How to Create an Effective Business Continuity Plan

Natural and manmade disasters underscore the challenges of seamless disaster recovery in the real world. Having a comprehensive business continuity plan isn't just an IT concern; though. Nothing less than the survival of your company is at stake.

By Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros
Thu, November 14, 2013

CIO — We rarely get a head's up that a disaster is ready to strike. Even with some lead time, though, multiple things can go wrong; every incident is unique and unfolds in unexpected ways.

This is where a business continuity plan comes into play. To give your organization the best shot at success during a disaster, you need to put a current, tested plan in the hands of all personnel responsible for carrying out any part of that plan. The lack of a plan doesn't just mean your organization will take longer than necessary to recover from an event or incident. You could go out of business for good.

How Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery Plans Differ

Business continuity (BC) refers to maintaining business functions or quickly resuming them in the event of a major disruption, whether caused by a fire, flood, epidemic illness or a malicious attack across the Internet. A BC plan outlines procedures and instructions an organization must follow in the face of such disasters; it covers business processes, assets, human resources, business partners and more.

Many people think a disaster recovery plan is the same as a business continuity plan, but a DR plan focuses mainly on restoring IT infrastructure and operations after a crisis. It's actually just one part of a complete business continuity plan, as a BC plan looks at the continuity of the entire organization. Do you have a way to get HR, manufacturing, and sales and support functionally up and running so the company can continue to make money right after a disaster?

For example, if the building that houses your customer service representatives is flattened by a tornado, do you know how those reps can handle customer calls? Will they work from home temporarily, or from an alternate location? Companies such as SunGard sell access to cubicles that include a desk, phone and computer in their recovery centers, along with server- and device-based DR services.

Tutorial: How to Start a Business Continuity Program

Note that a business impact analysis (BIA) is another part of a BC plan. A BIA identifies the impact of a sudden loss of business functions, usually quantified in a cost. Such analysis also helps you evaluate whether you should outsource non-core activities in your BCP, which can come with its own risks. The BIA essentially helps you look at your entire organization's processes and determine which are most important.

Why Business Continuity Planning Matters

Whether you operate a small business or a large corporation, you strive to remain competitive. It's vital to retain current customers while increasing your customer base — and there's no better test of your capability to do so than right after an adverse event.

Because restoring IT is critical for most companies, numerous disaster recovery solutions are available. You can rely on IT to implement those solutions. But what about the rest of your business functions? Your company's future depends on your people and processes. Being able to handle any incident effectively can have a positive effect on your company's reputation and market value, and it can increase customer confidence.

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