According to FEMA reports, up to 60% of small businesses fail to reopen after a disaster event, with another 25% going under within the following 12 months. In most cases, this is due to not having a proper business continuity plan when disaster strikes. The struggle to recover is not a walk in the park even with a working BCP, which means that organizations that fail to come up with a well throughout recovery strategy are likely to go out of business, probably for good.
But before we go into the specific stages in your business recovery plan creation process, let’s cover some of the basics involved in the concept of business continuity.
What Does Business Continuity Involve?
Business continuity involves a set of processes forming a company’s strategy against workflow disruption. Minimizing the risk of disruption after a disaster-based event is directly proportional to the level of your business continuity. The rule of thumb is typically the following – the better your business continuity plan is, the lower the risks of workflow disruption are, which means that your organization is well prepared to deal with the disruptive event and get back on track as soon as possible so the revenue isn’t suffering beyond repair.
The sooner you are capable of delivering the most of your essential services and/or products to your customers, the lower the chances of losing money are. Any business, regardless of its size or the industry it belongs to, should have a BCP that properly assesses the disruption-induced risks that could occur, as well as a clear, actionable and responsive strategy for fast recovery.
The following are some of the critical tasks and processes a resilient business continuity plan should involve:
- Establishing which products/services are critical and should have advantage in protection- and recovery-based triage process.
- Establishing risk levels for those products/services and the assets they involve (most typically: vital employees, crucial delivery-related resources, sensitive data and documentation, as well as technology, infrastructure systems and facilities, tools/equipment, etc.
- Devising and implementing a strategy that secures key assets and resources, and keeps the workflow afloat (at least partially).
- Carefully document main (or ideally all) strategic checkpoints of your business continuity plan.
- Test your BCP by performing drills to see whether your strategy is working properly.
Building a Business Continuity Plan in 5 Simple Steps
Once a disaster event hits, it is never a good idea to put out fires on the fly as they emerge. If you don’t have a business continuity plan (BCP) when the event has already started happening, it is probably too late to start assembling one. The “better to be safe than sorry” mantra is in this case as true as it possibly can be. If your organization hasn’t tackled one yet, now is a perfect (read high) time to build an effective business continuity plan.
Here’s how to create one in 5 main stages:
Phase 1: Assemble Your Business Continuity Management Team
Provided your employee structure and resources allow it, it is recommended that you form an inhouse business continuity team capable of coming up and implementing an effective BCP. The structure of this team should be formed according to your company’s size, the overall goal of your strategy and the manner in which you plan to implement the BC program. The typical industry standard is that your team consists of the following core members:
- Assistant Manager
- Administrative Assistant
These core team members (ideally one from each major department) should be able to establish critical checkpoints of your business continuity plan, create a map of processes that will make the implementation as smooth as possible, and be capable of properly training other employees involved in the project.
Phase 2: Business Impact Analysis
The next step is establishing all the potential risks and threats in terms of operations, financial performance, business reputation, supply chains, and physical damage to your systems in case of a disruptive event. This is where the process of Business Impact Analysis comes into play to tackle thorough risk identification and assessment.
Once your BCP team has assessed all the potential risks your organization may face, it is recommended that you determine exact ways in which said risks and threats could affect your company’s operations. Consider assembling a well-throughout and comprehensive questionnaire that will help you glean all the necessary data from all departments and assist you in identifying:
- Vital business processes
- Interdependencies across the stakeholders
- Supply chain dependencies
- Operations recovery minimum downtime
- Minimum number of team members required for the process
We suggest running several iterations of your questionnaire in order to bridge any potential gaps in staff knowledge and/or necessary data.
Phase 3: Resource-Based Gap Analysis
With the knowledge and information collected during the impact analysis process, it is now necessary to run gap analysis and determine whether there are any inconsistencies between your present resources and the resources you still need.
This process should help you identify the gaps and overlaps between recovery requirements and your business’ current resources, as well as determine optimal BC strategies and recovery options.
Phase 4: Iterate and Implement Recovery Strategies
Establishing and mapping out potential risks is the base for your business continuity plan, and it should help you with the critical phase of your recovery process which involves reacting in a timely manner, actually implementing the strategy, and successfully bouncing back following a disaster event.
Here are some actionable questions your BCP team members should be able to answer:
- After the assessed damage to the facilities, equipment or critical/sensitive data – what are the most parsimonious steps toward re-enabling workflows and meeting the demand for your services/products?
- Which are the necessary steps toward enabling personnel (sales, HR, developers, marketing, manufacturing, customer support, etc.) to go back to their projects and essential processes so the revenue isn’t dropping to the point of no return?
- Are there conditions and circumstances under which remote work (from home or alternative facility) is possible, in case your main system infrastructure is heavily impacted by a disaster event?
Loss of critical data (both your own and your clients’) and unforeseen system downtime can be a critical hit on your company’s resources and even cause additional legal issues in a scenario where your data protection protocols are subpar – or even non-existing – which is often a final nail in the coffin for businesses that face these events unprepared.
Bringing your services, processes and projects back is an absolute necessity, along with precautionary steps for data loss mitigation and accessibility later on. For the latter, we highly recommend incorporating top-tier email archiving systems that will enable your company to protect yours and your clients’ sensitive information from being deleted forever, as well as help you recover critical data and re-enable essential processes so your business can get back on track as soon as possible.
Phase 5: Test, Reiterate, Tweak & Improve
One of the trickiest aspects of coming up with a business continuity plan and putting it in place is that this process should be an ongoing project within your organization. The risk-related environment is an ever-changing one, therefore new threats are being born on a regular basis and your business’ BCP requirements should be constantly and consistently updated. Your strategy should be scalable in order to adapt to potential new risks as your company grows or the industry you operate in changes.
This is why every once in a while you should test your business continuity plan just to be sure it is still as valid and effective as it was when you first assembled it. The tests should help you glean valuable information and present to you if and where there is room for improvement.
Creating a proper BC program is only half the race. Keeping it up-to-date is equally important, so make sure you and your team do not simply let your strategy marinate over longer periods of time. Every time there’s a disruptive leap within your industry, or you hire new personnel/suppliers, or update your infrastructure/applications – be sure to tweak and refresh your BCP strategy accordingly as well.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.