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Why Is Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Important For Preparedness?

by Carol A. Fox and Michael S. Epstein


In his book, The Upside, Adrian J. Slywotzky presents a profound case for ERM and preparedness: “Unmanaged risk is the greatest source of waste in your business and in our economy as a whole. Major projects fail; customer shifts make our offers irrelevant; billion-dollar brands erode, then collapse; entire industries stop making money; technology shifts or unique competitors kill dozens of companies in one stroke; companies stagnate needlessly. When these risk events happen, thousands of jobs get lost, brilliant organizations are disassembled, expertise gets lost, and assets are destroyed. Yet all of these risks can be understood, identified, anticipated, mitigated, or reversed, thereby averting hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary losses.”

Unmanaged risk … we all know that, in a world of constant change, things happen. Some things are within our control – most are not. However, the consequences of not being prepared for risk (and not just business continuity risk!) can have a damaging effect on our economy, our companies, our employees and the communities in which we operate.

Surveys over the past few years have identified a number of common risks that keep executives up at night: data security breaches, low cost competition, loss of key skilled talent, execution or supply chain failure, regulatory changes, geopolitical events, terrorism, financial market volatility, and business disruption – to name just a few. All have varying impacts on an organization’s sustainability – yet management can assess and survive all these risks (and more) by preparing for adversity or seizing opportunities within an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) framework. Preparation for a potential business disruption, for example, is more than just emergency response and recovery. As with other critical risks uncovered within an ERM framework, actions taken in planning, prevention and training avert unnecessary losses – and these actions can take place in a more efficient manner than individual, independent risk treatments.

Convergys’ multiple southeast U.S. sites “weathered” the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons because of its preparedness efforts. Asked at a financial analysts’ meeting about the effect the hurricanes had on Convergys’ operations, Earl Shanks, Chief Financial Officer replied, “Although we had damages, we went through the hurricane season without any material difficulty to the business. The preparation, the planning, and practice are keys to our effective business continuity effort.” Constructing to certain specifications, using generator power, rerouting calls, and delivering needed supplies to our employees from unaffected sites allowed us to continue business operations even in the devastated areas. One employee highlighted the personal economic impact of this particular risk while thanking our site leader for being prepared, “All I have left are the clothes on my back and the items in my purse. My house is gone, my car is gone, but I have a job and my neighbors don’t.”

Congress has recognized the importance of preparedness and is encouraging a voluntary certification for the private sector, to be developed through a collaborative process with industry groups. (See the article on standards and certification by clicking here.) The focus of the voluntary preparedness certification suits an ERM approach that prioritizes an organization’s unique risks, without forcing additional and inappropriate expenses. The resulting continuity program may not be identical in every organization, but will encompass the common core elements while meeting business needs within their respective risk profiles.

How Does Preparedness Work Within An ERM Program Context?
ERM views risk within an organization’s unique strategy, tolerance, culture and governance. The programs generally provide for a consolidated view of emerging risks, including those that require planning for potential adverse events, by a cross-functional governing committee or council. This approach encourages flexibility. All ERM frameworks focus on the organization’s overall business goals and objectives, the amount of risk the organization can tolerate, and what fits within its culture.

ERM uses standardized systematic and consistent practices. Business Impact Analyses (BIAs) typically consider business impacts at a location or from a specific process based on a certain scenario or from a supply chain failure. ERM, on the other hand, considers business disruption risks comparatively measured against other risks an enterprise may face, using a standardized and consistent method. At an enterprise level, ERM programs generally apply qualitative and quantitative measurements through a risk assessment model. Rating and ranking all risks through consistently applied probability, immediacy and impact measures, while considering severity and reputation impacts, generates a risk priority scale across the organization. Business continuity is one “spoke”, if you will, of the overarching ERM umbrella. By using the same risk methodology (that is, probability, immediacy and impact measurements) for the business disruption risk and applying a universal cause analysis, the ERM and business continuity programs align. The entire organization begins to understand risk in a common way.

In the preparedness context, Convergys conducts risk assessments at an enterprise level, a site level, and at a program or project level.

Enterprise Assessment – Convergys is a global leader in relationship management, providing solutions that drive more value from the relationships our clients have with their customers and employees. Working on behalf of our clients (including over half the Fortune 50), our 75,000 employees serve customers and client employees in 70 countries. Therefore, our enterprise assessment is global, and takes into account risks that could impede the achievement of our overall business objectives, both in the shorter term and in the longer term, using the practices noted above. Based on interviews with numerous key business leaders, risk management reports the identified risks to management. Risk owners validate the probability, immediacy and impact assessments. The purpose of ERM is not the process itself, but as a method for management to focus on business solutions as it treats risk strategically and operationally. Business disruption is one of a number of risks that are important to our clients and to Convergys. On the enterprise level from a preparedness perspective, we consider geographic, political, network, and other factors – assessed through the ERM program umbrella by the subject matter experts – that may affect the continuity of our operations.

