Businesses need to ensure that they plan business continuity into their contracts with offshore outsourcing companies from an early stage, rather than treat it as an afterthought, delegates at Business Continuity Expo heard last week.
Alan Walker, business assurance manager at Norwich Union Life, told the conference at London's ExCel centre that this was the fundamental lesson to emerge from the company's business continuity review.
"The key issue was that business continuity was not that well defined in the contract. That leaves you in a position where you have to negotiate with suppliers to get the best possible deal on it," said Walker. "Once the contract is signed, you are on the back foot."
Norwich Union managed to negotiate favourable terms with suppliers, but failure to plan business continuity into outsourcing projects from an early stage could mean that firms face high charges for the provision of these services later on, potentially eroding any savings gained, he said.
"If business continuity is not factored into service level agreements and the contract, that can work against you. Because business continuity is easily overlooked it becomes an additional cost further down the line. You have got to get involved early," said Walker.
He advised business continuity managers to visit offshore partners to see their offices and learn about their processes first-hand.
"The risks in India are completely different to the risks we face in the UK," he said. "We have had to consider the possibility of earthquakes, tsunamis, the fact that the supplier is dependent on our IT infrastructure in the UK, the reliability of power suppliers, and cultural and political issues."
Among other problems, Norwich Union found suppliers sometimes had a different understanding of what was meant by business continuity planning, said Walker.
The UK IT team also had to adjust to cultural differences, such as supporting Indian workers who expected to be at their desks on Western holidays, such as Christmas Day.
Some UK IT staff also had to change their working patterns to ensure that data back-ups were carried out in time to suit the workers in India.