LGSETA | Sep 13, 2022

The impact of disaster or crisis on business continuity in the local government sector

A reflection of the impact of disasters in the local government sector provides a good platform for a discussion on the need to implement business continuity plans for municipalities. A business continuity plan refers to the processes and procedures a municipality must implement to ensure that mission-critical functions can continue during and after a disaster or crisis.

This article summarises major findings and recommendations of research commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) which investigated the impact of disaster or crisis on business continuity in the local government sector. The study identified and analysed the skills needs for information technology (IT) officials in ensuring business continuity during disaster or crisis situations; and proposed a model for the management of disaster or risk that could lead to service disruption in the local government sector. The research utilised a mixed methods approach involving the use of a qualitative and quantitative research design. For the qualitative aspect, focus group discussions with key stakeholders involved in IT infrastructure and disaster risk management were conducted in selected local government entities in South Africa. For the quantitative aspect of the study, a survey was conducted among selected respondents representing local government entities in South Africa.

Findings of the study

The following are some of the key findings of this study:

  • Service Delivery: Local governments, as direct service providers to local communities and as first responders in times of disaster, have grappled with various disaster responses on the ground at an unprecedented scale, despite sometimes immediate and major disruptions to their budgets.
  • Global and Local Stakeholders: “global” stakeholders play a prominent role in responding to disasters at the expense of “local” stakeholders. However, the study respondents insisted that local stakeholders need to play a much more direct role. This claim was voiced through their identification of specific stakeholders who should be involved in IT disaster risk management at the local municipalities. It was also established that global actors played a much more dominant role in business continuity management and disaster recovery activities at the national level, with minimal influence at the local municipalities level.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction: In the implementation of disaster risk reduction strategies, local municipalities are plagued by numerous challenges such as managerial decision-making, that is inconsistent with business continuity principles and improper business continuity planning; improper, inefficient, ineffective, confusing and difficult IT processes and procedures; poor documentation of IT processes and procedures that impact service disruption; frequent hardware, software, infrastructure, network, or system failure; and irregular preventive maintenance and backups.
  • Skills shortage: It was also firmly established that various IT-related skills necessary for business continuity management and disaster risk reduction are woefully lacking in the local municipalities.
  • Financial Impact of Covid-19: The Covid-19 pandemic caused the revenue collection levels to decline drastically in most of municipalities. This is a significant negative impact on municipalities’ revenues as this is also confirmed by 68% of the municipalities that noted a projected monthly revenue shortfall >20%, and 78% of the municipalities that were not well prepared to address periods of reduced revenue.

Recommendations of the study

From the above expositions, the research recommended that:

  • Municipalities must formulate business continuity plans to mitigate the negative impact of a disaster in the normal operations of local government to an extent where even the quality of service delivery is detrimentally affected.
  • A local municipality may establish a disaster management centre in consultation with the relevant district municipality in accordance with the terms set out in a service level agreement between the two parties, in alignment with national norms and standards.
  • IT officials must be equipped with data center skills, which are critical for successful backing up and restoration of data, which in turn ensures successful restoration of operations within the municipality after a crisis.
  • Inadequate or lack of skills in the local municipalities emphasised the need to develop the capability to analyse current IT infrastructure, being able to develop tools for IT disaster identification, development of necessary back-end procedures for restarting IT systems that fail and running offsite storage facilities.
  • A political nexus triad, composed of several local stakeholders who are critical for the resilience of the business continuity management and disaster recovery programme at the local sphere of government must offer administrative reform of IT business continuity management and disaster recovery.
  • Capability to develop a disaster recovery and business continuity plan is also necessary, with these plans containing impact analysis details related to business processes, infrastructure, and systems.
  • Human capital capability for IT disaster management must be developed at different levels (vertically and horizontally), considering the diverse stakeholders that were identified as relevant in disaster situations.
  • There is a need to massively focus attention on upskilling of IT officials in different facets of disaster management as a key plank in enabling sustainable disaster management resilience of the local municipalities.
  • A resilient disaster recovery system must be developed in local municipalities, the system must recognise the key drivers that underlie such a system. These drivers are convergence, capability, and control (or IT Governance). They canvass the framework to show their influence in all aspects and any envisaged relationships in the dimensions of the IT disaster management framework for local municipalities.

 

This article is part of a series reporting on research commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education & Training Authority (LGSETA) (Contact: matodzir@lgseta.org.za)

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