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Exclusive: Business Continuity Planning Under The Microscope

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, the world has very quickly changed into a world we are not familiar with. The way we go about everyday life is changing, how we behave and interact is also changing.

This means the workplace has had no choice also but to adapt, to keep employees safe, the wider community safe yet still try to maintain some form of business continuity whilst relying more heavily on technology to ensure it can.

“Now that many countries have regulations in place for a full lockdown of all non-essential services, it will be interesting to see how this will be enforced and people react to this,” said Rohan Wickremesinghe, Head of Technology Risk, Leading Australian Life Insurer.

Roles evolve post COVID-19 outbreak

Before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019, Rohan Wickremesinghe was the Programme Integration Leader for a Major Australian Life insurer, focused on the migration of technology and associated technology risks.

Post COVID-19 outbreak, he now Leads Technology Risk for the broader group which involves rolling out formal technology risk frameworks and analysing the risk posture across the entire life insurance group.

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, his role has evolved even more to focus on cybersecurity issues, data leakage, remote working and privacy issues that come with that.

Safety of Employees and Community First and Foremost

Even though the coronavirus has had numerous implications for the business world, Rohan has stressed that the safety of employees and community comes first and foremost for all companies within the Australian Financial Services Sector. This has resulted in a majority of major companies requiring their staff to work remotely from home.

Adapting to the fast-changing working environment.

In response to how tech is adapting in the fast-changing environment since the COVID-19 outbreak, his analogy is “that we are driving across the bridge as we are going over it.” We will be able to see the impact that has in the coming weeks.

With the many challenges that this presents, it has also brought opportunities for companies to re-evaluate their systems and processes. This includes how they have plans in place for such events as a pandemic, how to deal with a remote workforce and further evaluate the performance and capacity of systems and staff in their business.

Most companies within the Banking and Insurance sector have moved from audio-based meetings and pushed towards visual online platforms, to ensure employees still feel connected to their teams.

“My own team personally adopted a funny hat day where everyone was required to wear a funny hat. This allowed for a level of comradery and added a sense of fun in times where people feel isolated and cut-off from the world.”

It has also presented companies and our government with an opportunity to look at technology from bottom-up – core infrastructure through to baseline applications to determine whether capacity and performance requirements are satisfactory even for Black Swan events such as a viral pandemic.

One of the main challenges for him that has arisen from the global crisis is the high percentage of workforce working across remote networks at any given time, putting significant pressure on our networks with unprecedented volumes of traffic.

To counterbalance this, organisations are limiting access to system licenses to critical staff first. Non-essential staff have been asked to work offline and only use dedicated network time in out of hours when traffic is less. The utilisation of third party cloud software has alleviated some of this pain given they provide more scalable infrastructure.

Although we know our service vendors are also feeling similar pressures with government restrictions forcing many critical staff to work out of their homes, a scenario even they are not properly set up for. Examples include Tech Mahindra and TCS who normally operate out of massive business parks are now empty.

A strategy that many companies are currently using to keep business continuing and to keep productivity levels up is to rotate a team A and a team B. Team A is dedicated to working from corporate offices and Team B will work from home. This is a common strategy being rolled out across businesses that do not have the ability to cater for everyone to be working remotely. Rohan has said that it’s too early to measure but morale and productivity will be monitored in the coming weeks when further lockdowns come into effect.

“At present, the focus is on the safety of staff and community and how to work in a COVID-19 situation and to mobilise and stabilise systems and staff.”

Other areas within the retail banking and insurance sectors to be impacted by the pandemic will be an expected uptake in the number of insurance claims and requirement for more flexible banking products given many employees are no longer in work, and will require financial help from our government as well as private institutions.

From a risk perspective, we expect work to increase when looking into breaches of security cybersecurity and reporting on this. This is to be expected given the high volume of users working remotely. This, in turn, will increase the number of cyber opportunists looking to capitalise on cyber vulnerabilities within organisations. I would expect an increase in ransomware attacks and phishing attacks using COVID-19 as a way to infiltrate businesses.

It is important to consider these types of events especially considering business continuity management and performance planning. These will now register high up on leadership priorities going forward.

Business Challenges and Opportunities as a result of Global Pandemic

Rohan also discussed how businesses may become more vulnerable at this time and that business will have to make investments into technologies in terms of security, bringing the workforce online, and perhaps reconsider their current digital platforms in terms of performance and capacity.

He highlighted how it is also an opportunity for the government to look at their broader infrastructure and their choices in investment when it comes to the Internet and keeping the nation connected.

Rohan said companies will also have to review their access and data policies and service agreements and update how data is disseminated ethically and legally from a risk perspective. They will need to manage data physically and logically and how that can operate outside the corporate domain.

There is a greater risk of cyberattacks and opportunists to capitalise and disrupt during this vulnerable time. They will also have to look at the level of flexibility to cater to new ways of working.

A Chance to Make Time for Future Planning

Rohan added that this is an opportunity for leadership to look to the future and ask how to prepare your business from a social, technology and sustainability perspective on a nationwide level.

Businesses have previously made plans for disaster recovery and this was usually in the form of natural disaster or attack on the nation but not much planning has been put in place for a pandemic where multiple locations could be put out of service very quickly – this risk has never been properly planned for.

From what we have experienced since this pandemic is that viruses have a potentially more severe impact than what was realised. The business world will have to consider these types of events more seriously and in terms of business continuity.

This crisis could also see a change in work culture and the work environment – with remote working becoming a more viable option, if not a necessity.

Leaders and managers will have to adapt to managing their teams in various situations and learn skills on how to manage teams remotely as well as keep morale and productivity up.

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