The right disaster at the wrong time can prove fatal for any business. But organizations that take the time to adequately prepare a business continuity plan stand a much better chance of weathering a storm or infrastructure failure.
It is very expensive to resume operations after a catastrophic event if proper precautions are not taken beforehand. Not only is there lost revenue to account for, but any rebuilding or replacing of infrastructure (or even just structure!) adds a mountain of extra costs. Insurance rarely covers everything and cannot be relied on as a business continuity plan.
Steps to Creating a Business Continuity Plan
There are a few universal steps to creating a reliable business continuity plan. These include:
- Conducting a business impact analysis.
- Develop communication protocols and decide technological platforms.
- Implementing documented strategies to recover vital functions.
- Placing a person or team in charge of ongoing business continuity planning and deployment.
- Regularly training staff in the business continuity plan.
Business Impact Analysis
Conducting a business impact analysis involves evaluating what would happen should the core functions of your business be disrupted. Gathering this information helps develop strategies for minimizing adverse effects associated with disasters, outages, and service disruptions.
Assessing these risks should involve evaluating real-world scenarios of potential loss. For example, identify the impact of events such as power-grid failure, infrastructure breakdown (both physical and digital), damage to vital business assets, etc. The US Department of Homeland Security has a number of resources to help guide this process.
Develop Communication Protocols
Because most businesses actively rely on talking to their customers, communication continuity is the most essential part of continuity planning. Plans for continuing communication after a disaster should be proactive in informing staff and reassuring customers.
Continuity plans for communication can be as simple as changing your IVR to notify customers or as complex as designing multiple redundancies into your phone system to keep service constant. One good practice that has been successfully replicated by many, especially schools and doctors’ offices, is to have updates automatically sent out on a schedule after a disaster or service outage. These can notify parents that school is out or patients that they will get a call to reschedule their appointment.
Unified Communications in Business Continuity Plan
The best way to ensure communication continuity with your customers and employees is deploying a Unified Communications (UC) system. UC systems integrate all communication streams into a single platform, which simplifies continuity planning.
UC also provides inherent functionalities that allow communication to continue after a disaster. These include things such as remote backup servers and robust mobile functionality, which allows users to access their business communications from anywhere. This enables employees to continue their vital responsibilities even if they are unable to get to the physical business.
With other communications platforms, it can often be prohibitively expensive to have backup options. But with the flexibility inherent in UC solutions (especially hosted PBX options), business communications can remain operational with little to no downtime. This part of your business continuity plan used to be a complicated process, but UC makes it incredibly easy.
Document and Implement Strategies
A good business impact analysis should leave you with a comprehensive list of hazards that could disrupt operation and the risks associated. The next step is to document the responses your organization will take to prevent or mitigate these effects.
Be sure to involve everyone affected in continuity discussions to prevent oversights. This also makes sure that responses are realistic and effective.
Once documented, implement processes in your organization to deploy your business continuity plan when necessary.
Integrate Continuity into Organizational Structure
To ensure these plans are properly implemented, a best practice is to form a business continuity team. This can be as simple as a single person who manages business continuity in addition to his primary job role or can be built out into a group tasked solely with this objective.
Placing responsibility on a person or team ensures that the business continuity plan is actively ready to go into effect when needed.
Training and Testing
Business continuity plans involve adapting regular processes to adverse conditions. Because of this, training is necessary so that your staff knows how to continue their roles in a disaster. Regularly demonstrating how your business operates in response to different disasters will ensure deployment of business continuity plans with little or no pause in operations.
Training can involve ensuring employees know how to access and use manual workarounds to processes that are normally digital or automated. Or it might involve training in failover technology. One good practice is to require employees to work remotely at least once a quarter to ensure they are comfortable and competent using mobile tools. Then, in the event of a disaster, they know what to do and how to continue their work.
Lastly, just as no business is static, business continuity plans must be as dynamic as your organization. That means regular testing of plan effectiveness and evaluation of both risks, impact, and implemented strategies.
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