“Oh <bleep>... what are we going to do now?” This is a thought we can all identify with when things go seriously wrong. It is also reportedly the thought of the Director of Television Ceremonies when the Olympic cauldron stubbornly refused to ignite in Sydney, 10 years ago.

The Olympic Games can make or break a nation’s image: it can shape its global reputation for years to come. According to Market Research World, the opening ceremony is consistently one of the most-watched television events in the world. As Roy Masters pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald last month, hosting an Olympic Games opening ceremony means that “international embarrassment and a Hicksville reputation is on the line.”

While the cauldron eventually ignited and the Games went on without a hitch, there were three minutes and 51 seconds of nervous waiting and wondering about whether things would go the other way.

It appears as though one of the 1,500 computer sequences required to complete the cauldron’s journey stalled. Each sequence could only begin once the previous one had been completed. Thus, an incomplete step would (and did) halt the whole process.

Business Continuity Planning and Business Impact Analysis

Once again, the issue of Business Continuity Planning (BCP) becomes paramount. BCP involves planning for risks that occur rarely, but, if they do occur, will have a significant impact on the business’s capacity to deliver.

As part of BCP, businesses should complete a Business Impact Analysis (BIA). The BIA is an in-depth risk analysis which aims to examine the type and degree of disruptions possible, and then assesses their chance, impact and maximum acceptable down time. It is vital to perform a BIA in order to understand what the critical business functions are.

Failure to adequately plan and test such critical business functions can cause a major financial and reputation risk to the business. This case was reinforced recently with the failure of Virgin Blue’s national booking system on 26 September, forcing the cancellation of flights and inconveniencing thousands of travellers.

BCP and Infrastructure

Apart from IT-related critical business functions, other critical infrastructure should be reviewed to establish where loss or failure would have a major disruption and cost:

  • In major events like the Olympic or Commonwealth Games, cable feeds for broadcasts come from all venues to a main broadcast centre. It is critical for the broadcaster to ensure that cables are protected from accidental or deliberate damage. Depending upon contractual agreements, loss of broadcast feeds can incur significant losses to some stakeholders
  • Where events or public venues are totally reliant on one power source, the unexpected failure of utilities can have a catastrophic effect on operations. While the obvious impacts are lighting and sound, it can also affect air conditioning and cooling, forcing the evacuation of indoor areas and overheating of IT server facilities

Critical Controls

It is necessary to identify critical controls for risks that have high impact, and to ensure adequate assurance systems are in place.

For more information on business continuity and resilience, check out AS/NZS 5050: 2010 Managing disruption-related risk, or resources from the Business Continuity Institute, such as the BCI Good Practice Guidelines 2010. This is available from www.thebcicertificate.org/bci_gpg.html.