Caveat and Background
To limit the scope of this debate the focus of the examination is on the professionalism of the Business Continuity discipline in the UK.
An academically critical view is taken of the protagonists in the professionalism debate. This is not intended to denigrate any of their worthy efforts, rather it emphasises the very high standards normally associated with professionalism and its attainment.
The aim of this article is to review the status of business continuity management as a profession. It contrasts some of the available literature with progress to date and examines comparable disciplines to identify criteria to support the identification of the professional project. In doing so it touches upon an important distinction between the increasing professionalism of the management process of business continuity and the contrasting professionalism of the managers of business continuity. It suggests that the professional project is underway but that professionalism is a longer term goal. It seeks to establish some additional criteria for the assessment of professionalism which are not final objectives in themselves but milestones on a route to indicate progress. Finally it notes that professionalism depends on perhaps more on practitioners and the outcomes they generate rather than on just the professionalism of the management process.
“All professions are conspiracies against the laity.”
George Bernard Shaw, The Doctor’s Dilemma (1911) Act 1
Despite Shaw’s cynicism, ‘professional(ism)’ has connotations of quiet assurance that one’s affairs are being looked after by someone well qualified, trustworthy, answerable both legally and to a membership body for the quality of their counsel, advice or decisions. In more broad academic terms Evett’s et al (2006) summarised suggestion of professionalism, being based on a knowledge based occupation, needing tertiary education combined with vocational training and experience, echoes closely the imagined popular conception and connotations of a professional.
Over time linguistic or journalistic abuse has softened the meaning of professional(ism). The immediate danger is its colloquial extension to include, a job well done, any non manual activity or simply someone earning their livelihood through that medium. Although Evans writing as a Professor at the School of Education at the University of Leeds (2007, p. 1) wittily observed that with increasing disciplines seeking professional status, ‘Professionalism, it is generally believed, is not what it was,’ it remains a condition that several disciplines aspire to. Popularly it lends credibility and gravitas to their activities, (if not necessarily actual economic advantage). Interestingly, Evans (ibid) went onto explain the problem of the ‘widening of applicability from this profession, or that profession, to professions.’ The potential ironic paradox, based on the law of diminishing returns, is obvious; as more and more disciplines struggle for professional status the increasingly less exclusive and valuable the title becomes.
This widespread quest for professionalism has also created waves of uncertainty as to what the concept actually is. Citing several authors in support of their contention Gleeson, Davies, & Wheeler (2005, p. 3) argued very strongly that professionalism is in a state of flux and conflict:
“the blurring of public and private sector occupations, …and overlap between management and practitioner activities, suggests that traditional attempts to define professionalism, removed from the context of its practice, offers limited insight to its meaning….. the proliferation of job specifications, titles and practices … in health, education and business, indicates the complexity of making generalisations across cognate fields of professional activity.”
The entrance of the recently emerged discipline of business continuity (BC) and associated activities (since the mid 1980s) into this maelstrom has opened a debate that is unlikely to be resolved speedily.
Professionalism is axiomatically important to a discipline not normally associated with the word; it even preoccupies those professions historically deemed to be professional and to whom others aspire. Veloski et al (2005, p. 366) identified 134 empirical studies related to the concept of professionalism, (as applied to medical students and residents, located on four databases and Medline between 1982 and 2002). Even those consensually deemed professional appear determined to maintain their aura, prestige and status.
The limited literature to date on business continuity’s (BC) assault on the gates of professionalism (in the UK at least) risks being confused, inconclusive, and iterative and largely follows a simple syllogistic fallacy, as follows:
- Established professions are complex, knowledge based jobs requiring considerable training.
- BC managers do complex, knowledge based jobs with considerable training.
- Therefore BC is a profession.
At first glance the ‘logic’ seems supportable or enticing. However, the same technique in other contexts (often taken to amusing absurdity), in the manner of A is like B, B is like C therefore C = A, reveals the bankruptcy of the potential conclusion.
