What are the key elements of an effective business continuity plan?

Turns out, business continuity and disaster recovery are not actually the same.

Over the past couple of decades, almost every business process has come to rely on IT, either in part or in entirety. Business continuity and disaster recovery are often used interchangeably, but they’re not actually the same thing. Disaster recovery is all about recovering data and getting computing infrastructure back up and running, whereas business continuity is much wider in scope.

An effective business continuity plan starts with understanding what business continuity actually is. It’s not just about technology; it’s also about people and processes. A solid plan can mean the difference between the survival and the permanent shutdown of an organization. According to FEMA, 40% of businesses never reopen following a disaster, which is why you need both continuity planning and disaster recovery.

Risk assessments

Every good plan starts with a risk assessment. This isn’t just about the technology you rely on, either; you also need to think about risks facing the wellbeing of your employees, your assets, your operations, and your facilities. For example, businesses across Florida face a wide variety of natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

Needless to say, such an event can do far more than damage your technology infrastructure; it can also render your premises unusable or, in worst-case scenarios, present a major safety risk to your employees. Other risks, such as fire, theft or cyber crime, affect every business, regardless of its size or location.

Impact analysis

Performing an impact analysis is the first step towards prioritizing your continuity goals. This process helps you identify the procedures, systems, and personnel that are most important to the continued operation of your business.

As is the case when conducting a risk assessment, you’ll need to evaluate the potential impact on both internal and external levels. Consider, for example, supply chains, business partners, technology vendors, and other entities you rely on to function normally. You need to know what impact being cut off from them would have on your business. Similarly, it’s important to identify the services and assets that contribute most to the revenue of the organization.

Recovery objectives

Resiliency is a key factor in business continuity planning, and it varies enormously from one organization to the next depending on factors such as IT infrastructure, industry, and size. The two most important parameters are your recovery point objective (RPO) and your recovery time objective (RTO).

RPO refers exclusively to data. It defines the amount of data you can afford to lose, which will help you determine the frequency at which you should back up your systems. RTO has a broader scope in that it simply refers to the maximum amount of time it should take to get a system or process back up and running before the company suffers unacceptable losses.

Technical redundancies

The increasing complexities in modern technology have made both business continuity and disaster recovery more complicated, but newer solutions also provide many opportunities. For example, if your mission-critical apps and data are hosted in the cloud, your organization will be far more resilient.

With the cloud, even a hurricane wiping out your office premises shouldn’t be enough to destroy the business, since employees will be able to access everything they need and continue working from home. Most organizations rely heavily on their IT, which is why having off-site redundancies is perhaps the most important element of all when it comes to continuity planning. Continuous improvement

Like backup and disaster recovery, business continuity planning isn’t something you do once and then forget about. If the documentation of the process never gets updated, it will end up being worthless.

It’s imperative that you update your plan whenever any key personnel involved change, or when you make any significant changes to your operational infrastructure. Again, it’s not just about technology — it’s also about people and their roles and responsibilities. Remember, a business continuity plan is only as effective as it is current.