The language barrier

Last week I was in the Alsace region of France (a very nice part of the world I must say), conducting a business continuity health check for a client. I’m pleased to say it all went very well but there was one thing that, whilst it didn’t cause any problems, gave me some food for thought. This was the small issue of the language barrier.

It’s fair to say that my French language skills are pretty basic. However, the client confirmed at the outset that this wasn’t an issue as everyone I’d be talking to speaks really good English. There was therefore no need for one of my more fluent colleagues to carry out the assignment.

Incidentally, just so you don’t get the impression that I’m a complete linguaphobe, I do speak Italian passably well – but clearly this wasn’t an awful lot of use to me in France.

Anyway, I made my arrangements and off I went.

I carried out my review of the client’s business continuity management system and provided some advice and guidance to help move the programme forward. And, I’m pleased to say, at no point was my lack of French an obstacle to our discussions. The only time it even raised its head was on the odd occasion that an unfamiliar word was used.

Actually, there was also the small issue of menu translation – I decided for example (perhaps wrongly but I always feel it’s better to be safe than sorry) to steer clear of the duck gizzards and the Alsatian meat platter.

But back to the point of the story, and to this week’s tenuous link (which rather conveniently allows me to sneakily recycle one of my Tips of the Month)…

The language of business continuity management must, at times, seem like a foreign language to “normal” people. Because, as you’ve probably noticed, the business continuity world is awash with acronyms, abbreviations and jargon.

Just think about some of the stuff we come out with – BCM, BCP, RTO, RPO, BIA, CMT, IMT, MCA, MTPD*, etc, etc…..what on earth is that all about?

I recently heard a couple of new ones that amused me : GSO and MAD** – the latter says it all really.

Whilst this nonsense is all very well for your average business continuity manager or consultant when they’re speaking to another business continuity “expert”, actually most business users aren’t fluent in BCM-speak.

We really ought to put ourselves in their shoes for a moment. If someone came to you asking you to do a whole load of seemingly new, complicated or additional stuff, but at best seemed to want to blind you with science and at worst appeared to be speaking complete and utter gobbledegook, how receptive would you feel?

So if we want to engage the business, rather than having them glaze over when we talk to them, why don’t we just speak in terms that the business understands, and save the mumbo-jumbo for when we’re chatting with fellow BCM-ites? Otherwise there’s a risk that the business won’t buy-in to the process, or there may be misunderstandings that scupper our plans.

* Just in case you were wondering : BCM = business continuity management; BCP = business continuity plan; RTO = recovery time objective; RPO = recovery point objective; BIA = business impact analysis; CMT = crisis management team; IMT = incident management team; MCA = mission critical activity; MTPD = maximum tolerable period of disruption (aaaargh!)

** GSO apparently stands for geographic separation objective (the distance between the primary and recovery sites) and MAD = maximum acceptable downtime

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One Response to The language barrier

  1. John Glenn, MBCI June 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    BRAVO! There is entirely too much alphabet soup in our profession. It’s bad enough that we (Yanks) can’t communicate with you (Brits) – and pity the poor Canadians who aren’t sure WHICH English to speak (or have to deal with Quebec’s French), but throw in abbreviations and acronyms and there is a disaster in the making. (Add some fat finger typing to really spice up the mix .) As a former honest journalist I learned to “write to the audience” and while that did not mean “the lowest common denominator” it did mean to use words my audience comprehended; it was my obligation was to be understood, not the audience’s to understand.

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