Skip to main content

Compliance Quick Bites – Tests vs. Exercises, and the Resiliency Factor

One of several changes implemented in the 2019 FFIEC BCM Examination Handbook is a subtle but important differentiation between a BCMP “test” and an “exercise”. I discussed some of the more material changes here, but we’re starting to see examiner scrutiny into not just if, but exactly what and how you’re testing.

According to the Handbook:

  • “An exercise is a task or activity involving people and processes that is designed to validate one or more aspects of the BCP or related procedures.”
  • “A test is a type of exercise intended to verify the quality, performance, or reliability of system resilience in an operational environment.”

Essentially, “…the distinction between the two is that exercises address people, processes, and systems whereas tests address specific aspects of a system.” Simply put, think of an exercise as a scenario-based simulation of your written process recovery procedures (a table-top exercise, for example), and a test as validation of the interdependencies of those processes, such as data restoration or circuit fail-over.

The new guidance makes it clear that you must have a comprehensive program that includes both exercises and tests, and that the primary objective should be to validate the effectiveness of your entire business continuity program. In the past, most FI’s have conducted an annual table-top or structured walk-through test, and that was enough to validate their plan. It now seems that this new differentiation requires multiple methods of validation of your recovery capabilities. Given the close integration between the various internal and external interdependencies of your recovery procedures, this makes perfect sense.

An additional consideration in preparing for future testing is the increased focus on resiliency, defined as any proactive measures you’ve already implemented to mitigate disruptive events and enhance your recovery capabilities. The term “resiliency” is used 126 times in the new Handbook, and you can bet that examiners will be looking for you to validate your ability to withstand as well as recover in your testing exercises. Resilience measures can include fire suppression, auxiliary power, server virtualization and replication, hot-site facilities, alternate providers, succession planning, etc.

One way of incorporating resilience capabilities into future testing is to evaluate the impact of a disruptive event after consideration of your internal and external process interdependencies and accounting for any existing resilience measures. For example, let’s say your lending operations require 3 external providers and 6 internal assets, including IT infrastructure, scanned documents, paper documents, and key employees. List any resilience capabilities you already have in place, such as recovery testing results from your third-parties, data replication and restoration, and cross-training for key employees, then evaluate what the true impact of the disruptive event would be in that context.

In summary, conducting both testing and exercises gives all stakeholders a high level of assurance that you’ve thoroughly identified and evaluated all internal and external process interdependencies, built resilience into each component, and can successfully restore critical business functions within recovery time objectives.