Business Continuity Finance & Enterprise

Weathering Disruptions: Business Continuity Versus Operational Resilience

Weathering Disruptions: Business Continuity Versus Operational Resilience

Weather and climate effectively mean the same thing, right?

Well, not really. The two terms describe two distinct ideas, but the semantics are often lost in the flow of daily conversation.

Weather should be used in relation to short-term conditions, like a few days of rain or a heat wave. Climate is the long-term pattern of weather conditions a region experiences, like subtropical, desert, or tundra.

Operational resilience has weaved itself into the lexicon of the business continuity world, sometimes supplanting the term business continuity as a synonym. And the term’s fuzzy newness is mostly to blame. But when you jump into the details, the two ideas show their differences; operational resilience and business continuity aren’t a thesaurus loop and are actually tags for two separate — but related — ideas, much like weather and climate.

So, what sets the two ideas apart?

What is Business Continuity?

Most professionals know what business continuity is. But for the sake of comparison, let’s give some context.

Business continuity is a long-term approach to continuity threats. Plans are a chief component of business continuity and are what most operations within business continuity center around.

Business continuity plans are a blueprint for responding to specific crises and incidents. Hurricanes, power outages, and civil unrest each require unique recovery roadmaps from planners and their organizations. The goal of business continuity is to be proactive.

Plans are far from being the only player on the business continuity roster, however.

Crisis management and incident management also weigh in. Responding to crises and emergencies is often a game of minutes, and a single slip can cause major losses. These buckets within business continuity carefully dance with plans to keep organizations afloat through rocky waters.

IT disaster recovery (ITDR) finds itself under the business continuity umbrella, too. Technology outages are one of the biggest threats to businesses and organizations. And while restoring outages is a unique challenge, it still requires involvement from business continuity planners.

Business continuity is a lot like the climate. Climate should be used in reference to the long-term patterns a particular area experiences. Rain can happen in deserts and colder temperatures can swing into tropical areas. But over the course of decades, centuries, and millennia, those areas experience defined predictable patterns that lend themselves to their respective classifications. Everything in a climate is the result of different systems and events interacting to create a consistent atmospheric experience. Climate, in a sense, enables proactivity. You know to bring warm clothes to the Midwest in the winter or a big, shady hat to the Caribbean.

Business continuity encompasses a lot of different factors carefully working and influencing each to produce a stable, long-term outcome. Continuity planners set many things in motion, reaching an expected goal that persists through interruptions. Their programs produce a stable result, much like climate.

What is Operational Resilience?

Does the definition disparity between weather and climate really matter? In casual conversation, not really. Most people won’t care to correct you even if they know the distinction. But in more established and serious talks, you should have the difference down pat.

The same principle should be applied to business continuity and operational resilience.

Operational resilience is best described as cousin to business continuity. The immediate impact of disruptions come under focus in these operations, and it’s where some organizations explore their flexibility under the stress of immediate disruptions.

Let’s go back to our weather and climate analogy. Weather is a focus on the more immediate patterns we experience day-to-day, like a few rainy days or a stretch of high temperatures and humidity. And when we first look out the window, we piece together a plan for weather — wear a raincoat and boots, apply sunscreen, etc.

The goal of operational resilience is to make operations capable of strong arming through disruptions. Planners, ideally, want their operations to be resilient enough to be unbothered by disruptions. And while it is impossible to make operations a totally immovable object, planners with the right knowledge and resources can get rather close.

Business Continuity and Operational Resilience: Spot the Difference

Business Continuity vs Operational Resilience Comparison Chart

Much like weather and climate, the differences between business continuity and operational resilience do not mean the two aren’t related.

Say a banking institution has dozens of locations across the southern United States. This area historically experiences hurricanes and tropical storms that can readily cripple transportation infrastructure, power supply, and buildings for extended periods. Because these events may happen — or are likely —  it makes sense for the organization’s planner to build a business continuity plan for extreme storms and how these events typically cut access to key assets. In other words, a hurricane will most likely make it difficult, if not impossible, for customers and employees to access many of the banking institution’s locations for work and services.

If a hurricane were to swoop into the area, the plan would lay out how the banking institution can manage the large-scale disruption. The plan would include known alternates for essential functions across all departments and a roadmap for returning to normal operations when possible.

Now let’s take that same banking institution and face it with an ice storm and a subsequent short power outage in a city. Only a handful of locations will be affected most likely, and these branches won’t be able to provide services to customers during the short window.

Operational resilience would rely on flexibility and quick actions that keep the issue from bubbling over and spilling into the remainder of the organization. Part of this institution’s resilience may be back-up generators at every location or canned communications alerting customers to the situation and how they access the institution’s services during the brief disruption. The goal is containment through safety nets, ensuring existing processes and functions endure the stress of a small-scale disruption.

Cement and Concrete, Jam and Jelly

We mistake two distinct but similar things for each other all the time: ships and boats, jams and jellies, cement and concrete, poison and venom. And to most, each pair’s differences are no more than extra  points during a game of trivia. But professionals — shipmen, confectioners, engineers, toxicologists — know the split and how it influences their jobs.

Business continuity and operational resilience are two separate buckets for handling disruptions, and each eyes different goals. Knowing the nuance is important for business continuity planners, and directly influences how well an organization handles the many disruptions businesses face.

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