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How architects can put together a business continuity plan

Neal Morris

Learn more about the benefits of having a plan, and how to go about putting one together

Putting together a business continuity plan requires careful consideration.
Putting together a business continuity plan requires careful consideration. Credit: Canva

Most practices came face-to-face with business continuity planning – knowingly or otherwise – when the COVID lockdown suddenly became a reality and offices had to be all but vacated overnight and staff sent home to work remotely.

The pandemic was a vivid illustration of the value of having a business continuity plan (BCP) in place to guide the process of an adaptation to suddenly disrupted ways of working, says Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), who believes businesses of all sizes should have a BCP in place.

Why you should consider drawing up a business continuity plan

‘The kinds of events that might cause a BCP to be put into action range from severe damage to business premises, such as through flood or fire, to a devastating cybersecurity incident, to the unexpected and sudden loss of a key member of staff,’ says McKenzie.

‘Your priorities will likely include your IT infrastructure, your premises if applicable, your work in progress, and your key staff functions, such as accounting and HR.’

Knowing what’s in a plan is all well and good, but putting one together requires careful consideration.

Read more about RIBA’s Security Overlay to the Plan of Work

She continues: ‘To start building a plan, think about how you and your staff provide your services – what are the key tools needed? Who are your essential service providers? Ensure you have contact details for your main external partners, customers and suppliers saved somewhere that will be accessible if you can’t get to your office, or if you’re locked out of your IT systems. What regulations do you need to comply with in order to keep trading? How can you communicate with customers in case of emergency?’

Clearly, priorities for restoring operations after an unexpected event will vary hugely from practice to practice. In these days of hybrid working, damage to premises may not be so critical, whereas data loss or a ransomware attack could bring any business to a halt if secure data backup arrangements are not in place.

For small practices the sudden loss of a key staff member could precipitate a crisis at corporate level and at specific project level – can you continue to work to meet agreed timelines? Clients will be looking for assurances that projects can continue despite the disruption. They will expect you to have a plan.

What resources are available to help architects draw up a BCP?

The FSB Insurance Service offers a free business continuity planning kit (which requires registration with the insurance service). The process begins with an analysis of business functions, threats and impacts and the key resources your company relies upon. This will include key members of staff, external contacts, equipment and documents. 

The insurance service suggests ranking resources in order of importance to your business, according to maximum manageable downtime and how long your company can survive without that resource in place.

Larger organisations might want to carry out a more in-depth Business Impact Analysis that predicts potential consequences of processes being disrupted. The amount of time for recovery before the business suffers consequences is known as the Recovery Time Objective.

There are various template resources available for BCPs online, which practices can draw upon and perhaps use to inspire their own plan according to their own risk profile.

RIBA’s US counterpart the AIA offers a downloadable guide, The Architect’s Guide to Business Continuity.

The 90-page AIA guide offers practices a comprehensive step-by-step process, supported by worksheets, for assessing and reducing risks associated with disruption. The guide shares lessons learned from impacted practices and adapts business continuity best practices specifically for the building industry. While business practices and processes in the US naturally differ from those in the UK, the AIA guide does suggests some useful, universal principles to consider when it comes to preparedness:

  • Understand the elements of a business continuity plan and how it reduces risk and protects profits.
  • Inventory the resources that enable your firm to run.
  • Anticipate the financial, legal, brand, and operational consequences of disruption.
  • Develop recovery strategies and solutions to enable the firm to maintain functionality despite disruption.
  • Assess hazard and climate risks that can disrupt your ability to conduct business.
  • Develop a Risk Treatment Plan to reduce the chance of disruption and to minimise the impacts caused by disruption​.

Most small practices are unlikely to want to devote the time and resources needed to draw up a comprehensive BCP, but they could use the guide to identify their own priorities and how they can plan for risk mitigation.

What are the risks of not having a BCP in place?

The FSB suggests that BCPs should be reviewed annually at least, and ideally every six months, with the knowledge and participation of senior staff. The plan should be reviewed as soon as possible after major changes to your business, such as an office move, a wave of staff changes and promotions, new key suppliers or customers and other external factors that might impact your ability to trade.

Read more on business resilience with RIBA’s Business Resilience Roadmap

‘The risks of not having a plan in place are real,’ McKenzie stresses. ‘You could suffer a knock to your reputation among customers, putting your future business pipeline at risk. If you’re unable to complete in-process projects according to agreed timelines, or to take on new projects, you could face financial clawbacks and loss of income.’

Thanks to Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair, The Federation of Small Businesses.

This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Business, clients and services.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.


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