was tested in a live environment across Broll's six regional offices: Sandton, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, KwaZulu-Natal, Bloemfontein and Polokwane. After the business identified the potential risk posed by COVID-19, the Group CEO activated the test without prior notice on the morning of 10 March.
For any large organisation, pulling off an experiment of this magnitude at such short notice - with all participants performing their business functions remotely - is no small feat. One of the major challenges of creating a working BCP for any company is keeping up with consistent and dynamic technological advancements. Esterhuizen says that, as technology changes, Broll's business plans and DRP Systems chains need to be updated. "That's why we do the DRPs at least biennially - to ensure that we cover all the technological changes in the business," she says.
At the helm of Broll's IT platform is Stuart Mathieson, Group IT Executive. "My responsibility is the DRP Systems chain, a disaster recovery procedure for systems and IT platforms which is an element of the overarching BCP," says Mathieson. On 7 March, the company undertook a successful technical/ disaster recovery of the IT platform - but that was just one piece of the puzzle. Mathieson says the BCP is not simply for systems and IT platforms; it should speak to continuity "from a staff perspective as well as from a location perspective". On 12 March, the components were tested together from end to end, aiming to answer a crucial question: was it possible for Broll to be mobile - for its regional staff to operate as a fully remote team?
In a word: yes. "The testing on 12 March ran even better than we could have hoped for," says Mathieson. Upon completion of the testing exercise, Broll's participants were sent an online, real-time survey about their experience. The final review of completed surveys at 11am on 13 March revealed that 99.4% of staff were able to perform their functions effectively, with productivity for the remaining 0.6% impeded by issues contributed to by load shedding or connectivity.
Malcolm Horne, Group CEO at Broll, says the company is extremely pleased with the results which yielded solid proof, not just in theory, that Broll has a robust and fully functioning BCP. "We're confident that we have a practical plan in place, and that, at short notice, our business can operate successfully as a remote business across South Africa," says Horne. "Our staff were up-and-running. They were working and productive, and that's exactly what we hoped for - mitigating the risk to our clients' businesses."
The success of the exercise, according to Esterhuizen, comes down to three things: leadership, great teamwork and action plans that have been tested extensively and then tested again. "If you look at the Broll business, it's anything but static," she explains. "We have several divisions, all of which get new clients in on a regular basis." Esterhuizen stresses the importance of consistently analysing the business, then assessing, adapting and altering the BCP accordingly. She suggests that any organisation wanting to create an effective BCP should implement consistent review - at least quarterly.
Preparing for a proper review takes time and effort. Even at Broll, where individual testing of the BCP's components is a systematic undertaking, 12 March marked the first time the plan was tested across all regional offices simultaneously. But the experience has been worth it for providing the business with critical data and knowledge, setting it apart from its peers.
As its next steps, Broll plans to stay ahead of the curve and focus on further fine-tuning its BCP. Mathieson says, "We're always in the mould of making ourselves better and better. Our next goal is to ensure that the six people who could not work are up and running - we have no doubt we'll achieve this through the valuable lessons learnt." Horne appreciates the experience as an invaluable learning process for the business. "To see theory meeting practice was vital - it proved that our BCP works. We have no doubt this first step has set us up on a path to 100% success," he says. "This is a proud moment in our history, and we hope that we are setting the trend for other property companies to follow."