Waitrose enhances business continuity planning system with Fruition Partners UK
20 Nov 2014
Source: Retail Times
By: Fiona Briggs
Waitrose has teamed up with Fruition Partners UK to improve its business continuity planning.
Waitrose has a significant reputation to uphold across its 302 branches and its online business. Consequently, business continuity planning (BCP) has an important role to play in planning for emergencies or eventualities that could affect the smooth functioning of the business, the safety of its customers and staff (or Partners as they are known at Waitrose), and the ongoing satisfaction of its clientele.
The company has recently developed a new BCP management system in partnership with Fruition Partners UK, based on the ServiceNow platform, to help it deliver its BCP strategy. This system will soon be rolled out across the entire John Lewis Partnership (JLP) which includes Waitrose and the John Lewis business.
Plans for recovery to business as usual
Mike Westby is the business continuity manager for Waitrose and it’s his responsibility to ensure there are plans and procedures in place that would enable the company to “recover to business as usual” if there were an incident. He and his team of 12 have to plan for every kind of scenario or ‘business interruption risk’, from bad weather impeding deliveries, to fuel shortages disrupting distribution, to a fire at head office in Bracknell.
These plans have to cover the various directorates within Waitrose: commercial, retail, finance and property, and encompass the functions, systems and people that make up the organisation. For example, he said: “If we lost a building for whatever reason, we have a plan for how we could replicate offsite everything that happens in that building, often in another physical location and through people working from home.” The availability of these ‘work area recovery facilities’ (WARFs) plays a key role in Waitrose’s BCP strategy, alongside clearly defined reporting and escalation procedures.
The challenge in terms of managing BCP is in keeping plans up to date to ensure that they reflect changes in the organisation, staffing and external circumstances. The plans also need to be cross-referenced across the different buildings and functions. Prior to working with Fruition Partners UK, these plans were held in static Word documents, which were updated on a six monthly basis and cross-referenced manually. This led to problems of speed of access and potential inaccuracy, and also reduced the efficiency of BCP staff; there were also issues with ensuring consistency of data.
Fruition Partners UK support bespoke ServiceNow development
Westby was aware the John Lewis Partnership had been working with Fruition Partners UK (formerly Partners in IT) for a number of years to implement ServiceNow, primarily as an IT service management (ITSM) solution providing help desk and IT support across the business. As a result of a background in IT, Westby saw that the software could have potential for BCP, particularly given the extremely close connection between business continuity and IT disaster recovery. While we are looking at the business as a whole, not just IT, clearly we are highly reliant on IT as an organisation so we work closely with the IT team to ensure continuity. We could see that what they were doing in ServiceNow could be adapted for our needs.”
Having made the choice to move all the business continuity plans into ServiceNow, implementation was reported to be relatively straightforward. Fruition Partners UK’s consultant had experience in crisis management and disaster recovery and so was able to help Westby draw up business requirements for the bespoke system, and support a rapid application design. Westby said: “It didn’t need to be complicated; we had three ‘sprints’ of development which took a month each, with a month in between each for user acceptance testing. In total we were able to reach the pilot stage within five months and were ready to go live within a month or two after that. It was a very effective way to deliver the solution we needed.”
Westby is full of praise for Fruition Partners UK. “We had a very good working relationship and learned from each other – they had an excellent understanding of our needs, helped by their experience of working with the John Lewis Partnership. They met all their deadlines and were extremely responsible and professional,” he said.
The new system’s forms closely replicate the contents of the paper plans with a few extra questions, but ensure complete consistency of fields. Usability was a key concern as in general, the plans are still only updated on a systematic basis every six months, so users don’t want to spend a lot of time getting back up to speed with how it works each time. The proof that this was achieved could be seen when Mike Westby began to introduce his team to the BCP system for the first time: “I invited each of them to a one-to-one meeting and sat them down in front of it and they were all using it happily and intuitively within 10 minutes.”
Benefits include greater efficiency and improved risk management
The benefits of the new BCP management system are reported to already being felt. In addition to being easy to update both on a systematic and ad-hoc basis (for example when a team changes buildings), it also gives the BCP team much greater ability to analyse and interrogate information. Westby said: “I can use it to sort by building and by floor, so that I can understand what critical functions and people are where.” He uses specially-developed dashboards to carry out this kind of analysis and also keep track of KPIs, such as whether plans are being updated on schedule.
Another valuable benefit is the integration with the ITSM system which has helped improve communications with the IT team. Westby said: “Because all the IT applications are visible to BCP we can identify what is required by each function and specify how quickly we need an application restored in the event of an incident, and at what point we need it. This means we can test what’s needed versus what’s currently possible, and identify potential risks to recovery. As a result we can make more informed decisions with the IT team about where investment is needed, or we may be able to identify savings. For example, if our continuity planning shows that an application is only needed within 24 hours and the IT function are currently working on the expectation of recovery within two hours, we can potentially reduce costs.”
Similarly, in terms of physical facilities, it has become much easier to understand gaps or over-provision in the WARFs. Greater insight from the data is also helping with forward planning for BCP. For example, an upgrade across the business to Windows 7 will enable greater mobile or remote working; in turn this may mean that the business needs less physical WARF provision. The system hasn’t been tested in full as yet, and Westby hopes it never will be, “as that would mean we’d lost a building!” However, Waitrose’s level of assurance about its BCP, according to Westby “has moved from basic to advanced and we’re making more informed decisions and we have a better awareness of risk”. Now that the system is being used throughout Waitrose, the next step is to roll it out to the whole of the John Lewis Partnership.
Summing up Westby said: “Fruition Partners UK and ServiceNow have helped us get real visibility of our requirements, and insight into what keeps the lights on.”