Business continuity challenges in the public sector—and how to overcome them

Business continuity challenges in the public sector—and how to overcome them

Organisations with robust business continuity plans showed themselves to be more resilient during the current COVID-19 crisis. What does the public sector need to improve on?

By Thato Pheea, Business Development Manager, ContinuitySA

The COVID-19 emergency has shown us all that resilience—the ability to pivot quickly to respond to an unexpected change—is vital in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. It has also shown us how important a role the state plays in the economy, and thus how vital it is that government departments and entities are mentally and physically prepared to respond rapidly to changing circumstances.

Looking back on the way that government entities responded to the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown, it’s clear that there are some common challenges that need to be addressed:

  • A lack of synergy between IT departments and the rest of the entity. Too often, business continuity is seen as an IT issue, and so the broader issue of business continuity and resilience is lost. This problem is compounded by the fact that government entities are often very large, with many departments and a complex business process architecture. Many parts of government still have a high number of manual processes, which also makes it impossible to see business continuity as a purely IT problem anyway.
  • It seems like the business continuity message is not well understood across all layers of the organisation. Senior management know that business continuity management is a requirement of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and is also required by the Auditor-General. But they would do well to embed that message below the middle management level. This suggests to me that business continuity management is still very much seen as a tick-box exercise, one of those tedious things that must be done. If leaders truly bought into business continuity, it would become part of the culture of the public service from top to bottom.
  • A lack of genuine executive sponsorship means that the individual charged with business continuity management within the organisation has an uphill battle to try and convince colleagues of the benefits. Senior management buy-in to a comprehensive business continuity plan would develop the right culture for embedded resilience and greater awareness throughout the organisation.
  • It does not seem as though there is a “golden thread” running through government when it comes to business continuity. If there was a common policy framework, for example, the state’s business continuity programmes would be more effective, and certainly more cost-effective. In the end, the ability of a government entity to recover from a disaster is vital in ensuring service delivery continues. For example, if the Deeds Office cannot recover quickly from, say, a pandemic then the whole real-estate value chain is disrupted, with huge implications for both firms and individuals.

Government is the custodian of good governance for the country and provides the framework on which the economy and society hangs. Making it more resilient is critical to our national well-being. Focusing on educating all employees about business continuity management—what it means, why it’s so important—is a good first step.