This fallacy is subtly compounded in some academic literature by broad definitions and the design of criteria that can be easily achieved and which, if fulfilled by an aspirant discipline, is a passport to their professionalism. On closer analysis a reasonable person might discover that such lists are sometimes little more than an extended syllogistic fallacy. In fact it is often worse than that, as the presentation of binary criteria in the list, for example, ‘Is there a certification programme for competency’ can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Thus there is no measure required of its efficacy and no gradation possible in the analysis. Furthermore the list is often presented as being authoritative and thereby limits the debate to suit the author’s intended argument.
The overly simplistic criteria problem is illustrated as follows. In support of his assertion that security management is a profession, Simonsen (1996, p. 229) was captivated by a very convenient argument proposed by Criscouli (1988, pp.498-499) whose essay he described as ‘thoughtful’. Criscouli had observed that:
“Security can be considered a profession because it requires advanced training of a mental rather than manual nature…security ….involves a complex body of knowledge, analytical abilities…as well as the effective use of an array of other managerial skills.”
This liberal definition for professionalism might well be rejected by the reasonable person as being far too broad in nature. The latter portion of the quotation is descriptive of almost any managerial role, whilst the initial statement is almost bizarrely general. By this definition a croupier, a race course bookmaker or an estate agent would be instantly professionalised.
Simonsen’s criteria too must be questioned closely as many might seek to utilise them in the justification of professionalism. A précis of Simonsen’s list (ibid) is outlined below:
- Defined standards and a code of ethics.
- An established knowledge base including professional journals.
- Recognised association(s) as a forum for discussion and development of the profession.
- A measurable set of competencies along with appropriate certification programmes.
- An educational discipline preparing the student in the profession’s specific functions and philosophies.
A brief piece of research on the British Institute of Facilities Management, (BIFM), (website www.bifm.org.uk) is offered to challenge Simonsen’s criteria. Their website provides compelling evidence for the achievement of almost all of the professional criteria. Indeed almost every managerial role by this measure with a representative membership body, training and a web forum would be on the verge of professionalism.
Interestingly, however, in the description of its qualifications for the BIFM, only their ‘level seven qualifications’ are designed for what they term ‘professionals’. The level seven qualifications are also linked to a Masters Degree programme at Liverpool John Moores University. The subordinate grades are described as being appropriate for ‘managers’ or other descriptions of roles. In contrast to Simonsen’s blunt criteria this BIFM gradation seems to be a very elegant admission that not every facilities manager is a professional and that only those attaining high levels of professional and academic qualification should be deemed as such. A similar distinction might appear as fitting for business continuity managers too.
The burden and type of proof required
So, does the evidence presented for the professionalism of BC management inevitably fall into a syllogistic trap or is it logically sound? The question thus derived is how can the evidence for BC professionalism be revised and reframed to avoid the patent illogicality of the conclusion? Professionalism is a potentially valuable notion and any claim should be comprehensively proven. Furthermore, the onus of proof should be on the person or group making the assertion to prove it to an unbiased audience. As Jones and de Villiars (2009, p. 209) noted, as a principle ‘no man should be judge in his own cause’. Thus the industry cannot judge itself; the industry can only present its case for professionalism.
However, professionalism, which remains immovably subjective, can never be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Therefore, perhaps the best test as to proof of professionalism remains the legally apocryphal ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’, updated by Lord Steyn’s analogy of the ‘commuter on the underground’ (Macfarlane and Another v. Tayside Health Board (Scotland) ). The principle in this test is that what is deemed ‘reasonable’ in a legal context would be that which the normal person on public transport felt was reasonable.
So for the purposes of this debate the onus of proof lies with those making the assertion of professionalism and the level of proof required is simply that of reasonableness. After a short elaboration on the roles of business continuity managers the debate revolves around the case for and against professionalism, although for the sake of avoiding a turgid ‘to and fro’ argumental style the debates are contained within separate issues identified.
Are the activities of BC managers inherently professional?