Site Assessment – Leaders at each site perform an assessment by analyzing and evaluating the potential risks. Using local infrastructure and neighbors as an example, we might ask, “What is the worst that can happen?” A single major highway running near the site may represent a risk to the facility should there be a chemical spill. That spill may not affect operations at the site directly, but it may prevent staff from accessing the facility for a significant time. Neighbors represent potential hazards either as a direct result of their respective businesses or because of threats to the businesses. Those threats could affect the key resources supporting our business. A neighboring company may work with hazardous materials, or it may perform controversial activities and result in a demonstration that could disrupt our resources. Assessing the risk impact from a worst-case perspective, and evaluating the controls that are already in place, directs our planning efforts.

Program or Project Assessment – The assessment of a program’s or a project’s capabilities, resources and limitations are core to the development of a viable recovery strategy. These assessments include consideration of location, technical infrastructure, physical and staffing resources required to support operations. Decisions made in the contracting process drive the recovery strategy. Who will perform the work? What vendors will be supporting the same or related business for the client? What is the geographic distribution of the work? What skills are required, and where are they available? What are the needed recovery time objectives? Each of these aspects influences our planning for a potential disruption. For example, if skills are available in multiple sites, the recovery strategy simply may be to reroute call traffic to another site. If not, an alternate strategy may be to use self-help technology housed away from the affected site. From a risk assessment perspective, ERM drives consideration of resource dependencies that a traditional BIA may not consider.

ERM enables an organization to prioritize and allocate resources against those risks that underpin the continued sustainability of the organization. In other words, an organization’s ability to maintain something of value (such as the delivery of services or products to customers) relies on its ability to understand and plan for those risks that may impede the achievement of its business objectives / goals or risks that could significantly impair its capital.

ERM uncovers risks in order to build organizational resiliency and sustainability. Organizational resiliency, or an enterprise’s ability to recover quickly from setbacks, is particularly important when a risk is unavoidable or non-transferrable. Do we understand the root causes of the risk event? Is the risk acceptable within our risk tolerance? Do we have the appetite to take on more risk? If not, how can we prevent, mitigate or exploit the risk event (or its likely consequences)? What controls are in place to manage the risk?

ERM ties uncovered risks to controls found in established management systems. Is business disruption risk being controlled by the organization’s continuity management program? Is environmental risk being controlled by its environmental management system? Is regulatory risk being controlled by a compliance program? Does every uncovered risk have an established management system or program? If not, who within the organization owns the risk? Does current strategic or operational planning appropriately consider the risk? If not, what else is required?

ERM, through partnership with Internal Audit, monitors the organization’s confidence in the established control systems for managing the uncovered risks. In conjunction with other risk stakeholders, the ERM framework provides for evaluation of these management control programs / processes and systems. On a High, Medium or Low scale, how confident are we that the controls have been deployed, maintained, and monitored? Are the controls effective? When operations change, do controls change, too?

ERM encourages cross-functional discussion of potential unintended consequences. By establishing risk reporting as part of management’s normal business reviews – at whatever frequency makes sense for the organization – the decision-makers have a broader perspective of the risk interdependencies. These interdependencies relate not only to the risks themselves, but include the respective risk treatments undertaken for each risk.

At Convergys, the Business Continuity Planning Group exists within the greater ERM framework and reports directly to risk management. (See the article by clicking here.) The benefits of this arrangement are multiple. Key risks gathered as part of the ERM effort serve as direction setters for business continuity. The business continuity planning processes may uncover issues the ERM program will be required to address. The priorities and risks identified by ERM enlighten the continuity planning process, resulting in more focused and effective planning. Senior leadership participation from a global perspective under ERM, in conjunction with a root cause discipline and controls assessment, is much more effective in identifying and assessing key risks than typically is realized in a traditional BIA. At the same time, the comprehensive view provided by the ERM framework results in a higher level of visibility for continuity related issues. As decision-makers take a concentrated look at their risks, they address current and potential controls. As a result, Business Continuity Planners become critical players in controlling a range of disruptive risks.

In closing, we need to ask ourselves Slywotzky’s questions: “How prepared are we to manage the risk of business disruption? How well do we understand, identify, anticipate, mitigate - or can we reverse - that risk, thereby averting … unnecessary losses?” Your organization’s sustainability and resiliency – and the economic well-being of your employees (nay, the very nation) – are relying on your answers.


About the Authors
Carol Fox is senior director of Risk Management for Convergys Corporation. She is responsible for the development and execution of enterprise risk management strategy and business continuity support with respect to the company’s business plans.

Mike Epstein, CBCP, serves as an internal consultant at Convergys driving business continuity program evolution, training, testing, and incident management.

The authors can be reached at www.convergys.com.

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