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Our Spring Programme – A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

Delegates from as far afield as the USA, Canada, The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany joined resilience colleagues from across the UK for the EPS’s latest free educational event.

Over 200 people joined A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, a webinar led by Michelle Lee Whitlock, Naveen William and Simon Burrell. The team from Transport for London (TfL) shared their visual business impact analysis and preparedness assessment scorecard with visual dashboard. The tools were built in-house by the team using easily-accessible Microsoft applications and are fully automated, having been used to create visual storyboards using data.

Michelle, who is Resilience and Business Continuity Lead at Transport for London, and the team shared how they have created an alternative to spreadsheets, Word documents and Business Impact Analysis documents which were very administration and resource heavy.The team explained how, using Office 365 ‘Power Tools’, business continuity professionals can create business continuity systems which are more effective, engaging and automated that Excel spreadsheets, and potential more value-for-money and bespoke than “off-the-shelf: options.

The team explained how, by using the Power Tools, they had created a guided business impact analysis questionnaire using power apps and an automated power BI scorecard to help inform and structure business continuity conversations with the organisation and improve engagement. Michelle and the team also explained how the tools could be used to create workflows which engage throughout the organisation, negating the need for reminder emails as well as on-line self-populating plans which can be emailed to colleagues.

She told delegates: “When I went outside of my own team I couldn’t find anyone who understood the processes and outcomes of Business Continuity. I set out to change that.

“I wanted to create business continuity tools which were in plain English, which anyone can understand. There’s always great information in business continuity plans, it’s just not accessible.

“We wanted to move away from time-consuming, manual processes which sap people’s time to fully automating the system. We didn’t want to spend time doing things that didn’t add value, like reminder emails and manual data admin tasks.

“For example we had a Word document we were copying into an Excel spreadsheet – it wasn’t a good use of experience and skills.

“We wanted to align with industry best practice and to align with internal risk systems. We wanted a one-stop shop for business continuity across the organisation which is available 24-7.

“Creating this system has meant a goodbye to reminders. It’s meant we can add value, and provide expert opinion rather than be data collectors and spend a lot of time on slow and time-consuming administrative tasks.

“To develop my own tools I thought I would have to learn code and new language. But the power tools we used were really simple and intuitive.

“We have become citizen developers and the system is a low-code to no code environment. You can use these with little to zero specialist IT skills.

”All three power tools that we have developed our system from are part of Office 365 suite and you can access them straight away. There are templates to make use of and the automation works with all of them. You only have to change wording to map to your business requirements. Through this we’re able to track where we’re spending time in the organisation and report back easily on what the organisation has, or hasn’t, done.

“This is a data driven approach to business continue and resilience that can show where risks are and where we are adding value. It’s created a time-saving and consistent process.”

The development of the system has also automated the development of individual departments’ business continuity plans and only requires teams to input information once.

Michelle said: “The way it is set up values people’s time and gathers the data in one pass rather than asking twice or more. It also then maps internal dependencies and creates scorecards so everyone can see, at a glance, the true picture.

“The scorecard is probably the most effective part of what we do. It takes the data gathered and gives us a good visual tool on impact risk. It helps us determine where we should be spending our time. Then we can make easy business justifications on what’s at risk in terms of safety or revenue and what the potential impact is.

“Overall, we’re going to be working smarter, not harder. We already work really hard and many of us are in very small teams. This sort of system helps us work smarter.”

EPS Chair Jacqui Semple thanked Michelle and the team and said: “The purpose of today to look at how this vision and system could inspire others to think about digital journeys within their own organisations.

“The ability to bring business continuity into our organisations in a way that uses plain English, keeping it simple and accessible, and engages people is essential for us all moving forward. This is all about keeping it simple, doing it once, getting people engaged and creating a much easier way to do it. There’s so much potential.

“I’d like to thank the speakers for their time, passion, enthusiasm and innovation to use the tools that are out there in such a fantastic way.”

A number of questions were asked during the webinar which we have collated below.

Q: Whilst appreciating not everyone has full Microsoft 365 access, COVID has pushed digital solutions ahead on many agendas. We are all seeking to do the same things under the resilience banner, perhaps we need to consider a national group to share apps? Could the EPS support with this?

A: Absolutely, this is something the EPS could support with. We propose to set up a Professional Working Group to examine this area further. If you would be interested in joining this group please email media@the-eps.org

Q: Will you be able to share the basics of the construction of your ‘doc/app’?

A: Michelle will be happy to provide a template. Please contact her via LinkedIn (Michelle Marx – https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelleleewhitlock/)

Q: Can you use the data to cross compare different teams to understand risk across the business, or is this done manually?

A: We can present the data in comparative reports, usually at senior level, showing a Managing Director where the strengths and weaknesses lie in all the areas they are responsible for. This is all automated, and available at the click of a button!

Q: If we do not have “power apps” what is an alternate app we can use and integrate with SharePoint? And do we need SharePoint or SharePoint Online to achieve this?

A: Info Path could be used as can Share Point. If you only have Excel you can still make the scorecard if you know what you want to show the business, it’s just a different way of displaying it. Michelle can share that template with people if required. Both SharePoint and SharePoint Online can be used.

Q: Can you give an estimate of the time /hours you have spent in ‘developing’ the tools you have shown : ie in writing the Power Tools /testing /tweaking them to be ready etc

A: Because we had to start almost from scratch, it did take many hours and it has taken a year to get to this point. However, this system had very ambitious targets.  If you just wanted BIA data, you could do that in a week or two.

Q: How do you integrate with the operational automation processes which are intended to recover your minimum viable line of business services. Your IT teams will have run-books to recover servers, storage and security based on legacy automation tools from several vendors.

A: This is not something we currently cover past looking at what fallback, continuity or backup each software or hardware has but this could be something added in the future.

Q: Do you plan to publish the Power templates to a collaboration platform eg Gitlab?

A: We have not yet put anything up on Github but we will be looking into this in the future.

Q: Would you be able to share the basics of the construction of the document covered in the presentation?

A: For additional assistance, there are good tutorials available on Youtube which should how these can be set up in 15 minutes.

Q: Has the system’s resilience been tested?

A:  The system is carried under whatever your SLA is with Office 365. One way to ensure data is not lost is to automate sending out the information to your own data server and keeping hard copies so nothing is lost if there is a Microsoft outage. People should talk to their own IT service continuity managers.

Q; Have you reviewed and canvassed staff on how many are happier doing what you do now than previously and has it been positively received?

A:  Yes, we had people testing it and we were asking if was it user friendly, did it get to the right insights and impacts etc. We get really positive responses – people value  that I’m not chasing them to fill in plan templates. They fill in once and I can come back with specific questions.

Q: How much data manipulation have you had to do in the background to make it work?

A: Not much, if you get Power BI set up, it does it for you. As long as you have that right in Power BI,  if you do it once, it continues to do it for you.

Q: Do you do audits and who does them?

A: We have internal auditors who audit all of our information and we are looking to do our own audit and validation as well.

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