Business continutity plans of India's largest outsourcers put to the test

* How would your outsourcer handle a major business disruption?

The largest Indian outsourcers have put significant effort behind process structure such as CMM Level 5, COBIT and other formalized approaches. They have exhibited very professional and mature approaches to IT and other business process management including very detailed business continuity planning.

Well, some of those business continuity plans were recently put to the test. Software companies and outsourcers in India's Bangalore tech hub last week had to invoke business continuity plans as government employees called a general strike that shut down all public services in the city.

Public sector workers in Bangalore were striking to draw attention to a border dispute between Indian states. The strike was expected to last only one day, but had a significant effect on technology businesses in Bangalore. Without most public services, technology workers stayed away from the city leaving the technology office parks deserted. So how did all that outsourced work get done on Wednesday?

Tata Consultancy, one of the largest outsourcers in India and with 9000 employees in Bangalore, moved work to other facilities around the country. 24/7 Customer, another large outsourcer, moved work to Hyderabad and Chemni to keep services running. Wipro Technologies also was affected, but much of its work was rescheduled through extra shifts on Saturday. It seems that this minor blip in public services was handled effectively with business continuity plans through either relocation of work or rescheduling. I would like to hear from those of you who were affected by this event, both positive and negative stories.

Do you know how your outsourcer or your own in-house services would handle a major or minor business disruption event? You should know the answers to all of the following questions:

* Who has the authority to declare a disaster or invoke portions of the business continuity plan?

* Have you detailed several scenarios including weather, power, fire, etc.?

* What work is time critical and must be carried on, and what work can be delayed and rescheduled?

* How will employees be contacted and given instructions to either stay home or report to other locations?

* What notifications will be given to customers?

* Do all of your employees know their role during a business continuity event and understand the communications plan?

* How are service-level agreements affected if a disaster is declared or portions of a business continuity plan are invoked?

* Do you test the plan regularly?

The best business continuity plan I have ever seen was during a due diligence consulting engagement for a major payments processing company. Every employee had a red 1-inch three ring binder on their desk or bookshelf that contained the critical components of the plan.

It was clear who would declare any business continuity actions, it had a clear communications plan, and all relevant information about network topography, servers, data backups, voice communication, etc. was included, so every employee could determine their role. All managers had a copy of the same book at home. A hot backup site was maintained about 30 miles away. The plan was practiced regularly. Most importantly, there was a culture of taking this seriously and employees thought about impacts to business continuity and keeping the plan current with all decisions relating to change management, business growth, and training of new employees. I suspect it will be very effective when needed.

I would expect to hear more positive than negative stories from anyone with business impacted by the minor shifting of work by Bangalore based outsourcers. They likely had some warning of the strike and only had to invoke minor portions of the business continuity plans to relocate work. However, this only happens smoothly when good planning, training, testing and communication are an ongoing concern.

Are all of your outsourced relationships ready to handle minor or major disruptions to business? If you haven’t talked to your outsourcer recently about business continuity, maybe you should revisit those plans now while you can have a calm and hypothetical conversation. Or if you like daring and risk, you can experience far more excitement if you wait and have those conversations after a disruption occurs.

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