Business Contingency Planning when Disaster Strikes

Add bookmark

With the swine flu erupting in Mexico City earlier this month, the impact on businesses was expected to be severe. It is proving a test not only to captive SSOs but also to the burgeoning outsourcing industry located throughout Mexico. SSON speaks with Steve Rudderham, SVP and Business Leader of Genpact’s Latin America operations, which include two Mexican centers and one in Guatemala, to hear how operations fared on the ground.

When word first went out that the Mexican Government was shutting down all universities, schools and daycares for a week as a precaution against the spread of the swine flu virus, the potential impact on staff—working parents—was enormous. Genpact’s Steve Rudderham was keenly aware of what this could mean for his two Mexican services delivery operations, which between them service 51 international clients. Although both Genpact centers are located 1,300 miles from Mexico City, the country-wide alert has had all geographies on the defensive.

With over 2,500 people employed across the two centers—one in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, employing 2,000 staff, the other in Caborca, Sonora, employing 500 staff—Rudderham was highly sensitive to the impact childcare-induced absences would have on service delivery. Having received about 48 hours notice, Rudderham and his senior team checked with each and every employee to find out who would be directly affected by the closure of schools and daycare centers, and therefore establish the impact on each client’s services. What was impressive, says Rudderham, was that staff quickly established informal daycare arrangements among themselves, with grandparents stepping in to provide support. "Juarrez is a fairly tight-knit community and families are very close in Mexico," explains Rudderham, "People pull together."

Given this pooling of resources, the staff absences of the first day were not maintained, says Rudderham. What also worked in the centers’ favor was bringing in resources from other shifts and leveraging the routine cross-training employees go through. "It enabled us to move resources around as necessary, to ensure we were meeting customer requirements and staff were able to fill each other’s shoes, where necessary," Rudderham explains.

A few days after the first declaration, the government also announced that all "non-essential" businesses would close for that week. Although there seems to have been some uncertainty as to what exactly defined a "non-essential" business, Genpact was quick to react by invoking Business Continuity Planning (BCP) for its services. "We took this announcement very seriously and immediately implemented our BCP to maintain service continuity," explains Rudderham. "This meant some work would be sent back to the client’s site for the duration of the shutdown, some of the processes would be supported by our Indian operations, and some would be shifted to our US operations, depending on the type of work. Some customers said they were fine with us being down for five days as long as the work was made up in double-shifts the following week."

With the BCP in place, a further announcement opened the way to maintaining operations, however: within 24 hours, the state governor of Chihuahua declared that all businesses operating in the Maquiladora* industry—those border industries servicing international clients—would be allowed to stay open. "Given that green flag, we went out to all our associates and declared our intention to stay open," Rudderham says, "and they all bought in to this. We were then able to go out to the customer base, having had the BCP dry run, and announce that operations would be continuing after all."

The two Mexican centers have taken appropriate medical precautions, as all businesses have at the moment. A doctor is onsite, randomly walking the floors, and accessible to all staff at all times. Additionally, although the company has not made facemasks mandatory, they are available. Thousands of masks are stockpiled should the situation deteriorate and they become necessary. Extra cleaning crews have been brought in to sanitize the offices, particularly cafeterias, bathrooms and doorknobs.

"We are in a state of readiness, should the situation deteriorate," says Rudderham. "Our staff are reassured by the health-care measures we’ve taken, and business operations are secured by our BCP."

Ciudad Juarez, where Rudderham is based, has had eleven severe cases of the virus so far, but these were contained at the time of the interview. Caborca has so far had no reported instances of the virus. In fact, the entire state of Sonora has reported one case only to date

*The Maquiladora industry is very important for Mexico, having started with manufacturing and now moving increasingly into the financial and services sectors. The industry is linked by an association—the AMAC—that in turn, is directly linked to National and State Governments. Most directives or announcements are telephoned straight through to each operation.