Prepare for the Unexpected with a Business Continuity Plan

Two business people who are going over their business continuity plan

Business continuity plans outline instructions and procedures that companies must follow in the face of a disaster or cyberattack. Creating a plan plays a vital part in helping organizations keep their operations up and running given such an event were to occur. We rarely get a notice in advance when disaster is about to strike, and even with some lead time, numerous things could still go wrong as every incident unfolds in unexpected ways.

To give your business the best shot at success amidst a disaster, you need to implement a current and tested business continuity plan.

What Is Business Continuity?

Business continuity (BC) refers to the maintenance of business functions during the event of significant disruption. A business continuity plan covers business processes, human resources, assets, business partners, and more.

Many people mistake a disaster recovery (DR) plan as the same as a business continuity plan. A DR plan places more focus on restoring an IT infrastructure, whereas a BC plan looks at the entire organization’s continuity.

Remember that a business impact analysis (BIA) is another aspect of a BC plan. A BIA helps to identify the impact of a sudden loss of business functions and is usually quantified in a cost. Such analysis also allows you to evaluate whether you should outsource non-core activities in your BC plan, which could potentially come with its own risks.

Why a Business Continuity Plan Matters

It’s vital to retain current customers while also increasing your customer base. Because restoring IT is crucial for most businesses, there are numerous disaster recovery solutions available. Being able to handle incidents effectively can positively affect your company’s reputation and market value while increasing customer confidence. For starters, you can learn how to create a data backup strategy by taking a look at our comprehensive guide

If your company doesn’t have a BC plan in place, you must start assessing your business procedures. Evaluate which areas are vulnerable and the potential losses if those processes happen to go down. Next, develop a plan, which should generally involve these six steps:

  • Evaluate the scope of the plan
  • Identify any key business areas
  • Distinguish critical functions
  • Classify any dependencies between various business areas and functions
  • Determine reasonable downtime for each critical function
  • Create a thorough plan to maintain operations

Remember that the disaster recovery plan is part of the BC plan, so developing a DR plan should also be part of your process. If you happen to have a DR plan already, don’t assume that all requirements have been factored in, as you need to be sure that restoration time is defined and aligns with company expectations.

One standard BC planning tool is a checklist that encapsulates:

  • Supplies and equipment
  • The specific location of data backups and backup sites
  • Contact information for emergency responders
  • Where the plan is available
  • Who should have access to it
  • Key personnel and backup site providers

As you create your plan, consider interviewing important personnel in organizations who have successfully gone through disaster recovery. You’ll find that people typically like to share their stories and the techniques used that saved the day. Their insights could prove valuable in your creation of a solid BC plan.

The Importance of Testing Your Business Continuity Plan

To know if your plan is complete and fulfills its intended purpose, you have to test it rigorously. Create a test that’s credible yet challenging, as this is the only way to improve. Many businesses will test their BC plan two to four times per year. The schedule for your specific needs will depend on the type of organization, the amount of key personnel turnover and the number of business processes and IT changes that have taken place since the last round of testing.

Standard testing procedures include:

Table-Top Exercise:

This typically occurs in a conference room with the team thoroughly evaluating the plan and ensuring that all business units are represented.

Structured Walk-Through:

Each team member walks through their component of the plan to identify any weaknesses. The team will often work through the test with specific disasters in mind. Some companies incorporate drills and disaster role-playing into their walk-through. It’s also a good idea to conduct an evacuation drill every so often, as this type of test lets you determine whether you need to make special arrangements moving forward.

Disaster Simulation Testing:

For this specific test, create an environment that simulates actual disaster to determine if you can carry out crucial business functions during such an event.

During each phase of your BC plan testing, incorporate new employees as they may see something that could have previously been overlooked.
Review Your Business Continuity Plan

A lot of effort goes into creating and testing a BC plan, and once that job is complete, some companies let the plan sit while they focus on other, more critical tasks. When this happens, the plan goes stale and is further of no use.

Technology is continuously evolving, meaning your business continuity plan needs to be updated regularly. Before the review, solicit feedback and opinions from staff to include into the plan. Many companies will conduct a review in tandem with table-top exercise or a walk-through.

Every BC plan needs to be supported from the top down. In order to keep the plan fresh and viable, senior management should prioritize reviewing and testing their plan.

Conclusion

Being fully aware of your level of risk and the necessary actions to take gives you a competitive edge and mitigates any financial risk involved. Once everyone in your business is comfortable with and trained on implementing your BC plan, you’ll gain peace of mind knowing that not all will be lost when disaster strikes.

No matter the incident, it’s crucial to develop a strong disaster recovery plan. If you’re worried about the implications of creating a business continuity plan and would like to discuss more in-depth with a team of professionals, we’re here to help. Learn how to build confidence with employees and shareholders today by seeing if you qualify for our free IT consultation.