What is a business continuity plan?

A business continuity plan will help keep your operation up and running during emergencies.

Conducting a business is like swimming against a current—as soon as you stop, you get pushed downstream. DC reports that the average hourly cost of an infrastructure failure is approximately $100,000 per hour, and the average total cost of unplanned application downtime across businesses is $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion per year.

When your business stops running, you lose money. In addition to lost revenue, expenses associated with identifying and correcting disruptions will likewise impact your organization’s overall profit. Add to that the potential for brand and reputational damage, and the dangers of business disruptions become all the more clear. In fact, in a 2019 survey of business leaders, 83% said that their top priority was ensuring continuity of operations during a crisis.

Unfortunately, unexpected events can and will happen. And when they do, successful organizations rely on business continuity planning.

SOAR-Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response

Anatomy of a business continuity plan

A business continuity plan (BCP) is a collection of procedures that establishes protocols and creates prevention and recovery systems in the case of a cyber attack, natural disaster, or other business disruption. In other words, when the unexpected affects your business, a business continuity plan can help get everything back on track.

To do this, a business continuity plan must include the following traits:

  • Comprehensiveness
    For your business continuity plan to be effective, it needs to be able to cover all contingencies. This may be a difficult prospect, given that unexpected threats are, by definition, unexpected. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want your plan to cover such possibilities as utility outages, natural disasters, cyber attacks, human errors, and local and global pandemics. Prioritizing these risks according to potential impact and likelihood of occurrence to ensure that your plan covers the right areas. Additionally, consider creating backup plans in the event that your primary plans fail. Understand the factors at play and what could go wrong, and then plan accordingly. Business continuity plans may include crisis communications, crisis management, disaster recovery, employee communications.
  • Practicality
    It’s worth mentioning that your business continuity plan isn’t worth much by itself; it needs to be something that you can actually implement when needed. Be realistic as you create your plans, and be sure to take into account the capabilities of your organization and your employees as well as the needs and communication channels for reaching your customers.
  • Efficiency
    In an emergency situation, complexity may be the enemy. In times of high stress and in the event of infrastructure failure, it will be even more difficult than usual for your people to perform tasks. Try to keep your plans as clear and to the point as possible, so that those in charge can act on them quickly with the resources they have available.
  • Adaptability
    Business continuity plans should be comprehensive, but they also need to allow room for adaptability. Disasters have a tendency to evolve unexpectedly, and there is not much chance of having a plan that addresses every possible emerging situation. Train your people to respond intelligently to emergency situations, and include constant monitoring in your plan so that you can pivot your approach at a moment’s notice.

 

Simply put, your business continuity plan needs to effectively address the realities of the situation, and provide a clear, adaptable road map for your organization to follow. To do this, your BCP needs to include several vital components.

Strategy
Aspects of your plan need to address how your people will be able to complete standard tasks during the duration of the emergency. The strategy should be directed at ensuring continuous business operations.

Organization
Your business continuity plan needs to lay out responsibilities of different employees in the event of an emergency. It must also address issues related to structure and communications such as call trees.

Processes
Identifying critical business and IT processes, the plan will clearly determine which processes are the highest priority in terms of keeping your business running.

Technology
Along with processes, your business continuity plan will need to address the vital systems, networks, and technologies to backup data and applications, and enable operations and productivity uninterrupted.

Vendor risk
Your business continuity plan should also take into account how emergency situations may affect your third-party suppliers and vendors, and how their disruption could affect you. Likewise, understanding your vendors’ continuity plans will help you fill in some of the variables when it comes to creating your own plans.

Just as your business continuity plan will need to provide a step-by-step approach to mitigating business disruptions, there are certain steps you may wish to follow in creating your BCP. As you begin developing your plan, consider including the following:

Business impact analysis

Likely the first step towards creating an effective BCP is performing a business impact analysis (BIA). This analysis will help identify and evaluate the potential business impact of disasters and emergencies, including lost income, delayed income, increased expenses, regulatory fines, contractual penalties or loss of contractual bonuses, customer dissatisfaction, and delay of new business plans. This will provide insight into time-sensitive functions.