Lindstedt (2007 p. 198) noted in relation to business continuity planning that, ‘At the most fundamental level, a profession that is not well defined cannot ultimately prosper.’ His implication being that BC practice was too ‘blurred’ with the complimentary activities of IT and disaster recovery, at present, to be a distinct profession. This sentiment was echoed by a study by EDUCAUSE (2007 p.155)., cited by Lindstedt (ibid). It noted that:
“BC continues to be …a back engineered process whose technical aspects are left to IT and whose business aspects are only investigated after the fact. Once …attention is brought to bear on BC questions…uncoordinated action, unclear funding and ambiguous ‘ownership’ of BC are ready to flourish.”
Whilst this latter quotation is from the US it has applicability in the UK too. It is genuinely difficult to find significant academic endorsement of BC professionalism.
However, writing on security management, Borodzicz and Gibson (2006, p.181), listed many roles which are also believed to be in the remit of the business continuity manager. (They are highlighted in bold by the author).
A rapidly growing industry of practitioners involved in a number of diverse tasks ranging from the management of situational crime through crisis management, consequence management, business continuity management, resilience management, internal audit, health and safety functions to insurance, counter-terrorism, kidnap and rescue, private information brokering, security consultancy, and the increasingly critical cyber security and protection of critical infrastructure.
Notwithstanding the bewildering array of responsibilities, Borodzicz and Gibson concluded that the diversity of tasks did not in itself professionalise security nor potentially de facto, in this case, business continuity. It was found to be, ‘like any other management issue… about the management of finite resources in the face of an infinite range of threats’ (ibid. 194).
This begs a number of questions. If professionalism is not about a complex job that not anyone could do, if it is not all about the education and qualifications required, if it is not about dealing with an array of issues with a brobingnagian skill set then what is left to rectify the syllogistic fallacy?
So on what criteria should the BC discipline be deemed reasonably to be professional? Primarily they should be non binary and fortunately several criteria are possible; a non exclusive list might include:
- The degree to which the discipline is knowledge based, amenable to study and codification.
- The evidence for a professional project taking place.
- The identification of an ethical stance and internal disciplinary processes.
- The degree to which cognitive commonality has occurred.
- The use of criteria developed for the assessment of other related professions.
These criteria will now be utilised to examine the evidence for the professionalism of business continuity management.
The degree to which the discipline is knowledge based, amenable to study and codification.
It is difficult not to identify the Business Continuity Institute, (BCI), as the main influence on BC in the UK. If we analyse the BCI website we can see that roughly speaking the following is the suggested programme of training for a novitiate. BCI training commences with the category of ‘Entry level Business Continuity Management Training’ described as:
This comprehensive programme of training covers the complete Business Continuity Management (BCM) Lifecycle in depth and is our top recommendation for candidates preparing for the BCI Certificate Examination.
It should be noted in the context of the debate that this course is described as ‘comprehensive’ and ‘in depth’. The course normally lasts five days but is also offered in a three day intensive version, or 32 hours of flexible learning over eight weeks.
Potentially and not compulsorily this is followed by a total of 13 more days of optional varied training in different skills ranging from business impact analysis, to plan writing and then potentially a 30 week distance learning module of (3-4 hours a week) taught at Bucks New University (cost £1800), then potentially an MSc at the same location.
By way of contrast, the training of an electrician in the UK is generally estimated (dependent on the method, largely similar to the BCI options) to be between 6 to 18 months.₁ Even with the most charitable, pro profession view of business continuity one must have difficulty in deeming this alone to be sufficient evidence of professional training akin to law, medicine, dentistry, or engineering.
