Five Lessons from Korea on Securing Business Continuity during COVID-19

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Graphic: KPFIS Graphic: KPFIS

Financial Management Information Systems (FMIS) enable governments to plan, execute, and monitor the budget and publish reliable information on budget performance to better ensure better budget accountability and transparency. However, COVID-19 and the subsequent global economic crisis has put South Korea’s FMIS system, called dBrain, at risk of facing interruptions in services for its 15,000 daily estimated users.

To address this serious concern, the Korea Public Finance Information Services (KPFIS), a public institution that manages and operates the dBrain system and provides users with 24 hours of IT service 365 days a year, took quick and proactive actions since the start of the crisis in February 2020. The KPFIS shared their responses to ensure business continuity and remote access during recently organized online seminars called “Securing Business Continuity under the COVID-19 Outbreak.” These seminars were conducted at the request of the World Bank Group and the Inter-American Development Bank. 

Here are five lessons based on responses and experiences shared during the seminar:

①     Continuing staff connection with Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs)

Working with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, KPFIS opened a temporary office at the Gwacheon Government Complex to accommodate a team whose objective was to maintain the core functions of dBrain. On March 10, the temporary office became functional with 37 staff on board. While the office was being prepared in February, 17 essential staff worked tirelessly from home to ensure uninterrupted operation of the system. The existing Government Virtual Private Network (GVPN) was used to provide access to the dBrain system for essential staff so that they could perform certain tasks on their PCs at home despite the mandatory lockdown and staff quarantine.

KPFIS Conceptual diagram of distribution and connection
Source: KPFIS > Conceptual diagram of distribution and connection


②     Selectively prioritizing essential core services within a resource constrained environment

Since only 15 to 25 percent of dBrain’s workforce were working in its temporary office, guidance was for them to be selective and focused on essential core functions. The importance and priority of each task was measured, and the minimum core personnel necessary was allocated to each department. Once social distancing measures were eased, other non-essential functions were also distributed to the broader workforce.


③     Safely maintaining a customer interface for the systems users 

The call center handles dBrain inquiries and is the primary contact point for the system’s users. Call centers are often the most susceptible environments to COVID-19 since staff are on the phone for extended periods of time in an enclosed space.

In order to better ensure safety, KPFIS provided an adapted workspace for the call center’s 17 employees. This number was reduced from 32 employees and the other employees were relocated to the training center also provided by KPFIS. Transparent dividers were installed between the employees for their protection. The call center also expanded its online capabilities. Expanded online chatting services helped reduce user wait time while helping protect employees.


④     Strengthening the concept of “untact” in the work environment and in user support

KPFIS was able to delegate workload more effectively because the government and the agency were already acquainted with the concept of untact (a Korean-English word meaning “non-contact”) infrastructure.  This infrastructure provided employees working remotely with clear guidance and tools for attendance, data sharing, and document signing through the GVPN. The dBrain system also streamlined technical components such as video conferencing. Cloud-based storage systems and shared storage for work data have become standard tools to achieve improved security and more productive remote work. Officials can continue working by connecting to the cloud anytime, anywhere.

User support also quickly reorganized to meet the untact environment. When users complained of a technical error while using dBrain, the KPFIS technical support team could immediately access the user's PC remotely and help install the security program or solve other issues. In person training was replaced with virtual learning, and we also strengthened chat and bulletin board functions in order to support inquiries. 


⑤    Having a crisis response manual on hand so that everyone knows who should do what 

The agency had previously revamped the crisis response manual in 2019 adding protocol details to the infectious diseases category as well as protocols for natural and social disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, and hacking. The manual titled “The Phased Response to an Infectious Disease of the KPFIS” established the prevention measures for epidemics, including providing hand sanitizers and thermometers, checking temperature of all employees, training room lockdown , and the prohibition of face-to-face meetings and business travel. On February 24, when the response level was upgraded to “Caution,” a disaster response headquarters was formed. It created a work scenario according to the location of an infected person occurrence that helped all employees understand how to proceed and what to do when infected. 


Although there is still no guarantee that employees will not become infected, by following these five lessons, it became possible to avoid an even worse situation without disrupting services. 


Sun Gu Hwang

Head of Financial Information Analysis Division

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