Some relationships are casual, like the ones you have with the people who make your lattes, share the elevators you ride in, and sit next to you in the airport waiting rooms. Some are critical, like the ones you have with your spouse, your boss, and your landlord, if you have one.
The critical relationships are those in which the other person’s actions can have a serious impact on the quality of your life and your ability to meet your goals.
Recognizing this, most people manage their critical relationships with a heightened degree of care and consideration, treating the other person with special respect and investing time and effort in keeping things between the two of you on a positive footing.
What I want to impress on you today is that, as a business continuity person, your relationship with your IT department is one of the most critical relationships in your professional life. As such, it is a relationship you should approach with all of the sensitivity and consideration you can muster.
The topic is on my mind because I have recently seen a number of instances where relations between the BCM program and the IT department were less than optimal, a situation that can have serious negative repercussions on the organization’s resilience and recoverability.
What are some of the common sources of friction between the BC and IT teams, and what can you do as a BCM professional to maintain a good working relationship with your IT colleagues?
Read on for my observations and recommendations.
It is common for the IT department to have negative feelings about one of the BCM program’s core activities: conducting the business impact analysis (BIA).
- Often the IT department has already conducted its own informal BIA and developed its own recovery strategy and plan. In such cases, IT is likely to regard the BIA as redundant and unnecessary.
- The IT department often worries that the BIA will come up with results which differ from their own findings, creating the potential for inter-departmental conflict and more work.
- IT tends to wonder if the end result of the BIA process will be that it will be asked for something it cannot deliver, exposing it to potential negative judgments from senior management.
- IT often feels the BIA is BCM’s problem and that they do not have the time to participate.
- IT often feels that BCM and the business side lack a clear understanding of its activities and as a result will make unrealistic demands.
- Sometimes BCM people are inhibited by the feeling they should not bother the IT staff. Paradoxically, this high respect for IT can cause problems down the road.
- Few things are more embarrassing than for BCM to give a presentation to senior management then yield the floor to the IT department, which then says it disagrees with everything BCM just said.
- Sometimes management and even the BCM program show excessive passivity and deference in the face of IT’s conclusions regarding how long it should take to restore key systems.
As you can see, the relationship between the IT department and the BCM program is potentially fraught with tension. However, it is important for the well-being of the organization that the two teams learn to work together effectively. Moreover, experience shows that this goal can usually be met, provided the BCM program goes about its work in a sufficiently proactive, diplomatic manner.
How should you as a BCM person approach your relationship with your colleagues in IT? Keep reading for my recommendations, which are based on my nearly two decades in the field, working with organizations in a wide range of industries from all over the country.
- Consult with your IT colleagues early and often.
- Don’t tell IT what they must do, ask them what they need from you.
- At the beginning of the BIA process, focus on gathering information. Ask IT for an inventory of their applications and systems.. Inquire about the impact if the different systems were to become unavailable for different periods of time.
- Don’t go to IT with a lot of the work already done, presenting it to them as a done deal. Involve them from the beginning.
- Resist the temptation to start proposing solutions right away.
- Invite IT to be your partner in closing the gap between the organization’s current capabilities and what is ultimately needed.
- Explain to IT that the way of closing the gap is not for them to perform miracles, but for the two of you to go to senior management and explain that, in order for the organization to be able to meet its identified goals in terms of RTOs, RPOs, and so on, IT must be provided with X additional resources.
- Approach IT as a partner, demonstrate respect for their expertise and judgment, and explain to them the benefits of their participating in your BIA (strengthens the organization overall, gives them clear goals as a department, helps them justify their budget, etc.).
- Strive to present a unified front with IT in your dealings with senior management.
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- Don’t say: “IT, you have to help me with this!” Do say: “Hi IT, can we start a conversation about where we stand right now in terms of our organization’s recovery capability?”
- Think like a diplomat. You’re trying to build a productive relationship with an entity you depend on but which you do not control. The best way to do this is by creatively identifying shared interests.
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- Help IT understand that you’re not critiquing their job performance but rather identifying needs and seeking their input on how to meet them.
- Look at the BIA as an opportunity for BCM and IT to begin sharing information, educating each other, and building a working relationship.
Admittedly, it sounds challenging. And you might now be saying to yourself: Really, Michael? In addition to everything else I have to be on top of, am I also expected to be some kind of super-salesman or diplomat toward my own organization’s IT department?
The answer is yes if you truly want to succeed in your role and help your organization.
The good news is, I can assure you from experience that it is definitely possible to take a relationship between the BCM program and the IT department that was initially thick with mistrust and turn it around so it becomes cooperative and positive for both sides. I’ve seen it happen many times, usually as a result of the BCM program’s adopting an approach such as that I describe above.
And the benefits to your organization, in terms of the strengthening of its resilience and recoverability in the event you ever face a disruption, are incalculable.