Echoing Evett’s et al (2006), the traditional endorsement of professionalism in the UK still tends to stem from and be based on tertiary education. It is hard to recall any profession which does not mandate some form of tertiary education even if only a conversion diploma from a prior degree (as required by the legal profession). The growing professionalism achieved by business continuity can be identified in the rapid growth of university accredited degree courses available. Whilst some distinctions and emphases in the titles of the courses blur the issue the thrust of risk, (howsoever defined), and business continuity shines through. Importantly employers are apparently valuing the degrees offered. The list below is taken from the website of Barclay Simpson (2012) which is one of the largest recruiters and placement agencies in this and related fields. They place considerable credence on the degree qualifications in obtaining employment.
There are now many universities that offer post graduate diplomas, BSc and MSc courses in disaster, emergency management and business continuity including Coventry, Birmingham, Leicester, Portsmouth, Cranfield, Hertfordshire, Leeds and others. Many of the courses will give the option of studying full-time, part-time or remotely. This level of education will in some cases give you the advantage and many employers will value your commitment to personal development.
It is beguiling to endorse professionalism on the basis of burgeoning academic options but one must bear in mind that there are several university courses that would not, in the view of the reasonable person on the public transport system necessarily convey professional status.
It would be both foolish and arrogant to equate business continuity ability with academic qualifications nevertheless, as a coarse guide to employers, the degree of personal competence that could be expected of a graduate remains a persistent theme. Few organisations would entrust the portfolio of responsibilities outlined by Borodzicz and Gibson, (ibid) to any person but the most evidently qualified and competent. However, sadly but understandably (perhaps as this might unintentionally discriminate against some members), the BCI does not hold records of academic achievements of their membership. Similarly Barclay Simpson does not hold data on the percentage of graduates amongst their applicants (personal communications to the author). The evidence thus presented is arguably inconclusive to the reasonable man in that the discipline offers degree courses but they are not a pre-requisite for practitioners.
The evidence for a professional project taking place.
Wilensky cited by Larson M S (1977, p. 31) commenting on the quality of the body of knowledge required of a profession, noted that:
“If the technical base of an occupation consists of a vocabulary that sounds familiar to everyone… or if the base is scientific, but so narrow that it can be learned as a set of rules by most people, then the occupation will have difficulty claiming a monopoly of skill or even a roughly exclusive jurisdiction.”
Based on this observation, the activities of the BCI and other bodies of knowledge on business continuity might not, by themselves clear Wilensky’s hurdle. Even combined with ISO standards and self help books they seem to fall considerably short of the level of professional. Paradoxically, most of the BC materials presented by the BCI and others are intentionally amenable, designed to be easy reading and capable of implementation with minimal special vocabulary (other than numerous three and four letter abbreviations). As to any ‘scientific’ basis, it seems regrettably elusive. Whilst perhaps failing the Wilensky criteria the BCI is very evidently committed to achieving protectionism from an open market with no barriers to entry, the same issues that Larson (1977) intimated as being the intent or aim of becoming a profession, the professional project.
The BCI established itself as a membership organisation in 1994 and has recently developed a training organisation to train applicants in business continuity. This makes the BCI demonstrably different to their equivalents like the British Medical Association (BMA), the General Medical Council (GMC), the Bar Council or the Law Society. The main distinguishing feature is that none of the latter train their members in their disciplines which is evidently left to teaching hospitals, universities and law schools. In contrast the BCI and their approved affiliates have set themselves up as both the author of content, process and the approved deliver of training. In some ways this virtually makes the BCI a training company for a discipline. It remains to be seen if this duality of purpose will lead to a conflict of interest or will actively promote the professionalism project. The concept of the representative membership organisation training and examining its own members is unusual for a profession and the lack of independent third party validation might prove problematic in the medium to long term.
The BCI has also devised a variety of membership grades which one might feel at first glance to be complex rather than helpful. However, certainly it is evidence of the exclusivity and protectionism requisite to an embryonic profession; even if some of the hyperbolic claims fall into the, ‘Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ category.
Statutory membership of the BCI provides internationally recognised status and demonstrates the member’s competence to carry out BCM to a consistently high standard. Increasingly employers ask for BCI membership when employing new business continuity staff and throughout the world major companies, when issuing tender documents for business continuity consultancy and services, insist on BCI membership.
