What to Look for When Choosing Business Continuity Management Software

If you’re faced with the task of choosing Business Continuity Management software this can be overwhelming. There are a wide variety of software products available to choose from and not all of them will suit your specific needs. Products are available to simplify, or complicate nearly any level of business continuity strategy. So, to avoid feeling misled and disappointed, what do you look for?

1. Determine Your Requirements

Before you begin your search, you need to understand what you want the software to achieve. Are you looking for a straightforward business continuity tool that will be used in a single location or a more complex database that can be utilised worldwide, anywhere, on any device? Some users main goal is to automate the administration of plans, whereas others want a mobile response tool or software that offers in-depth analysis and reporting. If you consider the size of your business continuity function, it enables you to understand if the provider offers scalable solutions to match your needs. Clearly understanding, listing and prioritising all your requirements will ensure you know the right questions to ask.

2. Look for an Established Product and Provider

Finding out how long the product has been on the market is critical to understand the type of experience you are likely to have when using the system. If they are well established in the market, the system is likely to be more stable and predictable, having been tried and tested by many users. However, will you be getting the latest technology and user experience? If the software is new it is important to weigh up the pros and cons of being an early adopter. You may land a great price and get some great new interfaces or technology but you could face frequent updates and changes for a while during the start-up process. New products generally take months, if not years, of constant updates and testing to establish themselves. Ask what clients they currently work with, have they won any awards and what type of industry presence do they command?

Another factor that searchers often forget to look in to is the actual provider. Are they subject matter experts in business continuity or are they just a software vendor? For some, they may think this does not matter. However, when it comes to training, tips and tricks and advice, a software demo provided by industry professionals will be able to give you the answers you need.

3. Take a Look at the Product

If you are at the point where you are ready for a demonstration, then it’s safe to say you are already partially bought into the product. At this stage, you should revisit your initial requirements and make sure the software’s functionality matches your needs and have your questions ready. Some organisations will focus on their highlights and “best bits”, whereas other demos allow you to understand how it will function in normal operation. It will always be hard to find a product that does everything you need, in the way you want it done, so be realistic about your ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ and be prepared to do a little compromising. As a minimum, systems should:

1. Provide an easy to use and simple interface with visual dashboards

2. Align to ‘best practice’ in your industry

3. Cover the full life cycle of business continuity with dedicated functionality for BIAs, plans, risk assessments, exercising and reporting

4. Allow sufficient data storage for supporting documents

5. Automation of system reminders for administrative tasks like plan updates.

6. Provide portable access to plans during a disruption

7. Provide a strong data analytics function with visual reporting

8. Adhere to robust data security and privacy policies for all users

9. Ability to access the system securely from any device, anywhere

Some vendors will provide a free trial, but given the complexity of most programs this is not always feasible. The vendor should be willing to provide numerous demonstrations (you will generally need at least 2 if not more) with various stakeholders in your organisation either in person or via the web. Both have different benefits:

In Person:

• More in-depth information

• Ask questions directly on the spot

• Build rapport and confidence in their knowledge

• Understand if they are on-shore or overseas

On the Web

• Less time consuming

• Gives a good snapshot of the main features

• Allows you to watch at your own leisure

• Replay the important parts to your key stakeholders

4. Is the Software Being Continually Improved?

Even though the business continuity software system seems well suited now, it is always important to consider the future. Technology becomes outdated quickly so you want an innovative product that is going to continue to grow, update and improve as new technologies and ways of doing things emerge. The innovation curve tends to slow down rapidly for many software vendors when a critical mass of clients are using their system.

Too much change, too often, can also be disruptive, especially when trying to build engagement with your business continuity program, so we need to strike the right balance of continual improvement. One major release each year and smaller quarterly releases are a good benchmark of a product that is moving in the right direction.

Before signing up, be sure to determine if upgrades are included in your licence fees or are going to cost additional each time. It is also useful to understand if releases are mandatory and applied to all clients, or whether you have flexibility as you may not need them all.

5. What Training and Support Options Are Available?

If you have shortlisted the right software for your organisation, it is time to assess the training and support options. If new users do not feel comfortable operating the software, then they probably won’t use it which will make you feel unsatisfied with your purchase and in worst case situations, users will simply disengage from your business continuity program.

First, you need to understand the user profiles required to manage your system and business continuity program. All systems are different, but you will generally require “Administrators” who have full system access, team members who may need read only access to their plans, plan owners and/or maintainers who need editable rights, and general staff who may simply be registered in the system for contact purposes.

If you prefer on-site training, this will not always be possible if you opted for an overseas vendor so this is important to consider during the decision-making process.  Often, considerable upfront time is required to train the more active users in the system which is often best-done face to face in small groups and over several days or weeks.

If e-learning is your preferred training method for lighter users or as refreshers, there are also a few things to consider. You want to ensure it is easy to understand and that the terminology is digestible by the end user. E-learning is a good, cost effective option for geographically dispersed teams as well as for regular refresher training. New staff members also do not need to wait for the next on-site training session.

Support is probably the most important consideration for the ongoing success of your purchase. You need to be comfortable with the service level time-frames on offer, and that the support staff can respond when you need them.  If your chosen software doesn’t have local representation, what are the support hours? Are they available 24/7, during your business hours or only during business hours in their time zone? What methods of support are being provided? Is there an online portal, email or phone support? Are user groups available or online forums? Being part of a user community (either face to face or online) is often a great way to get the level of support you need and influence the direction of the product you are using.

6. How Are Systems Generally Priced?

As you would expect, all systems are priced differently. In general, you can expect to pay an ongoing licence fee for access to the system based on some or all the following factors:

1. Size and nature of your organisation

2. Geographic use of the system

3. Functionality required

4. Number and type of users in the system

5. Contract term, many vendors have a minimum 3 years

6. Payment schedules – many vendors will require upfront payment

Given the complexity of most business continuity programs you will generally pay for an upfront implementation fee to setup your instance. This can vary widely based on the level of support and customisation required from the Vendor. A general benchmark for standard implementations is about 20% of the annual licence fee.

Lastly, you will often pay additional fees for support and training with most business continuity software vendors. Again, this depends on the level of support and training being provided including service level standards, format of support and training, geographies it is being provided and operating hours. Many vendors will charge between 10-20% of the annual licence fee for standard support of their system.

7. System Hosting and Security

Security is a crucial factor when considering a hosted solution.  Your IT department will more than likely throw you a very long list of requirements.  The key questions you need to consider are:  

1. Where are servers located?  

2. Are these secure environments which meet international standards (e.g. ISO27001)?  

3. Is your data encrypted?  Or maybe your organisation has regulatory requirements to keep data onshore?

4. Will your information be backed up instantly, nightly etc. and how long are backups kept for?

5. What is the system uptime?

6. How quickly can the system be recovered if there is a failure?

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