With an annual budget of £2.14 billion and 1.4m citizens, Essex County Council is one of England’s largest local authorities. This is an extremely complex organisation to manage – including dealing with myriad business continuity risks and their potential impact. To protect its operations, the Council has used Shadow-Planner software for business continuity planning and management since 2010.
Prior to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, senior managers identified business continuity as a potential weakness, so the council responded with a more formalised approach. “The question was, how can we manage something as important as BC more effectively across such a complex environment?” says Richard Verrinder, Business Continuity Manager. “We split the organisation into 18 service groups varying in size from Trading Standards with 70 staff in one main site, to thousands of people across Adult Social Care with dozens of offices. How can you possibly deploy a ‘one size fits all’ approach in an organisation like this - and in a way that takes managers with you?”
His small centralised BC team was formed and now supports managers and staff responsible for BC. “We are ‘corporate guardians’ of the Council’s BC plans, helping develop the right policies and strategies, providing assistance and ensuring plans are fit-for-purpose,” Richard says. “And the Council does run into service delivery issues: at least one problem a week normally requires dealing with."
Like many other organisations, the Council started out using Microsoft Word and Excel: tools business managers were familiar with. “We carried out audits,” Richard continues, “and when we looked at the continuity plans it confirmed our belief that they’d be better handled centrally. Without a centralised software-based approach, there’d always be problems to resolve. A primary issue was being able to keep core centralised information up to date at all times and ensuring changes were immediately reflected across all 18 BC plans.
"We wanted centralised control over those core elements plus, and this was crucial, the flexibility and ease of use for local business managers to meet their own requirements, based on their own set-up and risks.” Once he had secured funding, Richard says, “The question became ‘What do we need?’ tempered with ‘What can we afford?’ I treat situations like this as if it’s my own money.
"We’re spending taxpayers’ money, so it not only has to deliver real value but also be affordable – and sustainable.” An independent consultant helped the Council assess 30 products, eventually focusing on three. “We trialed Shadow-Planner and one other – the third simply couldn’t provide what we wanted.”
So why Shadow-Planner? “It provided an easy-to-access and use central database to contain all of our emergency contact information, plans and procedures. Before, everyone had their own contact lists, dozens, and there was no conformity. Another key benefit was centralising our plans, making them easily accessible using the Internet.
"We could simply update managers across the business, with all necessary information available as soon as changes were made. People know they always have the most up to date version. And we can easily see if plans are up to date, rather than receiving a multitude of plans in different formats.” Users can also view plans across different perspectives: “We have 18 service groups in a variety of buildings in multiple locations. There’s quite a complex cross-matrix between service groups, larger buildings and smaller sites. Shadow-Planner gives us the flexibility to look at plans in a building from both a service group and building perspective. Other products are far more linear; we have that enhanced view.”
Service Delivery Executive
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