Recent events are causing businesses to re-evaluate their business strategies and plans. Many businesses have had to implement their business continuity plans, and businesses that did not have continuity plans in place have suffered as a result. Did you have a business continuity plan before this pandemic? Did it work? If you did not have a plan or if yours did not work, then it’s time to start creating one so that you will be prepared for the next emergency or disaster that arises. Here’s why you should create a business continuity plan and how to do it.
What Is a Business Continuity Plan?
A business continuity plan is a document that outlines how a business will continue to operate in the event of an emergency or disaster. The goal of the plan is to minimize damage and maintain productivity so that the business will be able to recover after such an event. Business continuity planning involves identifying all possible threats to your business, including things such as fires, utility failures, natural disasters, pandemics, etc. The plan then details what the emergency management procedures will be and how they should be carried out. Having this plan in place before a disaster strikes will help your business avoid panic and uncertainty, allowing it to respond effectively. All businesses, whether small or large, need to have a business continuity plan in place to avoid business disruption in the event of an emergency situation.
What Are the Biggest Threats to Business Continuity?
Businesses can experience disruptions due to a number of different causes. Some industries have threats that are specific to them, but there are other threats that all businesses can face. Here are some of the threats that can affect all businesses:
- Natural Disasters: Forces of nature can pose a great threat to both human safety and business continuity, especially because of the damage they can do to property and infrastructure. Examples of destructive natural disasters include floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and blizzards.
- Global pandemics: As we have recently seen, global pandemics can be devastating for businesses. They force companies’ workforces to quickly switch to remote working for an indefinite time.
- Man-Made Disasters: Human negligence, mistakes, and accidents can be catastrophic for businesses. These can include chemical explosions, hazardous material spills, factory fires, gas leaks, etc.
- Intentional Sabotage: Sabotage includes acts that are committed with the purpose of harming a business, and it can take many forms, such as arson, a bomb threat, or a leak of financial information.
- Utility Failures: Sometimes utility providers fail to provide service, and this can be due to a number of reasons. These utility failures can include electricity failure, down communication lines, or water service failure. When a business loses one of these utilities, its operations can be drastically affected.
- Cybersecurity Attacks: These attacks are usually done by a hacker and affect the business’s technical assets. Examples are information leaks, SQL injection attacks, ransomware, and denial of service attacks. This threat can cause harm to both the business and its customers.
Business Continuity Planning
Business continuity plans should be thorough and include the identification of all possible threats, procedures to protect your business against those threats, and details about who should lead each process. During business continuity planning, it is important that you carefully document each section so that the plan can be easily shared across the business later on. Keep your plan organized and easy to read so that readers will be able to identify risk assessments, planning procedures, and recovery steps.
1. Identify the Plan’s Objectives and Set Goals
The first step in business continuity planning is identifying the objectives of the plan and setting goals around them. Some questions to consider are how detailed the plan should be, which departments will be covered by the plan, what the outcomes of a successful plan will be, and which milestones should be tracked. You should also place a budget for the plan that includes preparation, research hours, training time and materials, etc. Your business continuity plan should apply to your entire organization.
2. Choose Your Business Continuity Team
To create a successful business continuity plan, you should designate an incident command team and assign responsibilities to its members. For each member, include their titles, contact information, and any other information you deem necessary. These members will be the first responders to carry out specific duties to ensure the business will continue running smoothly. There are two types of sub-teams you should consider implementing:
- Command and Control Sub-Teams: These sub-teams include crisis and recovery management teams. They ensure processes are executed properly and resources are prepared.
- Task-Oriented Sub-Teams: These sub-teams include specialized teams to carry out certain tasks. They can include teams for internal communication, disaster recovery, external communication, customer operations, legal, IT, finance, human resources, and supply chain management.
3. Perform a Business Impact Analysis
A business impact analysis, or BIA, reveals your business’s current weaknesses and vulnerabilities, especially in its IT systems. This assessment provides predictions and forecasts of the impact that potential threats can have on different aspects of your business, and it will help your team come up with a custom template for your business continuity plan. The BIA should include an explanation of your business’s core operations and which areas are most important for business continuity as well as what resources will be necessary to keep these areas operating during a time of crisis. Your BIA should detail scenarios for every level of disaster so that your business will be prepared for any emergency or disaster that could arise.
4. Categorize Business Areas by Importance
The heart of successful business continuity planning is understanding the business’s core needs. Identify which business processes would have the largest negative effect on the company if disrupted. These negative effects can be in the form of revenue loss, injury to the business’s reputation, or an inability for the business to operate properly. Then, based on the magnitude of potential damage to the business, label each business aspect as either high, medium, or low importance. Some questions you can ask about each business aspect to help determine which business functions are most critical are:
- What business objective does this aspect support?