The Statutory Professional Grades of Fellow (FBCI), Member (MBCI), Associate Member (AMBCI) and Specialist (SBCI) are certified grades and members within these grades have undergone a rigorous application process allowing them to use the relevant post nominal designation.
Even though the BCI membership and other grades require considerable ‘time served’ and evidence of skills in all aspects of BC, it is only with a leap of charitable interpretation that one can grant the term professional to such basic training even when augmented by experience (which could be with a single employer), but it seems reasonable to concede that the ‘professional project’ is well and truly underway.
As a matter of note, many of the older members of the BCI, only had to attend a verbal interview to assess their suitability for membership. At the end of the interview of forty five minutes the candidate was advised on areas of weakness on which the interviewer would check progress over the next year. Sixteen years later the author still awaits the follow up interview. This is not meant as cheap anti BCI jibe, rather as evidence in support of the BCI’s tightening grip on membership and practice whilst not discriminating against those who had a somewhat easier membership entrance procedure.
The identification of an ethical stance and internal disciplinary processes.
‘Professional’ is a slippery concept in that it cannot be assumed or gained by the discipline seeking it by repetitious surveys and articles, rather it is a mantle placed upon them by the external observer or in BC terms by their clients/users. Brown and Ferrill (2009) citing Reynolds 1994, stressed the altruistic element of professionalism and the nature of service creating the perception of professionalism in the mind of the public.
“… that the respect and trust accorded to physicians are direct results of their commitment to put the patient first. An altruistic mindset elevates the nature of the fiduciary relationship beyond responsibility and service to one of self-sacrifice. Altruism adds a moral dimension to the fiduciary relationship, and therefore, to professionalism.”
This element, so clearly evident in the medical professions, does seem to have been addressed by the BCI’s code of conduct, the preamble of which is outlined below: BCI website.
The wider role of the BCI and the BCI Partnership is to promote the highest standards of professional competence and commercial ethics in the provision and maintenance of business continuity planning and services.
In the accompanying codes of conduct the BCI reserves the right to withdraw membership status for serious breaches of the code and thus has similar powers to the more recognised professional bodies. According to a BCI spokesperson (personal communication to the author 11/09/12) the process has been invoked ‘a couple of times’ since its inception; so it can be seen that the process is not a toothless tiger.
This disciplinary ability almost mirrors the attainments of the highest levels of professionalism where a professional officer or soldier can be court martialled by peers or superiors, a solicitor, barrister, accountant, doctor and health workers can be barred from practicing, even if not guilty of any other legislative offence. It is therefore arguably the level of power of self censure of the ‘membership’ organisation that differentiates professions from other managerial functions. However, it should be noted that being barred from the BCI does not in itself inhibit practicing as a BC manager as would be the case in barred doctors or lawyers.
The ethical stance of the BCI is not as developed perhaps as the caring professions but the self regulatory element is undoubtedly present. Although the Code of Conduct uses the words ‘profession(al)’ twenty one times, the extent of the BCI codes seems to be no more ethical than that which might reasonably be expected of any managerial discipline or qualified trades. It seems to lack the detailed debate and high ethics often seem in other professions. It is too convenient to allege that such altruistic ethics are not required of BC managers because they are not taking decisions about life and death or the curtailment of personal liberty. In reality their plans might be the basis of such decisions, if not for the managers themselves then at least for their organisations. Consequently the codes of conduct might warrant some reinforcement if they are to be considered truly professional.
The degree to which cognitive commonality has occurred
Larson’s (1977, p.40) assertion or pre condition that, ‘Cognitive commonality, however minimal is indispensable if professionals are to coalesce into an effective group’ should be vital evidence in the identification of emergent professionalism. Evidence for this cognitive commonality, if not quite coalescence, can be found in several surprising sources; standards, software, self help books, and social media debates. (Forgive the unintentional alliteration.)
