OPINION13 August 2020

Business continuity: research’s heroes

Covid-19 Innovations Opinion

Business continuity is underrated by many researchers, but has been a true superhero in Covid-19. It is time to give it credit, writes James Vaughan-Smith.


When you think of superheroes, business continuity probably is not the first thing you think of. After all, the definition of business continuity is hardly super heroic: “the process of creating systems of prevention and recovery to deal with potential threats to a company.”

Not what many would call enthralling stuff. Especially not those involved in an industry where machine learning, design thinking, and data visualisation are commonplace.

However, redefining business continuity as “four ninja-skilled operatives, defending the good from all attempting to prevent their progress” makes it sound more intriguing. If you’re thinking that sounds more like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TNMT), you’d be right. This is because all four famous cartoon reptiles have a business continuity equivalent.

And much like the TMNT hid away in New York’s sewers, underappreciated, so too have business continuity processes. However, business continuity has risen from the depths of the operation manual to maintain order in the Covid-19 era. Now it’s time for business continuity practices to be hailed as heroic. And fortunately, for every Turtle, there’s a business continuity equivalent.

Organisational consistency and structure

Armed with his katanas, Leonardo lead the TMNT. Similarly, existing process and procedure have shone since March. With project teams all working remotely, version control, consistent filing procedures and naming have become vital time-saving devices. The ISO9001-certified project management framework has become a time-effectiveness katana, allowing as much time as possible for analysis and creativity.

IT and collaboration infrastructure

Donatello, the reptilian creator of the Turtle Blimp, was inventive. However, even he couldn’t have designed, built and tested a cloud-based IT network faster than Covid-19 shut the UK economy down. Existing IT systems have now risen from being a taken-for-granted tool to a researcher’s best friend.

Remote working could have made on-the-job learning complicated. But IT solutions have also made it possible for senior researchers to continue showing their more junior colleagues how to structure, lay out and communicate their thinking in real-time. Even the most basic of inventions, such as the regular chief executive email bulletins and monthly internal newsletters, have become a vital engagement and motivation tools.

One-to-ones and wellness management 

While Leonardo and Donatello represent the harder heroics of business continuity, the pizza-loving Michelangelo represents the softer side. Business continuity balances keeping the hardware running with maintaining a healthy virtual workplace. One-to-one meetings with managers have been critical in understanding any problems individuals face in the remote working reality, Covid-19’s economic fallout and the removal of physical interaction with colleagues.

Furthermore, people knowing their managers have received mental health workplace training, that resources on maintaining wellness are available and that no topic is undiscussable creates an environment of psychological safety that has been vital in keeping staff in good health.

Diverse learning and broad thinking 

Before discussing what the red-masked, sai-spinning Raphael’s business continuity equivalent is, let’s remember that business continuity aims to manage potential threats to a company. Covid-19 is threatening businesses’ commercial existence in an unprecedent way.

There has never been a better time to revaluate and sharpen your offer. And the recent constraints of lockdown meant most researchers, replenished with time, have broadened their thinking and engaged with distant disciplines. And it is the creativity this cognitive broadening generates that will power the next wave of research innovation and move businesses from continuity back to prosperity.

When normality returns, let’s remember business continuity processes as heroes of the Covid-19 era. Operations professionals probably accept the words ‘business continuity’ lack the pulling power of ‘machine learning’ or ‘motion infographic’. But for now, let us give them the round of applause and appreciation they deserve.

James Vaughan-Smith is operations director at Northstar Research.