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4 Aug 2013

SMotW #68: continuity plan maintenance

Security Metric of the Week #68: business continuity plan maintenance status

Business continuity plans that are out of date may be a liability rather than an asset.  Whereas ostensibly it may appear that the organization is ready to cope with business interruption, in fact the plans may be unworkable in practice due to substantial changes in the business and/or the technology and/or the people since they were written or last updated.  

Furthermore, valid questions about the suitability of the continuity plans at the time they were originally prepared or updated are still more important if the organization is failing to maintain the plans. Did the inevitable assumptions and constraints involved in their preparation invalidate them?  Did they pass their tests with flying colors?  Were they ever adequately tested in fact?  Could they be trusted to work properly?  If they are not being properly maintained (which could be taken to imply their being systematically reviewed and improved), the quality of the organization's processes for managing the plans is seriously in doubt.

ACME's senior managers are quite rightly concerned that its business continuity arrangements are good and ready to keep things going when it all turns to custard, begging the question how to measure its business continuity plans?

Possible business continuity metrics include:

  • Measuring the breadth of coverage of the plans, particularly of course those business processes (and the associated IT systems and relationships and people and other vital assets or components ...) deemed business-critical, but also miscellaneous supporting processes that could become critical if they failed irrecoverably;
  • Measuring the quality of the plans, perhaps by assessing compliance with ACME's business continuity plan quality standards, or against some external arbiter such as BS 2999, ISO 22301 or the Business Continuity Institute's recommendations;
  • Testing the plans to the appropriate level of assurance (corresponding to the criticality of the associated processes etc.), and measuring the test results (hopefully with something more useful than crude pass/fail!);
  • Counting the number of plans that have not been reviewed or tested when planned;
  • Counting the number of days overdue for the plan reviews - easier if all the plans have a "test before" date;
  • Proportion of plans that BOTH passed their last test AND are not overdue for the next planned test;
  • A maturity metric looking at the overall quality and suitability of ACME's business continuity planning;
  • Measure and rank the residual risks associated with the failure of business processes etc., taking into account their inherent risks and the risk treatments, including business continuity plans;
  • Measuring component parts of the business continuity arrangements e.g. resilience, recovery and contingency aspects;
  • Benchmarking e.g. comparing the business continuity arrangements made by various parts of ACME against each other, and/or against acknowledged good practices, and using the ranking to encourage the weakest to emulate the strongest.
[Some of these metrics have been or will be discussed and scored separately in this blog and the book, but feel free to apply the PRAGMATIC approach to them yourself, in the context of your organization, if they strike you as worth considering.  By all means score other business continuity metrics on the same basis, including any that you favor or are already using.  For bonus marks, tell us what you make of them and share your PRAGMATIC scores with us and our readers.  Seriously, we'd be fascinated.]

Anyway, faced with a proposal to implement a metric that reported the status of the business continuity plans across ACME using a red-amber-green map representation as shown above, ACME management rated the metric as follows:


80% is a very respectable score with no serious concerns, making this a strong candidate for incorporation into ACME's "Executive Management Metrics Dashboard" (well, OK, an intranet page and perhaps a simple display app to help justify those shiny new iPads!).  However, since there are four even-higher-scoring business continuity metrics examples in chapter 7 of the book, plus a further 5 metrics scoring over 70%, it's not an automatic decision to adopt this one.

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