ISO standards can be seen as relatively neutral in terms of authorship, albeit implemented commercially by audit firms. The codification they offer and the self evident standardisation is prima face a compelling argument for professionalism. BS 25999 and ISO 22301 standards could be seen as evidence of cognitive commonality if adopted by several organisations. The concentration of attention has to be on the new ISO which inherits the mantle of the original BS 25999 which will be withdrawn on 1st November 2012. This twenty two page document ISO 22301:2012 (E) (page v) ‘specifies requirements for setting up and managing an effective Business Continuity Management System (BCMS)’. It uses the word ‘effective’ which seems to imply some guarantee that if followed the resultant plan will be effective. In reality it seems safer to assume that the management system has the efficacy, not the resultant plan whose format, content and actions remains largely at the behest of the organisation concerned. This is an important topic which will be revisited later.
Although ISO 22301 para 8.4.4 (ibid) is the only paragraph (approximately one page of bullet points of points for inclusion in plans) relating directly to ‘Business Continuity Plans’, several other sections, for example section 8.4 and 8.4.2, the ‘incident response structure’ might be thought by many plan authors as belonging in the plan. However, the advice or in fact auditable components are expressed in a general fashion, for example para 8.4.1 (c) ‘be flexible to respond to unanticipated threats and changing internal and external conditions.’ It is even difficult to see how this could be easily evidenced in any plan. All of the advice is sensible pragmatic and in many ways curiously obvious but it does not explain how to write a plan nor how it is best presented etc. It could therefore be seen as debateable how this professionalises the industry when the all important end result, the plan, receives so little detailed attention from the standard.
It is worth noting that the BS 25999 standard was reputedly reported by the British Standards Institute as being the most downloaded and least adopted standard. Informal feedback to the author from commercial businesses indicates that the administrative burden of accreditation was not judged to be offset by any economic advantage and that alignment to the ideals of the standard was sufficient for most companies. Thus the degree to which professionalism can be achieved with ISO 22301 remains debateable but it can only be viewed as helpful in terms of cognitive commonality.
The extent to which these standards bestow professionalism also has to be seen in the context of the wider standards community. ISO 14001, the Environmental Management System is not systemically different to ISO 22301 yet the reasonable person might not think that in itself it professionalises environmental managers.
Software, so far as the author knows, has never been used as a criterion for professionalism. But the growing software BC planning tools, most of them to a common framework, based on BCI best practice guidelines and ISO standards, is at least indicative of the standardisation of knowledge. The growing range of software and templates available to assist the author of business continuity plans is however plagued with exaggerated claims, ‘one size fits all’ advertisements and much of the advice and content is merely regurgitated procedures that once resided in paper manuals. Offers of self completion templates range from a very socially responsible Walsall City Council template to ‘Express BCP,’ a commercial company offering a programme that offers a ‘Zero risk, 100% satisfaction guarantee’, and the facility to ‘create a business continuity plan in less than one day!’
Thus, it can be seen that the planning process is becoming ‘productised’ with greater or less degrees of assurances by the vendors. Whilst any profession suffers its share of ‘hype’, at least some of the better software programmes do encourage a systematic approach which could be deemed to enhance proficiency or competence. Yet again that which seems to professionalise the approach to BC does not of itself professionalise the outcomes. The content of the plans remains in the control of the author and it is the content in the event of plan invocation that matters and which still cannot be guaranteed.
Combine available, even free software, with good old fashioned books on the topic and professional project looks superficially more coherent. Such ‘self help’ manuals range from the all encompassing and precisely titled, Definitive Handbook of Business Continuity Management, Hiles (2011) to the inadvertently patronizingly titled, but well intentioned and informative, Business Continuity for Dummies, published by the Cabinet Office, (2012). Almost all such manuals offer advice templates and diagrams for the authors’ use, often on a CD or web links.
