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What business continuity plans? I have a business to run!

Ahh, the irony! Organizations that have been through some kind of a disaster certainly understand the value of business continuity plans. But for most everybody else?

“When you talk about having a plan that could cost $20,000, $50,000 or $100,000, and might sit on a shelf and gather dust, for most business leaders, it’s ‘Excuse me, I have a business to run,’” said Paul Kirvan, a business continuity consultant based in New Jersey.

I heard a lot of variations on that attitude in my reporting this week for a story on mapping key risk indicators and key performance indicators in order to prove the value of business continuity (BC) programs. BC plans are a tough sell and not only because of those business leaders who’d rather spend money on making money.

The field is young — only about 35 years old, Kirvan told me. And the tools of the trade are not all that sophisticated. Quantifying the impact of a business-disrupting event that hasn’t happened, in order to craft a sound plan for getting back to business, is a soft science.

So soft, in fact, that Ramon Krikken, an analyst with Burton Group, has found that anecdotes about the bad things that have happened to other companies — good, old-fashioned horror stories — continue to be among the more powerful tools continuity specialists possess for convincing upper management that business continuity plans hold value.

In the United States there’s another element at play that makes it hard to get funding for BC — what Kirvan calls the “cultural dimension.”

Business continuity is viewed differently in the U.K. and other European countries from the way it is here, said Kirvan, who has worked extensively in the United Kingdom and is also a board member of the Business Continuity Institute. Of course, Great Britain is the source of arguably the industry’s most accepted business continuity standard, BS 25999. But it’s not just a matter of standards or certification, he said.

“The culture over [in the UK] tends to be one of anticipating potential problems,” he said. Business continuity is taken seriously, he said, perhaps because of issues with the IRA over the years and more recently, the 2007 terrorist bombings.

“Our culture, by contrast, with the pioneer spirit, that can-do, ‘We can handle anything, just throw it at us’ attitude, doesn’t take that view,” Kirvan said. American businesses are focused on the present and tend to believe the future will always be brighter.

“The typical reaction I have seen over the years from American businesses is that, ‘Well, we have never had a major issue, why should we worry about it? We’ll deal with it when it occurs,’” he said.

What about at your company?