By Ben Simmons

2011 presented a wide range of unexpected threats to the operations of UK organisations, according to research published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) today.

While winter weather was the most common cause of organisational disruption for the third year running, other significant business disruptions included the public sector strikes (which caused problems for 55% of managers), the Blackberry outage (39%), the summer riots (26%), natural disasters such as the Japan earthquake and tsunami (19%), and international social and political unrest such as the Arab Spring uprising (18%).

Planning for the Worst, published in association with Aon, the British Standards Institution (BSI), the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, examines how prepared organisations were for unexpected and damaging disruptions to their day-to-day operations over the past year.

The findings, released ahead of Business Continuity Awareness Week, suggest that this wide range of threats has prompted Business Continuity Management (BCM) to become increasingly adopted in the UK. After a sharp increase in BCM uptake over the past two years, the 2011 figures show another rise — 61% of managers now work for an organisation that has BCM in place, up from 58% in 2010. These improvements are exemplified by the fact that, learning from the past two years of heavy snow, 37% of organisations have now formalised their arrangements for managing the impact of severe weather.

Looking forward, many organisations are already thinking about how to minimise the impact of the Olympic Games: 25% of managers will allow staff to work flexible hours; 17% of staff will be able to work remotely; and a further 17% of managers have prepared for an increase in annual leave requests.

With the launch of the report, CMI is renewing its calls for small and micro organisations to follow the example of medium and large organisations by putting robust and proportionate business continuity plans in place. At present, just 31% of micro organisations and less than half of small organisations (48%) utilise BCM, compared to 61% of medium and 74% of large organisations. BCM continues to be most prevalent in the public sector, with 73% of managers reporting BCM arrangements, and in large private sector organisations, with 70% uptake of BCM. However, this falls to 52% overall in the private sector when factoring in small and medium sized businesses. Uptake of BCM in the not-for-profit sector is 60%.

“Today’s report shows that UK organisations are affected by a huge range of organisational challenges, many of which are entirely out of their hands. Yet with good management, the impact of these disruptions can be kept to a minimum. It is encouraging to see that Business Continuity Management is increasingly becoming a key part of organisational good practice, but there is clearly more to be done — especially among small and medium sized businesses and the not-for-profit sector. With major events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics on the horizon, as well as continued international unrest and the threat of further strikes, no organisation can afford to be complacent.”

The report also shows clear advantages for organisations which do have plans in place to deal with crises when they hit. Of those who had to activate plans in 2011, 81% agreed it reduced disruption and the same number stated that any cost in developing plans is justified by the business benefits they bring.

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