The extraordinary situation we have all been experiencing has demonstrated the need for those in procurement to rethink the questions that get asked about business continuity. Normally a dry and dull subject tucked away at the back of the tender documents, these questions are often replied to with a stock answer detailing data centre availability or extra capacity.  Until now, no-one has been asking: ‘How will your solution assist our business continuity in the case of an emergency?’. This is a different type of question, but the answer may have more of an impact on a business process that some might think. Currently, this question is something that anyone involved in planning and procurement must consider a priority.

Any supplier who replies saying operations are ‘business as normal’ is perhaps not telling the whole truth.  We know that online submission accounts for a large number of planning applications, but we also need to look at those that still come over the counter. Typically, during a crisis, we will see numbers of applications drop, but planners are still needing to provide some services and some have seen demand increase.

So how do you reflect these changes with your choice of software? First of all, cloud computing can be immensely useful.  If the software is ‘true cloud’, planners should be able to pick up their work anywhere, with only their browser to access the internet and the products which you need.  Security can become an issue, but considering two-factor authentication and IP restrictions will help make strides in that area. After they are dealt with, planners should be able to access the systems and data in the same way in which they can in the office.

As an example,  if a council needs software that can be accessed, but not installed, on a device of their choice, it can be easy for a supplier to respond to that need in a short space of time – something which is vitally important in this current remote working era. Working at home, using cloud-based solutions can be, as far as staff and citizens are concerned, business as normal.

If we think about when this crisis begins to dissipate, events such as floods can still happen and impact entire departments and offices. Supplying the right tech in immediate response to such an event – for example, sending everybody to work at home once again – might in the worst case involve a negative hit on performance during a short period, but compare that to the alternative. Systems can be down for days or weeks on end, and we all have some level of experience with that. No organisation, council or otherwise, should to be at the mercy of their tech supplier and relying on the IT department.

Let us pull some of these questions which are often tucked away at the back to the forefront of the process. Councils should be working with their suppliers to understand how easily they can access the solutions when it all goes wrong, not just now but in the future too, because COVID-19 isn’t the last crisis the public sector will face. A crisis can mean conducting business as normal, but in a different way. The day that it does go wrong is the not the day you want to find out just how challenging it is to get staff back online.

Robin Barber is product owner, built environment at Arcus Global

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