Constructive as this seems to the cognitive commonality ideal, it is not all it seems and has significant drawbacks. The internet lists several instances of lay people landing aircraft in emergencies² and in purely technical terms an averagely intelligent person might in an emergency conduct an appendectomy following the instructions in a book of home medicine, but neither would ever be considered professional. The problem is that the simple formulaic reproduction of a set of recipes for business continuity as outlined in such books and software arguably demonstrates the antithesis of professionalism. The professional understands more than the simple procedures repeated on the basis of instructions. Thus these sorts of publications actually militate against BC being deemed professionalism. Any ‘reasonable commuter’ might be questioning as to the professional status of their doctor if he or she reached for the ‘Diagnosing for Dummies’ book when examining them. However, the fact that these books have been authored does in fact demonstrate growing professionalism by their authors if not their readers. Whilst inconclusive in terms of evidence, another grain is tipped into the balance for professionalism.
Recently academic or at least peer reviewed articles have appeared such as the Journal of Business Continuity and Emergency Planning, a quarterly 100 page journal published by Henry Stewart Publications. Whilst perhaps this is genuinely the start point of professionalism it is not the end state. Sadly in many instances, because business continuity is applied to diverse organisations, many worthy articles are not published in mainstream business continuity journals. Rather they appear in highly specific topic journals as illustrated: [G. A. Zsidisin *S. A. Melnyk & G. L. Ragatz (2007). An institutional theory perspective of business continuity planning for purchasing and supply management. pages 3401-3420 which appeared in the International Journal of Production Research Volume 43, Issue 16, 2005.] One can argue that this article is likely to have slipped under the radar of most BC managers. Unlike acknowledged professions the range of BC journals is in need of enhancement and rationalization to a few authoritative publications before it mimics the limited number of academic journals read in law or medicine.
Social media must now also be taken into account as being indicative of professional status. However, the 461 English speaking BC interest or related groups on LinkedIn (sample date 110912) bodes well to some extent for the future of the discipline in terms of sheer interest and volume. However, the plethora of BC LinkedIn debates on a raft of definitions, terms and processes, some mundane, others important, reveals a lack of cognitive commonality. Over four hundred groups is evidence of an anarchic babel of groups not coalescence; to be professional some rationalisation has to occur.
The BCI makes a serious claim to thought leadership (it being one of their website banners); it also publicises white papers and case studies. However the content of the articles and frequency reveals both a concentration on surveys, and possibly an inevitable commercial taint with many articles being placed by major companies and consultancies. These can be prone to being seen as thinly veiled marketing to the readership, a charge which the BCI is well known to avoid with every attempt being made at editorial fairness and balance. The simple fact is they have to publish material and in the absence of peer review and strict academic criteria then commercialism will occur despite attempts to minimise it. In summary, these endeavours appear to endorse the evidence for the professional project but not the achievement of professionalism.
This section of the debate has been artificially divided into discrete parcels to aid the analysis of what constitutes reasonable proof. In doing so it has perhaps avoided what could be termed the cumulative weight or synergy that the various endeavours generate. When this synergy is taken into account then the case for cognitive commonality becomes far stronger and the rationalisation of the body of knowledge underpinning BC activities is far more robust.
We should recall that Larson (1977, p. 40) was suggesting that the coalescence and cognitive commonality is a precursor of professionalism, not its result. Therefore in summary, even the cumulative evidence suggests only that the process is underway but is incomplete.
Use of criteria identified for other related professions
McGee (2006, p. 101), writing on the degree of professionalism in the security industry, identified five stages through which the progress of a professional project can be measured. These criteria seem more appropriate than Simonsen’s. They do not have the binary compulsion of Simonsen’s list, outlined previously, and appear more fluid and amenable to gradation. This is important as the professional project is not often at a defined point, it is more a question as to the degree to which a criteria is achieved. The criteria are:
- Engaging in collective dialogue to establish shared will and consensus regarding the professional project.
- Developing the capacity for occupational negotiation.
- Defining the profession’s boundaries.
- Instituting the boundaries through professional qualification.
- Creating a professional monopoly by controlling the supply of professionals.
