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Shadow-Planner drives more effective Business Continuity Planning in a complex local government setting

by david.nunes

Shadow-Planner drives more effective Business Continuity Planning in a complex local government setting

With an annual budget of £2.14 billion and 1.4m citizens, Essex County Council is one of England’s largest local authorities. This is an extremely complex organisation to manage – including dealing with myriad business continuity risks and their potential impact. To protect its operations, the Council has used Shadow-Planner software for business continuity planning and management since 2010.

Prior to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, senior managers identified business continuity as a potential weakness, so the council responded with a more formalised approach. “The question was, how can we manage something as important as BC more effectively across such a complex environment?” says Richard Verrinder, Business Continuity Manager. “We split the organisation into 18 service groups varying in size from Trading Standards with 70 staff in one main site, to thousands of people across Adult Social Care with dozens of offices. How can you possibly deploy a ‘one size fits all’ approach in an organisation like this – and in a way that takes managers with you?”

His small centralised BC team was formed and now supports managers and staff responsible for BC. “We are ‘corporate guardians’ of the Council’s BC plans, helping develop the right policies and strategies, providing assistance and ensuring plans are fit-for-purpose,” Richard says. “And the Council does run into service delivery issues: at least one problem a week normally requires dealing with.”

Like many other organisations, the Council started out using Microsoft Word and Excel: tools business managers were familiar with. “We carried out audits,” Richard continues, “and when we looked at the continuity plans it confirmed our belief that they’d be better handled centrally. Without a centralised software-based approach, there’d always be problems to resolve. A primary issue was being able to keep core centralised information up to date at all times and ensuring changes were immediately reflected across all 18 BC plans.

“We wanted centralised control over those core elements plus, and this was crucial, the flexibility and ease of use for local business managers to meet their own requirements, based on their own set-up and risks.” Once he had secured funding, Richard says, “The question became ‘What do we need?’ tempered with ‘What can we afford?’ I treat situations like this as if it’s my own money.

“We’re spending taxpayers’ money, so it not only has to deliver real value but also be affordable – and sustainable.” An independent consultant helped the Council assess 30 products, eventually focusing on three. “We trialed Shadow-Planner and one other – the third simply couldn’t provide what we wanted.”

So why Shadow-Planner? “It provided an easy-to-access and use central database to contain all of our emergency contact information, plans and procedures. Before, everyone had their own contact lists, dozens, and there was no conformity. Another key benefit was centralising our plans, making them easily accessible using the Internet.

“We could simply update managers across the business, with all necessary information available as soon as changes were made. People know they always have the most up to date version. And we can easily see if plans are up to date, rather than receiving a multitude of plans in different formats.” Users can also view plans across different perspectives: “We have 18 service groups in a variety of buildings in multiple locations. There’s quite a complex cross-matrix between service groups, larger buildings and smaller sites. Shadow-Planner gives us the flexibility to look at plans in a building from both a service group and building perspective. Other products are far more linear; we have that enhanced view.”

Protecting services
“Shadow-Planner gives us flexibility on two sides,” he continues. “Template plans cover the basics – loss of staff, premises, IT, telephony. But you can also develop them to meet particular requirements, so important in a world where things keep changing. Shadow-Planner gives us that flexibility.

“We have invoked our plans and Shadow-Planner clearly helped. For example, successfully relocating our contact centre team from Colchester to Chelmsford, and everyone else in the building, when a noxious smell was reported and people felt unwell. We relocated extremely effectively, moving the staff and getting all the phones redirected, so the Council could continue dealing with calls, email and Internet requests from the public.”

“In our original business case, we looked at the time BC Champions spent. We knew that we wouldn’t necessarily save them time but we could make their time more focused and productive – and that’s proved to be the case. We’ve also given managers far easier visibility of the status of BC plans. And reporting functionality means we’ve been able to enhance BC awareness.

“In short, Shadow-Planner is a highly effective way of managing business continuity in a complex organisation.” Like other local authorities, Essex is looking carefully at what it does and how it does it, given the economic environment, and is running a transformation programme to move it to a commissioning-led organisation with much closer working with partners. “A tool like Shadow-Planner means BC plans can be updated easily and efficiently, thereby helping to reduce the risk which comes with such a radical re-design.”

Template plans cover the basics – loss of staff, premises, IT, telephony, but you can also develop them to meet particular requirements, so important in a world where things keep changing. Shadow-Planner gives us that flexibility.

Richard Verrinder, Business Continuity Manager


Essex County Council governs the non-metropolitan county of Essex, covering 1,420 square miles. With an annual budget of £2.14 billion, this is one of England’s biggest local authorities.

Achieve a more efficient, effective, formalised and consistent approach to business continuity planning and management, in?line with the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and supporting overall goals in enterprise governance, risk and compliance.

Shadow-Planner BC planning and management software, delivered and used as a hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.

Greater flexibility, consistency, accuracy and timeliness in BC planning for this extremely large and complex environment. An easy to use solution (for people with little or no BC expertise) that delivers genuine centralized control along with flexible local autonomy for managers to create plans and address specific local/business requirements.

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