- How frequently does this function occur?
- How many departments will be affected by this function?
- Which other business aspects depend on this function?
- How much revenue would be lost if this function were not completed?
- Are any fines or legal issues associated with this function?
- Does this function have an impact on the business’s image or market share?
You should also figure out how your business can move its operations offsite. This can include clear plans of how to move certain staff to work from home and set them up in a way so they can remain productive.
5. Identify Pain Points and Dependencies
As part of your BIA, you should try to spot where potential problems could arise before they actually do. If there are any departments or functions within your business that have time-sensitive stipulations, figure out the tolerable downtime. Perform drills and tests to see where these dependencies lie and where resources should be allocated. These tests will help you see where changes need to be made so that your business continuity plan can become failproof.
6. Create a Plan for Maintaining Operations
This section of your business continuity plan is where you carefully outline all your readiness procedures so that your business can remain operational in the event of a disaster. These procedures should be revisited and improved as your business grows and evolves over time. Your business’s readiness procedures should include prevention strategies, response strategies, and recovery strategies.
- Prevention Strategies: These include any preventative measures your business can take before a disaster occurs. When you are conducting your BIA, you will find areas where prevention strategies are necessary to mitigate risk. Prevention strategies can include having backups for utilities or generators on hand, setting up alternative communication networks, having backup IT infrastructure, and preparing remote work solutions so they will be ready for employees.
- Response Strategies: Every business department should have a detailed response plan that includes a detailed explanation of what each member of the business continuity team will do if an emergency situation arises. This can include things such as procedures and safety protocols that should be followed when an evacuation is necessary, and when and how the business will contact the public, customers, the media, etc. Part of your response strategies should be to make sure your business has a way of maintaining reliable communication.
- Recovery Strategies: This outlines exactly how your business is going to recover after the emergency has been contained, as well as who is going to implement these steps. Some resolutions can be implemented instantly, while others may take days or weeks. One example of a recovery strategy is transferring your operations to an alternative facility for your business to use in the meantime.
7. Create a Curriculum for Testing and Training
Develop and implement a curriculum to train members of the business continuity team and other employees so that they know what to do when an emergency situation occurs. You can choose how basic or in-depth you want the training and testing to be. You may want to include in your business continuity plan tactical exercises to test its procedures and better prepare your employees. It is important to have an emergency protocol in place to train those team members with specialized responsibilities. Business continuity training exercises should:
- Have clear objectives and goals
- Have assumptions of the scenario that are easy to understand
- Provide instructions for everyone involved
- Include a clear narrative
- Have a post-exercise evaluation to see if further training or improvements are necessary
When you are training your employees on your business continuity plan, you want to include instructions so that they know not to publish unconfirmed reports or rumors on social media. Create an internal feedback loop so that you can listen and respond to any concerns your internal staff may have.
8. Ongoing Maintenance & Quality Assurance
Your business continuity plan should grow and evolve with your business. You should implement a quality assurance strategy to ensure your plan remains effective. Part of this quality assurance strategy should include when to hold reviews and tests. Both internal and external reviews can be helpful in program maintenance.
- Internal Reviews: Your business should review its business continuity plan each year. This review should discuss when updates to the plan will become necessary due to environmental threats, indications from exercises, company structure or personnel changes, and changes in the geographic distribution of employees.
- External Reviews: You may want to have an external consultant perform a review of your business continuity plan so that they can suggest improvements. In this section of your document, you should record when these reviews should occur and by whom.
- Additional Drills: You should conduct additional trainings and tests as your business continuity plan changes so that employees can stay up to date on what is expected of them. In this section, document when these drills are necessary and how they should be conducted.
Business Continuity Planning and Managed IT Services
As advances in technology continue to be made, the potential for risk and attacks continues to increase. Business continuity planning allows your business to prepare for all types of potential threats and risks so that it can maintain operations and prevent downtime. At Elemental Technology Solutions, our IT specialists will work with you to figure out where your current points of failure may be and to provide solutions to reduce these and allow for continued operations in the event of a disaster. We have a proven system of business continuity analysis, solution design, implementation, testing and acceptance, and maintenance. We will help you conduct a BIA, create an emergency response plan, and set up contingency plans to help you deal with unforeseen emergencies. With our managed IT services and disaster recovery products, such as disk mirroring, application and data recovery, and hardware replacement, you can rest assured that your business will always have a reliable, robust, and resilient IT network, even in the face of a disaster. To ensure your business remains operational no matter what, contact us today at 1-888-499-5898 or online.