In the case of business continuity, taking into account all the evidence presented above, it seems more appropriate to judge that asymmetric progress has been made in these areas of the five stages and that no stage is yet 100 per cent complete. Again, the reasonable conclusion is that the professionalism of BC is still in gestation.
Before this consideration of evidence and proof, the whole concept of professionalism seemed curious, important and interesting, now this quest for professionalism seems somewhat surreal.
At best, the quest for professionalism is nobly Arthurian, at worst foolishly Sisyphean. One is not quite sure exactly what one is searching for in the first place, or where this ‘grail lies’. Professionalism is multi faceted, based on a myriad of factors and the professional project lacks a formal measurable structure. Professionalism ends up being an externally bestowed, ephemeral bauble at best. Once obtained, one requires iterative reassurance and resources to confirm that one still has what one once imagined it to be. It can be lost or destroyed in an instant of carelessness. Finally, it is likely to change over time and become devalued anyway. As one cannot divorce the financial gain element of professionalism, then in a cruel analysis it is no more than a social or economic prop.
Despite progress, the BC managers’ professional project remains, as Lindstedt (2007) suggested, fragmented across differing disciplines. The results are eclectic, but promising with some good degrees emerging. Although progress is asymmetric when considered against the criteria above it nevertheless remains progress. One must remain mindful of timescales. The BCI was only formed in 1994. Professionalism projects tend to move slowly, even glacially. The advances made in a short timeframe of 18 years are considerable and worthy of praise.
Nevertheless, a curious question seems to have arisen which is perhaps more germane than might first appear. The ‘professional project’ clearly exists but it is less clear who it intends to convince of the professionalism of BC managers. As observed, earlier professions are such because the external observer considers them as such not because they themselves believe it to be so.
All the recognised professions are acutely aware that anything bringing them into disrepute with the public jeopardises their status. In the case of the BCI’s efforts the focus seems more internalised. They appear to be trying to convince themselves and their membership as opposed to the wider professional or broader public community. It would seem to be a non sequitur to consider oneself professional if this was not recognised externally. However, the degree to which the BC manager is public facing is usually negligible and therefore the internalisation of the effort is understandable. Perhaps the measure of professionalism is more towards the acceptance of the BC manager as equal in merit, contribution and status to other more traditional departmental heads, finance HR, IT etc.
That the BCI, the ISO and other bodies have doubtless done much to improve the competence and proficiency of their members is indisputable but their publications and courses, like anyone else’s, can only do so much. The Good Practice Guidelines can be followed; the Business Continuity Management System can be audited without non conformances yet the resultant plan can still be of dubious utility.
This recurrent theme that the quality of the plans, and therefore the ultimate professionalism of the BC manager, is not vouchsafed by any of the endeavours to professionalise the BC management process alone is anticipated by Larson (1977, p. 41). Larson observed that:
“However standardised, knowledge is applied by individual professional producers; it is therefore inseparable from the cognitive makeup and whole personality of these individuals.”
In other words it does not really matter how professional the discipline is seen to be, the acid test is how professional are the individuals practising the discipline.
It is this critical point that now moves the debate away from professionalism, competency or proficiency. It directs us to the ‘elephant in the room’ issue. Even if professionalised, now or in due course, the application of standardised knowledge would still be differentially applied by ‘producers’ of plans. Thus the question as to the quality of the plans is left unanswered but acknowledged by this debate.
This idea of professionalism being practically assessed in action, at least in terms of the quality of the eventual plan (as opposed to created a priori by the management process), is echoed by Brown and Ferrill (2009):
“It does not matter how much a student knows about professionalism. What is important is how well a student performs as a professional. The usefulness of an organized taxonomy of professionalism depends on having developmental objectives that relate to performance in a professional setting.“
In other words can the BC manager actually author a good, ‘professional’ plan using the training, using the materials and advice available or are other factors at work beyond the scope of professionalism?
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Authored by Needhams 1834 Consultants.