The Secret to a Successful BIA Interview: Get Their Information Ahead of Time

bia pre work

Once upon a time, there was a business continuity consulting firm that held business impact analysis interviews with their clients WITHOUT first getting them to gather and provide basic information about their business units ahead of time.

As the owner and CEO of that firm (MHA Consulting), let me tell you something:


The interviews went on for hours and hours, since we had to gather every little scrap of information while we were all sitting there in the meeting.

Worse, the quality of the information was not very good. In the excitement (or whatever) of all of us being there together in a conference room, and the lack of opportunity to think things over, people tended to leave out a lot of critical information.

Eventually, we hit on the idea of providing our clients with forms requesting certain information beforehand. We referred to this as the BIA pre-work, and after we started incorporating this into our BIA process, our lives were never the same.

Ok, I’m exaggerating (a little), but it is definitely true that after we started gathering information ahead of time, the following good things happened:

  • Our interviews got shorter by around 45 minutes.
  • The effort required to accomplish the goals of the interview was much reduced.
  • The interview experience became less irritating for the participants.
  • The quality of the information we received went way up, improving the quality of the business impact analysis and everything based on it.

Are you going to be conducting BIAs at your organization anytime soon?

If so, I encourage you to think about incorporating a phase of pre-work into your process. If our experience is any guide, you will be glad you did.

Fine, you might be thinking, I’ll try it. But how would I structure the process? What information should I gather? And what do I do with the information when I have it?

I’ll tell you how we, at MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICSTM do it, and maybe our experience can guide you toward a good solution for your organization.

The BIA Pre-Work Process

When we do BIAs, we use the pre-work functionality of our BIA ON-DEMAND (BIAOD) tool. The clients click on a link, and the tool walks them step-by-step through the information we would like them to provide. However, the same basic result can be achieved through forms prepared in Word, Excel, or similar programs.

We also try to ensure that the pre-work takes no longer than 30 minutes to complete.

When we send the link to the pre-work, we include a note explaining what we are doing. These emails typically go out over the name of a department head or some high-ranking person sponsoring our project.

In the cover note, we tell the people when we would like them to provide the information, typically giving them at least two weeks to finish and submit it.

Every situation is unique, but the key points are:

  • Use a tool such as BIA ON-DEMAND, or else create your own set of clear, simple forms that take less than 30 minutes to complete.
  • Explain to the people you are imposing on what you are doing and why it’s important.
  • Give the people a reasonable amount of time to complete the task you’re asking them to do (around two weeks).
  • Include a due date.

Types of Information to Request

When we’re doing BIA pre-work, we ask for two types of information: general information about the business unit, and more technical information about the unit’s critical business processes. (By the way, these requests for information are typically directed to a department-level business unit, such as the call center, the finance department, the claims department, etc.)

The general information we ask for includes the following:

  • What the business unit or department does.
  • How many employees it has.
  • Where it’s located.
  • What its hours of operations are.

Then we start to get more technical. We ask the business unit to tell us what their most critical business processes are and to provide us key information for each process.

Typically, we ask them to tell us their 5 to 7 most important processes. (The point is to focus on the most important processes, not to catalog every single one.)

For each process, we then ask them to provide the following:

  • The name of the process (e.g., “the accounts payable process”).
  • A description of what the process does (e.g., “it’s designed to pay our vendors within 30 days”).
  • A list of the systems or applications needed to support the process.
  • All specialized equipment needed to support the process (meaning unique equipment that would take a long time to replace).
  • Any internal dependencies (other departments at the organization whose participation is required for the process to work).
  • Any external dependencies (outside entities such as banks, law firms, or computer consultants needed to support the process).

When they finally gather and provide this information, then we have assembled – in one convenient place – data on who the department is, what they do, what their most critical processes are, and what equipment, other departments, and third parties they depend on to complete these processes.

This sets the stage for a focused, efficient, and possibly even enjoyable business impact analysis interview.

What Happens Next

 The first thing we do on receiving their information is to validate it. It’s not unusual to look over someone’s responses and see some that are obviously incorrect (such as the time one of our sources listed, instead of their unit’s critical business processes, the possible critical situations they might face).

If we do see something that’s obviously incorrect, we notify the respondent and ask them to review and correct their information.

After that, we’re ready for the interview, and at the interview the order of business is usually to confirm the information they provided and then use that information as a springboard to do a deep dive into each of their critical business processes, asking them about its regulatory and legal requirements and so on, as well as about the impact on the organization if the process couldn’t be performed.

Here are a few more things we’re discovered over years of doing this:

  • Some people forget to do the pre-work, or just decline to. You have to not take it personally and work with what you get.
  • It doesn’t pay to assume too much about people’s level of understanding of the process. Sometimes people who have worked in a department for decades are at a loss when you ask them what its critical business processes are. We’ve learned to simplify and take things slow.

That’s the BIA pre-work process in a nutshell—or at least, that’s how we do it at MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS.

If, in doing your BIAs, you incorporate a pre-work phase similar to that described above, I think you’ll find that your interviews will be shorter and more productive, your participants will be happier, and that the information you get will be of a much higher quality than if you do your BIA interviews without obtaining the basic background information ahead of time.

Do a Business Impact Analysis the easy way

You work hard to make your business a success—shouldn’t that include protecting your most critical assets? A BIA is the first step to ensuring that your business will continue to thrive in the event of disruptive external factors beyond your control.

We’d like to help you take this first step. The BIA On-Demand (BIAOD) tool makes it easy for you to pinpoint the most critical units of your business. Running in a secure portal, the tool walks you through a full evaluation of your business processes, from collecting the pre-work to evaluating dollar and non-dollar impact to determining recovery time objectives. In the end, it automatically calculates the level of criticality of each unit you’ve chosen to evaluate and produces a detailed report of the results.

Visit our website to schedule a demo of how the BIA On-Demand tool works or to get in touch with questions. If you’re struggling with a BIA currently or want guidance through the process, we’re here to help.

Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

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