Date Published
18 March 2020

​Susan Kelly, Consulting Partner with Signium Ireland, has recruited for a variety of companies and sectors over the years and more recently been involved in hiring business continuity professionals for some of her larger clients. However, many of Signium’s clients are SMEs and we felt it might be useful to speak to a Business Continuity expert to help our clients in navigating the next few weeks or months relating to the Coronarivus outbreak in Ireland.

Caroline McMullan is a Full Professor of Business and Society in DCU Business School. She holds a PhD in Crisis Management (University of Strathclyde), MPhil in Law (University of Ulster), and Honors Degree in Hotel and Tourism Management (University of Ulster).

Caroline is Programme Director for the MSc in Emergency Management and Joint Chair of the MSc Business Administration delivered at Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Professor McMullan’s teaching and research cover a broad spectrum of subjects including her key interests Building Resilient Communities & Organisations, Risk Management and Risk Perception.

At a national level, Caroline has influenced risk policy and developed the methodology underpinning risk management in Ireland. As the architect of the National Risk Assessment for Ireland (2012) and (2017), she has had a significant impact on risk management across the country. The EU recognized that this methodology “represented an example of good practice” among member states. Subsequently, Caroline was engaged as a risk management consultant to one of the Middle Eastern governments.

The Interview

Susan: Typically, what clients may not necessarily have a business continuity plan in place?

Caroline: In my experience, there are two types of organisations where Business Continuity Management may be less advanced – so there may not be a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). These include SMEs and organisations in less regulated business sectors.

For those who have a BCP, they should review the plan - especially the elements they need to invoke as a result of the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19.
All organisations are made up of 3 components:

I.   People - who are involved in the delivery of all elements of the business;
II.  Processes – how products or services are delivered to a country, a community, to clients;
III. Premises, Infrastructure & Resources – which are used to execute the business process.

And these elements of the organisation are integrated through:

IV.   business operations
V.    information flows

It is ALL of these elements which allow an organisation to execute its business operations. Business is used in the broadest sense and includes not-for-profit organisations, the public sector (delivering a service to the public), and private companies providing a product/service to their customers. All organisations should check their BCP covers these five elements. If not, close any gaps and test that everything needed to deliver key (mission-critical) elements of the organisation is functional.

A comprehensive BCP should:

  • Improve resilience against disruption to the mission-critical activities that underpin the delivery of key products/services
  • Provide a proven/rehearsed method of restoring an organisation’s ability to supply its most significant products and services to an agreed level within an agreed time after disruption
  • Help to safeguard an organisation’s reputation, brand & value-creating activities

Susan: What are the typical events that occur across the SME sector to affect business continuity?

Caroline: Unlike some elements of crisis management and crisis plans, which generally remain unused, a BCP can be used to manage everything from lower than normal staffing levels during a holiday period right up to a pandemic. In other words, anything which disrupts the normal productivity or functioning of an organisation.


Susan: Should there currently be policies in place in the SME sector to deal with something like the Coronavirus and its’ impact on business? And if not, how do you suggest a business plan for such an event over the coming days / weeks?

Caroline: As outlined above, if you already have a BCP, you should use the time available to ensure it covers all elements of the business and test that it is fit for purpose.
However, my focus and concern are for those who do not have anything in place and have not undertaken any formal BCM. It is never too late to put things in place. It will not be “business as usual” so I encourage every organisation, at a minimum, to:

1. Allocate overall responsibility for BCM and COVID-19 to one person. They will oversee: preparation of a BCP; monitoring and reporting on the progress of the virus; delivery of effective communication; and testing and reviewing of all BCM arrangements put in place.

2. Identify the most critical elements of your business which you must/should continue to deliver. This may involve identifying:

  • any legal obligations which must be fulfilled;
  • the most significant products/services from a sales/profit perspective;
  • what is most important to key customers or stakeholders;
  • what is vital to the health and safety of vulnerable stakeholders.

The criteria used will depend on the type of organisation – but these points should be sufficient to begin the process

3. Once you have your priorities in place, identify what you need to deliver the number one priority activity/product/service. As before, consider: People; Processes; Premises, Infrastructure & Resources; Business Operations; and Information.

Prepare a plan for each element, test/walk through the plan with various teams (do) to ensure the activity/product/service can be delivered in the appropriate timeframe; ask staff to discuss if they feel the plan will deliver what is needed (check); finally, act to close any gaps after testing and checking. Communicate – make sure all internal and external stakeholders are familiar with the plan and their role(s).

4. Repeat the process for each product/service until all priority activities are covered.

Several other factors should be considered:

  • Time sensitivity - some processes/activities will be more critical at certain times of the year, month, week. These may include returns to regulators, payroll, filling of orders.
  • Communicate – maintain open, honest, accurate, ongoing lines of communication with all stakeholders.
  • Encourage top-down and bottom-up contributions. Those closest to the coal face often have excellent ideas to keep key activities/services going.
  • Consider the impact of not delivering activities for one day, one week, two weeks, one month, two months, etc. This will give a more accurate indication of the impact and costs associated with the Coronavirus.
  • If homeworking or remote working forms part of the BCP, test that this is possible from a technical, information (paper & cloud), process, and human perspective.

In summary, the next few weeks and months are somewhat unpredictable but with certain measures in place companies can at least assure themselves that they have acted to protect mission critical activities while accepting it will not be “business as usual”. Recognizing what is not possible and focusing on the core business can help ensure survival.

Caroline McMullan photo

Professor Caroline McMullan
Full Professor of Business & Society
Programme Director MSc Emergency Management DCU Business School

Susan Kelly photo

Susan Kelly, Consulting Partner. Susan graduated in History and Politics from University College Dublin in 1994. With 3 years in Standard Life Investments, working between Edinburgh and Dublin in Fund Management client services; Susan joined Parker Bridge, a boutique recruitment firm and helped build their financial services division in Dublin. Within 3 years she moved to Morgan McKinley, a global consultancy firm, to run its Dublin West office. Clients included Multinational and Irish Manufacturing, Consumer Goods, Distribution,
Construction and Services organisations and she subsequently helped develop its financial services offering in Dublin City Centre.

In 2015, Susan was the first hire in setting up a Senior Appointments desk and also assisted a number of businesses building out their C suite and senior management teams; regularly commuting to London in preparation for Brexit. Her recent experience spans many areas - including audit, finance, legal, compliance, risk, treasury, operations, lending and payments. She has successfully sourced highly experienced candidates across a number of industries and specialisms. Susan joined Signium in 2019 and is really enjoying being part of an experienced executive search firm with global reach.