Disaster recovery planning

A subset of business continuity planning, disaster recovery focuses on the necessary steps towards restoring vital support systems, including hardware, communications, and IT assets. Where business continuity has the much wider scope of ensuring the continuation of regular business processes uninterrupted during times of emergency, recovery planning focuses instead on restoring damaged systems and lost data, and promoting a quick recovery to pre-disaster capabilities.

Plan exercise recovery management

Testing is a critical aspect of your BCM program, demonstrating the actual functional capability of your documentation and technical implementation. This is essential to improve plan effectiveness and usability during simulated and actual disruptions.

Crisis management

Crisis management provides capabilities to exercise and activate continuity during an actual crisis event. Effective crisis management minimizes financial, reputation, legal, and regulatory impacts.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that disruptions are inevitable, and resilience makes a big difference to our survival and competitive position. Unfortunately, the global pandemic caught many businesses by surprise, and when faced with an unprecedented emergency, a large number of them were unable to cope. For nearly 100,000 US businesses, temporary closures led to permanent shutdowns (Source: Fortune).

A business continuity plan provides prioritization and direction under pressure. When faced with unanticipated events and disruptions, business continuity supplies a road map for continued operation and fewer mistakes or surprises. This is important for a number of reasons:

Disruptions and outages are on the rise

If you feel like there have been more than the average number of disruptive events within the last few years, you may be right. Recent research suggests that outages which cause a significant disruption of service are becoming more severe, more costly, and longer duration.

With disruptions and outages on the rise, those businesses which are able to field an effective business continuity plan will have a clear competitive advantage over organizations that do not.

BCPs help prevent and minimize business disruptions

A business continuity plan will not prevent emergencies from occurring—an earthquake, a third-party data breach, or even a network hardware failure are all beyond the ability of a BCP to avert. What a business continuity plan can do, however, is prevent and minimize business disruption as a result of these emergencies.

An effective business continuity plan outlines the steps your organization will need to take to reduce the severity and length of disruptions. By including a thorough analysis of potential threats, a listing of off-site and on-site emergency contact information, and detailing strategies and responsibilities for each emergent event, your organization will have the direction it needs to mitigate potential damages.

BCPs promote regulatory compliance

Business continuity is a good idea for any business in any industry. But for some critical organizations, having a business continuity plan is mandated by law. Businesses within the government, financial, and healthcare sectors, for example, are held strictly accountable for the state of their operations and data in the event of a disruption. Other businesses in other industries may likewise be liable for damages as a result of failed business continuity.

Business continuity planning provides a number of advantages to your organization. Here, we detail several of the most noteworthy benefits:

Maintain business operations

A reliable business continuity plan will allow you to remain in operation even in the event of a potentially disruptive emergency.

Preserve brand reputation

Effectively handling emergency situations without a noticeable drop in services demonstrates the quality of your business, improving customer satisfaction in the process.

Build customer confidence

Customers rely on your business for many things -- their digital services, food, access to money or payments, healthcare, communication -- and your continuity enables their continuity. They are also more aware than ever of the need for reliable data security in the organizations they choose to do business with. When disruptions occur, they expect businesses to bounce back quickly. Effective business continuity demonstrates an organization’s commitment to serving its customers, regardless of what might be happening.

Build employee confidence

When employees understand the steps they need to take in the event of an emergency, they are more confident in their company’s leadership, and more willing to trust its decisions. Additionally, as employees are trained in effective business continuity, they become more skilled at resolving smaller, less-dire disruptions and emergencies and experience less stress under pressure.

Gain competitive edge

Despite the obvious advantages, many organizations have little-to-no business continuity in place. As such, when disruptions occur and those organizations are left unable to function effectively, their customers will likely flock to the businesses that are able to weather the storm. In fact, in a study of gnarly 1,800 companies across a 25-year period, resilience in the face of emerging events accounts for approximately 30% of long-term performance (source: BCG Henderson Institute).

Mitigate financial risk

There are a number of business advantages associated with BCP, but make sure not to overlook the financial advantages. Financial losses as a result of a business disruption—including system failures, power loss, and data breaches—can have a significant negative impact on your organization; business continuity management helps prevent or lessen this risk.

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