When the pandemic emptied offices and factories, business continuity planning (BCP) became a big issue for many companies. During the height of the pandemic, Damian Ehrlicher, Managing Partner at DGF Advisors, wrote, “Traditional business continuity was designed to build a secondary disaster recovery site that mirrored your production site in case of an infrastructure failure, but with an organization in constant development mode, this traditional methodology had to be augmented to adjust for the speed of business.” Obviously, traditional business continuity plans had little impact when infrastructure was in place but employees were not. This “empty space” challenge had many businesses exploring the value of automation to help them keep processes flowing when a personnel shortage was the main disruptor.
Creating a Business Continuity Plan
Obviously, a business that isn’t operating isn’t making money and is probably losing customers. A business continuity plan can help prepare a business for unexpected disruptions. Tech writers Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros, write, “If your organization doesn’t have a business continuity plan in place, start by assessing your business processes, determining which areas are vulnerable, and the potential losses if those processes go down for a day, a few days or a week. This is essentially a business impact analysis. Next, develop a plan.” They suggest following six steps to create a business continuity plan. They are:
1) Identify the scope of the plan.
2) Identify key business areas.
3) Identify critical functions.
4) Identify dependencies between various business areas and functions.
5) Determine acceptable downtime for each critical function.
6) Create a plan to maintain operations.
For very large organizations, identifying critical assets may not be as easy as one might think. To properly identify critical assets, using a formal methodology, like Enterra’s Enterprise Resilience Management Methodology®, is generally a good idea. Tittel and Lindros remind us, “Business continuity refers to maintaining business functions or quickly resuming them in the event of a major disruption.” The best case, of course, is maintaining, rather than resuming, business functions. This is where intelligent automation can play an important role.
How Intelligent Automation Can Help
Academics from the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, make an important point. They write, “A business continuity plan and disaster recovery plan (DRP) are not defined in the same way but have similar purposes: both aim to keep an organization operational without disruptions. The BCP is more dedicated to planning the recovery of processes and business functions, covering emergency response, business operations continuity, IT disaster recovery and crisis management.” BCP’s focus on processes is important. Before discussing how intelligent automation can help enhance business continuity plans, I need to reiterate that automation is NOT a silver bullet solution operating in isolation. Gordon Downes, CEO of NYSHEX, reminds us, “Business continuity cannot be looked at as an isolated activity. It is best viewed as a widely collaborative endeavor engaging the right people across the enterprise to define the scope, objectives and goals of the BCP work. While collaborating, stakeholders become aligned and clear on objectives — with an equal handle on end-to-end perspectives from their respective function in the enterprise.” He adds, “The best news is that, when done effectively, BCP not only increases resiliency but also generates a strong return-on-investment.”
Rick Veague, Chief Technology Officer of IFS, points out that the movement towards more automation preceded the pandemic. He explains, “Since COVID only sped up the adoption of these processes but didn’t invent the need for them, organizations are facing the pressure to invest in AI and automation or risk losing ground in highly competitive markets racing to innovate the future. Optimizing workforce productivity while maintaining a high standard of service for customers is one of the biggest challenges companies must engage with to stay alive.” The academics from the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa add, “With automation becoming a new norm for organizations to support their growth and cost optimization strategies, more and more emerging technologies associated with automation are being adopted, such as robotic process automation (RPA)/intelligent process automation (IPA), intelligent automation (IA), artificial intelligence (AI), and AI-based decision-making tools, among others.”
Since the focus of this article is business continuity planning, the benefit of intelligent automation most applicable is the capability of such solutions to run on their own. RPA is the simplest form of automation and it uses software bots to perform well-understood, rules-based operations. RPA has often been described as the gateway to AI. Veague explains, “With AI, organizations can automate repetitive tasks, which leaves their workforce with time available for more important tasks, and process complex data sets much faster than our human minds are capable of handling.” Since RPA is rules-based, it doesn’t perform well when faced with ambiguous situations. That’s where AI comes into the picture. At Enterra Solutions®, we’re convinced that the speed of business is going to require more and more decisions to be made by machines. That’s why we are focusing on advancing Autonomous Decision Science™ (ADS®). ADS is the next step in the journey beyond data science. Using ADS, the machine plays the role of the data scientist or subject matter expert to help optimize an organization’s decision-making as well as help it continue operations under certain disruptive conditions.
Tech writer Eray Eliaçık explains, “The foundation of cognitive automation is software that adds intelligence to information-intensive processes. It is frequently referred to as the union of cognitive computing and robotic process automation, or AI. By utilizing AI technology, cognitive automation broadens and enhances the set of tasks normally associated with RPA, resulting in cost savings, increased customer satisfaction, and increased accuracy in intricate business processes involving unstructured data.” At Enterra®, we refer to this as Cognitive Process Automation™. Eliaçık reports, “A McKinsey study found that organizations using cognitive automation solutions could: Automate between 50 and 70 percent of the tasks; reduce the time it takes to process data by 50% to 60%; reduce annual labor costs by 20 to 30%; and, achieve triple-digit ROI.”
Peter Van Alstine, a Senior Vice President and general manager at Berkshire Grey, asserts, “Artificial intelligence-enabled robotic automation is the cornerstone to building resilient supply chains that will not only help companies weather uncertain times, but also enable their businesses to grow.” This can be especially helpful when faced with labor shortages or, God forbid, another pandemic. Alstine concludes, “Businesses need supply chains that can pivot in the face of uncertainty. To do that, they must embrace AI-enabled robotic automation now as a fundamental component of an advanced fulfillment center and a resilient supply chain. Automation technology using robotic systems addresses the challenges incurred by operations that rely too heavily on manual processes and inefficient workflows.” One last caution: Don’t expect intelligent automation to improve poor processes. Bill Gates once noted, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
 Damian Ehrlicher, “What Is Business Continuity In The New World?” Forbes, 26 June 2020.
 Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros, “How to create an effective business continuity plan,” CIO 18 July 2017.
 José Brás, Ruben Pereira, and Sérgio Moro, “Intelligent Process Automation and Business Continuity: Areas for Future Research,” Information 2023, 14, 122, 14 February 2023.
 Gordon Downes, “Business Continuity Planning in a Disruptive Economy,” SupplyChainBrain, 10 March 2023.
 Rick Veague, “Maximizing the Potential of Data and AI through Automation,” inside BIG DATA, 7 November 2022.
 Eray Eliaçık, “What Makes Cognitive Automation the “Cheat Engine’ for Businesses?” Dataconomy, 23 September 2022.
 Peter Van Alstine, “How Robotic Automation Helps Supply Chains Transform from Reactive to Resilient,” Supply & Demand Chain Executive, 19 November 2021.