How to create an effective business continuity plan

When disaster strikes, it rarely gives us a warning. It normally strikes hard and fast, with lasting implications. And every disaster is unique. How, then, can you plan for it? A disaster continuity plan is like your best friend in these situations. Without one, you are leaving your business open to unnecessary risk that could cripple your business.

Below we’ll highlight what a business continuity plan actually is, the importance of having one, what to take into consideration and the recommendations for success.

What is a business continuity plan? It’s not just about cyber.

In short, a business continuity plan outlines the processes and procedures that you need to take in the event of a disaster or disruption. This plan needs to identify the key risks that could be posed by various issues, regardless of their nature, and the recommended actions to take to ensure the business remains functional. Generally, the key things it covers are business processes and procedures, assets, human resources, IT, and business partners.

In the digital age, the focus is typically on IT infrastructure. It’s what powers a business, after all. Business continuity plans need to consider network connections, cloud technology, systems, integrations, servers, applications, security and more. If any of these fail, then the business will be significantly disrupted. However, it’s not just about IT functionality. A business continuity plan needs to cover all key activities that would, if disrupted, impact the business.

Whatever the outcome of the plan, it must be documented and communicated so your team knows how to proceed if a situation arises.

Why is it business-critical?

A business continuity plan is critical because it’s designed to protect your business in the event of a disruption, helping to maintain levels of productivity and functionality. For example, for your customers, they still need to be able to use your services. For your employees, they still need to be able to work, both in the office or remotely. Failure in either can result in a loss of customer relations and business, a negative impact on reputation, or a huge backlog of work and significant financial losses.

Cyber security is one of the most critical points to consider given the reliance on technology and the rise in cyber crime in the last decade. However, a business continuity plan needs to cover all possible scenarios, from pandemics to natural disasters, human error to sabotage, or hackers to utility failure. This plan needs to be communicated to stakeholders and customers to show you are prepared for anything.

So, regardless of your industry and operations, remaining operational is critical to remaining competitive and profitable.

The steps to building your business continuity plan

If you don’t have one already, the first thing to do is to assess what your critical processes and activities are, how vulnerable different areas of the business are, the potential impact if you suffer from downtime and the worst-case scenarios for disruption. Use staff feedback to find out what is essential for employees. Never start the plan before you’ve made this assessment as you need to have that knowledge to make informed decisions.

The plan can then follow these guidelines:

  • Define the purpose and scope of the plan
  • Identify team responsibilities
  • Identify the threats you face
  • Highlight the key business areas
  • Highlight the business-critical functions
  • Determine what is an acceptable disruption for each area and function
  • Determine what is an unacceptable disruption for each are and function
  • Plan how to maintain operations in the event of a disruption
  • Outline stakeholder engagement
  • Develop a disaster recovery plan
  • Document data backup and recovery processes

Once the plan is in place, it needs to be distributed to the relevant parties – stakeholders, Directors, Heads of IT and so on. It then needs to be communicated company-wide.

Test, test, test

If you don’t test your plan, how can you know if it works? Your business continuity plan should be a constantly evolving document to respond to new threats and the fast-paced business world. Something that was suitable five years ago likely isn’t now. Plus, you need to test to identify weak spots and make improvements. Whether that is adopting more cloud technology to minimise downtime or improving data recovery in the event of lost information.

You can go as far as trying to break your plan. The more stringent you are with your testing, the better prepared you’ll be when disaster strikes. Testing becomes particularly poignant when key personnel leave the business or new starters join, or if new technologies or processes have recently been implemented. Try going over the plan with your team to see what gaps they spot, full simulation testing and structured walkthroughs. It’s recommended to test your plan at least twice a year.

Another option is getting an external review where a consultant comes in and evaluates your plan and suggests improvements. Doing this provides you with an objective analysis of your plan and can play a key part in its continual improvement.

Make improvements to your plan

Technology is rapidly evolving and business processes change so as you test and find gaps, you need to make regular improvements to reflect that. Ask for feedback and input from key parties, as well as different departments and offices to review the plan and provide any amends or additions.

It’s vital that the plan has buy-in from everyone across your business and that it’s taken very seriously. Ensure employees know what is expected of them and provide additional training if required. That will help avoid panic or uncertainty when disruption happens.

Prevent, respond and recover

When making improvements to your plan, you can split it into three categories. How can I better prevent disasters before they happen? How can we respond better in an emergency? And how can we recover quicker?

When it comes to prevention, you should already be aware of areas that need extra mitigation, but you could think about adopting remote working solutions for employees, alternative communication methods, backup generators or having third-parties on standby to help.

From a response point of view, every department, team and office should know exactly what to do if a disaster strikes. That includes evacuations, safety protocols and procedures to follow. Improvements can be further made to maintain communications, handling media questions, communicating to customers and so on.

Lastly, when it comes to recovery, it needs to be clear who is responsible for getting the areas of the business back on their feet. Improvements to the plan could include backup working locations if your area of work isn’t usable, or improving the speed and accessibility of data recovery. Additionally, improving recovery timelines is a key metric to test and measure – i.e. how long it takes to get the business back to normal.

Tools for every business

Regardless of size, every business needs to be ready for when disaster strikes. The good news is there is a wide range of tools available to help, from productivity apps to cloud-based desktop platforms to strong cyber security. Before implementing anything, determine what’s a good fit for your business, if it’s within budget, how it would fit within your current setup and the complexity of implementation.

Secure, cloud technology has massively improved businesses’ ability to handle disruption due to being able to provide employees with fast, secure, easy access to information from any location and any device.

So, if you haven’t already, now is the time to get your business continuity plan in place, test it, continually improve it, and utilise the tools you have at your disposal to ensure minimal downtime, employee productivity, access to information and good service for your customers.

If you’re unsure about how your organisation could respond to a cyber security attack, speak to Mitigate and we can support your organisation to ensure you’re prepared regardless of the circumstance.

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