28 Jun 4 Business Continuity Planning Essentials
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan outlines how a business will continue operating during an unplanned disruption in service. It is more comprehensive than a disaster recovery plan and contains possibilities for every aspect of the business that might be affected.
Plans contain a checklist that includes supplies and equipment, data backups, and backup site locations. Plans need to identify administrators and include contact information for emergency responders, key personnel, and backup site providers. Having detailed strategies on how business operations can be maintained for both short-term and long-term outages are good ideas as well.
A key component of a business continuity plan is a disaster recovery plan that covers strategies for handling IT disruptions to networks, servers, personal computers, and mobile devices. The plan should cover how to reestablish office productivity and enterprise software so that crucial business needs can be met. There are four fundamental actions that every plan should include.
Ensure Employee Well-Being
Communication during and following an emergency presents a variety of challenges. So, crafting an employee safety and communication plan that works is vital for business continuity plan. Your emergency safety and communication plan must address the following:
- How the company will ensure employees are safe during a disaster event.
- How it will communicate essential information to employees following the event.
Each plan will need to be tailor to fit your location and size of the company. The key is to match your safety plan to the specific needs of your organization. For the second part, you will need to gather a variety of information and make sure that it is well documented, easily accessible, and stored in several secure locations. This should include up-to-date employee contact information (email, mobile and home phone numbers, emergency contact information, etc.). It should also include a methodology for contacting employees.
Email is the easiest way to reach a large group of employees, but if your company’s email server is down, you won’t be able to use it. Some businesses use redundant exchange servers or cloud-based services to ensure email access. If you are without Internet access entirely, you’ll need an alternative. In this instance, a phone tree or text chain is another method for distributing important information to employees during and following an event. Automated emergency calls with purpose-built communications software/services are a great resource as well. Regardless of the methods you use to distribute information to your employees, your emergency communications plan should provide enough detail that it can be carried out if the plan’s creator is not available following the event.
Your business continuity plan should also be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of potential emergencies. Emergency communications should be as brief and as accurate as possible. Finally, testing your plan will identify gaps in the plan, such as out-of-date employee lists or contact information. Your organization’s ability to respond to customer needs following an event will have a direct impact on its reputation.
Keep Customers in the Loop
Managing customer relationships is key to the ongoing success of your business. It is just as important to create a business continuity plan for distributing information to your customers as it is to your employees. The details of your customer communications plan will depend on if an event occurs that is likely to impact your customers, it is important to communicate the details of the issue and explain the steps you are taking to mitigate it. This might mean direct communication to your customers, but it could also mean messaging via traditional and social media. Failure to do so can hurt the reputation of your organization. You will also need to handle a wide array of incoming communications following a disruption. Depending on the nature of your business, this could mean support requests, high volumes of email and phone traffic, social media activity from frustrated customers, and media interest.
Protect Your Rep
So, how do you keep your good reputation intact? It comes down to careful preparation. You will need to be able to respond quickly and clearly explain the steps you are taking to resolve issues. All customer-facing staffers should be informed and ready to deliver a clear and consistent message. You may want to consider using pre-scripted messages to have concise messaging across the board.
You also need to ensure access to a communication infrastructure (phone, email, Internet access). This might mean redundant phone lines/services, hosted PBX systems, cloud-based services.
When creating an IT business continuity plan, it’s important to understand two concepts: recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO).
- RTO is the amount of time that it takes to get a system restored following a failure or disaster.
- RPO is the point in time to which data can be restored following the event.
So, if you performed a backup at 6 pm one night and a server failed at 5 pm the following afternoon, your RPO would be 23 hours, and any data created during that span would be lost. For many organizations, this is unacceptable. Today, users can run applications from image-based backups of virtual machines. This capability is commonly referred to as instant recovery because operations can continue while primary servers are being restored. Snapshot-based, incremental backups achieve this at 15 minutes. Virtual machine images can also be replicated to an alternate site or cloud for disaster recovery. There are several ways to implement this type of system. Many backup software products today can perform these tasks.
Recovery technology allows you to run applications from the on-site appliance or the cloud following an outage or disaster. This is commonly referred to as “disaster recovery as a service” (DRaaS). DRaaS offers the failover capabilities of traditional remote replication at a much lower price point. Users typically pay a monthly subscription fee based on the amount of data they are storing in the cloud.
Keep Business Moving
If your employees or customers do not have access to important applications and data, there will be a direct impact on productivity and revenue. Many organizations do not consider the actual costs of downtime for a business.
It is vital to evaluate the facility in which your business operates; considerations might include the following:
- Appropriate fire suppression systems
- Generators capable of powering essential equipment
- Uninterruptible power supply systems for critical servers
- Surge protection systems
- Alarm/intercom systems to alert employees of emergencies
Don’t forget about the needs of your business. Your needs might source parts from a variety of vendors. If one of those vendors suffers an event, it could limit access to the raw materials you need, directly impacting your ability to continue operations. Your business continuity plan should offer solutions to alleviate these issues—for example, identifying multiple suppliers or stocking up on large numbers of essential parts.
The key to a good business continuity plan is to test your plan regularly. It is the best way to identify and resolve weaknesses and issues in your plan. Abacus Technologies can help set up your business continuity plan to fit your business needs. Contact us today see how we can help you be protected.