What business continuity means during and after COVID-19

COVID-19 is giving a whole new meaning to the term “operational resiliency.”

While every bank should have an existing business continuity plan (BCP) that outlines their strategy for responding to and recovering from service interruptions such as natural disasters and cyberattacks, not even the most prescient BCP planners could have predicted COVID-19 and its impact on the global economy. Major U.S. cities have been brought to a standstill, states are invoking “shelter-in-place” orders and entire countries are effectively shut down. These are truly extraordinary events and there is no end in sight.

The requirements for what belongs in a BCP are rather loose. Most industry guidelines use words like “should” and “could” and “may,” and as a result, the quality of the BCP is dependent on the commitment made by the specific organization. Because it is so difficult to predict disruptive events and the impact they will have (think natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and blizzards), each company has to make its own value judgments about what they can and will plan for.

Payments testing is mission critical

While it is critically important to keep data centers online, networks running and processing systems available, there is a significant amount of operational complexity to deal with.

As you would expect in a time of crises, things change in unpredictable ways. COVID-19 is not only infecting people, it is decimating entire industries. Airlines, hotels and restaurants are all reeling. Most major card brands, networks and financial institutions are forecasting a downturn in revenues and earnings for the current fiscal year. At the same time, the move away from face-to-face interaction has meant skyrocketing sales for many e-commerce businesses.

This bad news for some/good news for others means that financial systems need to be closely monitored and adjusted accordingly. Capacity needs to be reduced in some places and added in others. Components break and need to be replaced; security must be maintained.

The rapid rise in e-commerce transactions also means a significant uptick in fraud that cannot be ignored. Acquirers, issuers, networks and processors will all need to continually adjust their fraud and risk management strategies in order to keep the entire payment system safe and viable. This means that any and every change must be tested before it can be put into production. The rise of Agile and DevOps development methodologies makes testing an integral part of the development, delivery and operational process. Without the capability to test, everything will grind to a halt.

This takes us back to the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus situation. Few if any business continuity planners correctly anticipated that their organization’s entire staff of developers, testers and QA staff would be forced to work remotely for an extended period of time. Now we know better.

Our experience with COVID-19 will become part of the “new normal.” Global pandemic has become one of the many challenges facing the payments industry – along with rapid change, legal and regulatory pressures, security threats and aggressive competition – that must be planned for and managed.

If there is any good news here, it is that this problem can be solved. Today’s technology enables entire organizations to effectively move out of corporate facilities to work from home or whatever remote location suits them. Testing platforms can be deployed and managed in the cloud. Developers and testers can still collaborate, share test scripts and results and reports. API-level integration means tests can be executed automatically by other systems without the need for people to be involved. Virtualization means even physical devices like ATMs can be freed from the test lab and made accessible 24×7 from anywhere on the planet.

The full impacts of COVID-19 won’t be known until long after the event has ended. But we are already smarter than we were and will be better prepared for “the next time.”

Organizations that learn from this experience to enhance their BCP strategies and expand their testing capabilities will see immediate benefit from increased operational efficiency, improved quality and faster time to market for new products and services. They will also be much better prepared to weather the storms that have increasingly become a part of the world we live in today.

Steve Gilde is director of market engagement at Paragon Application Systems.