If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that disaster and business disruption can’t be predicted. Cyberattacks might be the most prevalent risk to your company’s operations, but disruption can come in many different forms—and businesses should be prepared for any situation.
A business continuity plan is a blueprint for keeping your business operating when emergency situations arise. When disruption occurs, it’s too late to implement a strategic response. Businesses that are willing to invest time into creating a business continuity strategy are often the most resilient in the face of future challenges.
If your business doesn’t currently have a plan in place, here’s how to start the process.
Create backups of mission-critical software and data.
To build a comprehensive business continuity plan, start by identifying the most essential components of your business. This likely includes a CRM solution, collaboration tools, project management software, tax and accounting data, and other assets or data sources.
Without these assets in place, it will likely be impossible to resume normal operations for your business. You can start by routinely creating backups of these assets—this could include cold storage backups and/or cloud-based backups.
Keep in mind that while cold storage backups provide complete protection from cybersecurity attacks, they don’t offer the remote access needed if your workplace is forced to evacuate. The most comprehensive, disaster-proof backups will use both of these approaches, and your company should weigh the cost-benefit of each with the practicality of various backup options.
Outline a recovery strategy.
When faced with an emergency situation, clear directives will allow employees to work in tandem with your business continuity plans. Recovery steps should be outlined with a top-down approach, addressing both larger strategic issues and department-specific steps that mitigate ongoing risk and restore business operations to the greatest extent possible.
During the outline stage, it is helpful to identify business-critical operations that may need to be prioritized if resources are scarce. For example, businesses may want to dedicate as many resources as possible to sales and other revenue-generating arms of the business in order to keep new money coming in and to minimize the impact on customer experience.
Alternatively, a serious cyberattack may require you to commit more resources to stopping the attack and mitigating fallout, at the expense of revenue-generating activities. Create an outline that accounts for these scenarios and allows flexibility on a case-by-case basis.
Make sure your outline for recovery is documented and accessible remotely, to help business leaders oversee the necessary steps in this process.
Designate emergency response leaders and roles.
A disaster recovery team should be appointed based on their roles within the organization. In most cases, the CIO will be one of the key members of this team, given their intersecting role in both the C-suite and IT operations. Other members of the C-suite, along with high-level roles within the IT department, are typically called to oversee the implementation of a business continuity plan.
When assigning these roles, make sure you also identify the roles and individuals responsible for maintaining as many business services and functions as possible during a disaster. A retail chain, for example, might have to close its brick-and-mortar stores and switch its online store over to a backup cloud infrastructure. This switch might enable the retail chain to continue taking online orders and operating a customer service line to handle customer inquiries.
Part of business continuity is maintaining operations as well as you can while other parts of the business work to recover. It's important to develop a strategy that minimizes downtime wherever possible.
Test your plan, and revise strategy where needed.
Once your business continuity plan is in place, testing is crucial to evaluate its efficacy. Certain types of testing can also serve as a practice response for your company, helping to train employees on how to follow this continuity plan.
In general, there are three common types of business continuity plan testing:
- Table-top exercise: In this scenario, a team of executives and IT leaders review the written continuity plan and search for gaps or inadequacies that need to be addressed.
- Structured walk-through: A larger group of team members are tasked with executing the basic recovery steps assigned to their department. Teams are usually tested through a specific disaster scenario, with plan architects and IT leaders offering feedback to participants while also taking notes to make improvements to the plan.
- Disaster simulation testing: This is a full-scale run-through that mimics the company’s response to a specific disaster scenario. This test requires the organization to fully execute the business continuity plan. Afterward, your recovery team can evaluate successes, offer recommendations to employees based on their performance, and revise the plan to reflect any new insights they’ve gained.
Expect the Unexpected
A business continuity plan is an investment in your company’s future. When you take time to prepare for disaster scenarios, you position your business to stay afloat even in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Learn more about managing business continuity through our recent webinar, “Security Remote Work.”