Client’s Guide to Hiring a BC Consultant

Richard Long

Bringing in a business continuity (BC) consultant can make your life easier, but it’s not necessarily easy to find one that is right for your organization—or to know when and how to make the best use of their expertise.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss situations when you might find it especially helpful to bring in a BC consultant, areas where they can best help you, and how to find one that meets your company’s needs.  

  In today’s world, organizations are increasingly turning to third-party vendors to handle areas that are outside their core business functions. The same factors that make this approach advantageous for functions such as security, accounting, cloud-based IT, and software as a service (SaaS) are also true for business continuity. Very few companies have business continuity management (BCM) as one of their core competencies, although all serious organizations need a BCM program.  

 

The Best Time to Bring in a BC Consultant

When is the best time for an organization to “give a little whistle” and bring in a BCM consultant to help? Here are a few situations where bringing in a consultant can bring significant benefits:

  • When the organization doesn’t have sufficient staff or doesn’t want to do the work in-house. In this situation, the company wishes to bolster its business continuity program, and its employees might even have the skill set necessary to do this; however, the organization lacks the manpower. The result is the BC program is not getting the attention it needs. The company’s exposure lingers while management keeps its fingers crossed that nothing bad happens. Instead of letting things slide indefinitely, management can contract with a BC consultant and have the company’s BC program strengthened in a matter of weeks.
  • When the organization lacks the skillset required to perform business continuity work at a sufficiently high level. Every serious organization needs a business continuity plan and group to manage it (it does not have to be a large team or in all cases, a full-time job, but does require time and effort). However, relatively few companies possess the unique skill set necessary to implement one. (For details on what these skills are, see: “Help, I Need Somebody: 4 Times When You Should Hire a BC Consultant.”)
  • When the organization wants its staff to undergo training in BC so it can do the work in-house going forward. At MHA Consulting, we are occasionally brought in by an organization to do the work that needs doing here and now, such as conducting a round of BIAs or holding a recovery exercise. Simultaneously, we train the staff in doing those same tasks so they can handle them internally in the future.

 

Nobody Does It Better

Maybe it’s not correct to say “nobody does it better,” because the business world is full of smart, talented people and who knows? However, there are a few things that most good BCM consultants do very well. That’s what the following list is about. These are a few areas where getting a little bit of business continuity expertise can make a big difference in the resilience and recoverability of your organization:

Strategy development

An organization just getting started in BC might turn to a consulting firm for guidance in setting up their overall BC strategy. This could include such areas as relocation, technology needs, staffing, cloud use, data protection, and alternate data centers. Such an engagement might take as little as two or three hours of consulting time.

Strategy review

Organizations that have the resources and expertise might prefer to develop their business continuity strategy in-house. Strategies developed in this way can frequently be improved at reasonable cost through their undergoing review by an experienced outside consultant. A consultant can confirm whether the proposed strategy meets current best practices and is in line with trends in that industry. The consultant would share his or her assessments with the in-house team. The team would then have the option of revising their strategy.

Budget preparation and justification

Experienced BC consultants are typically highly familiar with the corporate budgeting process. Such consultants can provide valuable guidance to BC managers regarding what level of funding they need to meet their BC objectives. The consultant can provide the numbers to help the BCM manager prepare a budget and justify it to senior management.

Documentation review

If the organization creates its own recovery strategy and overview documents, it might find it beneficial to have this work reviewed by a consultant. The consultant can provide insight into whether the documents’ structure is optimal, the level of detail is appropriate, if other information should be included, and whether the documents meet industry and BC best practices. Such a review might require only two to four hours of consulting time.

Plan development and framework

The organization can leverage the consultant’s plan-writing experience, sample plans, and templates to create their own plans.  High-quality templates and sample plans provide you with detailed guidance on what should be included. This allows your team to focus on getting the numbers and time frames that are appropriate for your organization. Buying a good sample plan from a consultancy is a way of getting your hands on a lot of hard-earned expertise at a comparatively modest cost. After customizing the sample to suit your organization, you could then return to the consulting firm to have them review your work.

Mock disaster training and exercises

A consultant can help develop and facilitate training and exercises for business continuity (business processes) and IT/disaster recovery (technology). The consultant could come up with the scenario and templates. Your team could then focus on executing your recovery plans and identifying gaps.

Program management and maintenance

Many companies lack the manpower to handle the routine tasks of managing and maintaining a BC program. A consultant could take this work off their shoulders. The consultant could handle such routine tasks as reviewing BIA information, performing BIA updates, making sure BIA information is integrated with IT/DR changes, and following the documentation maintenance schedule.

 

Walking After Midnight, Searching for You

How can you find a skilled, efficient consultant who is the right fit for your organization and situation? One way is to go out “walking after midnight, searching for you,” as the song says. Or you could just get in touch with the various BCM consulting firms that are out there and ask them questions such as the following:

  • Who specifically at the company will be working on your engagement? What is their relevant experience? Make sure their background and specialty match your organization’s need.
  • What is the organization’s methodology? Is the company flexible when their usual way of doing things is not a good fit for the client’s culture or needs? A consultancy should be able to tailor what they do to the needs and priorities of the client, not make the client fit their process.
  • Will the consultancy provide examples of successful past work? You shouldn’t expect to get resources that you can use internally for free, but you should be able to obtain something that demonstrates that the consulting company is capable of doing the work.
  • How are they keeping their process and documentation relevant to today’s environment? Ask some basic questions on solutions and options, given your needs and environment. Don’t expect to get a solution for free, but the answers you get should provide a good sense of whether the consulting company is staying current and will be able to provide solutions that make sense to you.

The answers you get should help you begin narrowing down which firm—whether it’s MHA Consulting or another consultancy—that would best help you in meeting your needs.  

Accomplishing Your Goals

If your team lacks the expertise or time to advance your BC program, you might benefit from the services of a business continuity consultant. Consultancies such as MHA Consulting can provide especially good value in particular functional areas, including strategy development, budget preparation, and documentation review.

In hiring a consultant, look for a firm that has a proven track record, understands the problems you are facing, and is oriented toward helping you accomplish your goals rather than forcing you into using their methodology. A good BC consultant can help your organization thrive.  

The End of the Line

This is the end of today’s post but perhaps only the beginning of your search for a BCM consultant. The trend toward companies’ outsourcing functions outside their core competencies has definitely affected the world of business continuity. As described above, consultancies such as MHA Consulting can provide particularly good value in certain situations and in particular functional areas. In seeking a consultant, look for a firm that has a proven track record in business continuity, understands the problems you are facing, comprehends your company’s mission and culture, and is oriented toward helping you accomplish your goals rather than forcing you into using their methodology.  

Further Reading

For more information on this and other hot topics in business continuity and hiring a BC consultant, check out the following recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS:

 

About
Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.
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