Why a Business Continuity Plan is More Vital Than Ever

March 19, 2020 | Article

The world as we know it is changing. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has left many organizations grappling with how to conduct their day-to-day in new ways. Many are looking for new ways to do business while others are going to a completely remote workforce, which comes with its own set of challenges.

A critical component of any organization’s survival is business continuity planning.

What Is a Business Continuity Plan?

Business continuity planning is the process of creating processes and systems for the prevention, recovery, and ongoing execution of your organization during times of threat or disaster. In other words, a business continuity plan answers how you’ll maintain business functions in the event of a major disruption.

While COVID-19 may have thrust the need for a survival plan into the limelight, business continuity planning is essential beyond just times of crisis. It must be part of your overall business strategy.

How to Prepare Your Business Continuity Plan

Identify Potential Risk Areas

What threats are most likely to face your business? Focus on developing plans to address your areas of highest risk – including, but not limited to, the natural disasters that are common in your area. But remember that unexpected hacks and viral pandemics can be just as damaging to your business.

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Outline the Trickle-Down Effect

For each risk type, there will be differing outcomes. For example, a flood or natural disaster may keep you from receiving your inventory shipments. The “trickle-down” effect would be an inability to fulfill orders.

Alternatively, a ransomware attack would likely not deter your ability to fulfill, but it may affect your processing or access to documents or tools.

Think through and outline the cause-and-effect. How would this affect the continuity of your daily operations? What steps can you take to ensure that if you cannot fulfill an order, that you can still make sales?

Document & Communicate

Starting with your areas of highest risk, document your continuity plan. We suggest focusing first on your core business functions – like your ability to earn revenue, serve customers, and manage your supply chain. Prioritize high impact processes, and look for potential disruptions to productivity, compliance, revenue, and reputation.

If you cannot receive or fulfill shipments, but you still have the ability to process orders, can you establish an emergency dropship plan with your key suppliers? Planning ahead allows for a much smoother process should you ever need to use it.

Outline your emergency strategy and communicate it both internally and externally. It’s a good idea to have your communication plan outlined and templated in advance so your team is not scrambling to write last-minute notices to customers and suppliers in the moment. For internal communication, call or text “trees” are an efficient way to get the message out to your team in the case of a weather-related office closure or emergency.

Prepare Your Technology

A key component of any disaster recovery plan is your tech and tools. It’s also the piece most commonly overlooked.

Running your business in the cloud is an effective way to prepare for the unexpected. Anywhere, anytime access to your key information and systems is a major benefit to cloud-based tools. Collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 make meeting from afar a breeze, and cloud storage keeps all your key data easily accessible when going to the office is out of the question. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions like Azure allow for built-in security and easy management of your IT environment in the cloud.

Of course, it’s not the cloud or nothing. Your network and IT need extra care in the case of a business disruption. Here are a few areas to keep in mind, especially if you’re running in a more traditional environment.

Critical Areas to Consider

Technology and Disaster Recovery Planning

Our world is incredibly interconnected. Most organizations are extremely reliant on technology in their daily, even hourly, operations. That’s why including a disaster recovery plan for your technology is critical. Here are a few items to consider when it comes to your technology preparedness:

  • Backups alone are not enough. Backing up your data is great. But if that’s your sole source of IT business continuity planning, you’ll be sadly disappointed when it comes time to recover. In the case of a true disaster or data breach, you need an operational environment to continue running your business. Raw data backups will hardly do the trick.
    Problems, mistakes, and errors are all par for the course when building and testing a recovery environment. Test ahead so your recovery will run smoothly at the time of a disruption – particularly if you fall victim to a hack or ransomware attack.
  • Leverage useful technologies. Virtualization can be a great tool to utilize in your disaster recovery planning. It essentially creates a virtual environment that can remain separate from your physical environment. If your data is stored in an on-premises server room, a virtual production in the cloud can allow for quick recovery time in the case of a server failure, fire, or flood. Point-in-time backups and replication are made easy with some of today’s leading virtualization tools.
  • Look outside your office. Using a shared data center can offload some of the logistics and costs associated with your business’s data storage and recovery. These shared location services provide businesses with space, power, security, and connectivity. You essentially provide your own servers and software, and leverage outside resources for the rest. This is great for flexibility, but it does require management and maintenance from your own IT department. When exploring co-location data center options, look for a facility with a high-speed network and redundant backbone.
  • Test and retest often. Successful testing is the desired outcome for any disaster recovery plan. Testing your network and IT environment recovery process means documenting, just like your business processes. Create an IT checklist including your infrastructure, applications, and business processes for recovery.
    Test at least annually. No one wants to be in the midst of a disaster situation and not know how to restore your environment. Regular refreshers and tests will ensure your process and tech is up to snuff with the needs of your business. Avoid costly downtime by preparing ahead, training your staff, and testing at a regular cadence.

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Fraud Prevention and Cybersecurity Threats

Data breaches are an increasing threat to organizations. Even in the wake of disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity concerns need to be top of mind. Cybersecurity is an organization-wide issue and education from the top down is critical in preventing cybersecurity threats.

That’s why outlining cybersecurity prevention and mitigation measures are critical to your business continuity plan. Ensuring you have a system in place to handle such threats and immediately react to them will enable you to get back to business as usual.

Key Considerations:

  • Assess your incident response and regulatory compliance, either internally or using a trusted third party.
  • Will you rely on internal IT staff for business continuity and recovery during an incident?
  • Should you use a third party to manage the incident response? If so, it’s important that they be properly trained and qualified for forensic investigations. This will help your organization prepare for any future litigation that may arise.
  • What are your regular responses to events that pose a potential threat to your organization?
  • Do you need insurance coverage to help cover your organization financially in the event of a loss?

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The Value of Your Business

Business valuations are independent appraisals of the worth of your company and its potential sale price. Having your organization appraised early and often will help you understand your current financial well-being, as well as make plans for the future of your business.

When a business compromising event occurs, the value of your business is inevitably altered. Ensuring you have an accurate picture of your business’ value ahead of time, as well as monitoring its worth throughout the business threat, will help you understand how to come back from a potential loss.

Another critical way to help restore the value of your business is through the use of data. Business leaders can use their data to survive and thrive during times of economic uncertainty. Utilizing your organization’s data can drive lean performance and provide actionable takeaways for your business, including:

  • Understanding new trends
  • Analysis of customer demands
  • Tracking product lines
  • Managing your supply chain
  • Reducing operational waste
  • Enabling informed decision-making during tight times

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Human Resources Policies and Procedures

It’s important to remember that your employees are affected by a disaster or threat to your organization too. Ensuring your human resources department is in the loop of your business continuity plan will be critical.

Key HR Considerations:

  • Do you have a policy for working remotely? If so, do you have the proper rules in place to mitigate risk associated with remote access?
  • If a cyberthreat or fraud affects your organization, do you have the proper action steps in place to deal with the guilty party?
  • How do you communicate with your employees about their health and well-being in the midst of a threat to your business and their livelihood?

Make sure you think through how a triggering event will affect the people within your organization. After all, they will be on the frontline to help you return to normal business procedures once the threat or disaster has ended.

Why a Business Continuity Plan Matters

Could your business survive and operate as “business as usual” in the face of a disaster? Be it the next devastating hurricane, a new wave of wildfires, an earthquake, flood, or the current pandemic we’re experiencing? The threat is real, and it can come in many forms, at any time.

No one likes to think about threats to their livelihood or their company’s well-being. Yet there’s never been a more pressing time to have a business continuity plan.

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