Business continuity is a part of risk assessment that every enterprise should consider. It is about understanding what risks your business faces and developing strategies to ensure that operations continue to function after and during a disruption.
A business continuity plan enhances your ability to analyze what operations, products and services are core to your business and what vulnerabilities those aspects may have. Understanding these specific risks inform the vulnerabilities your business has as a whole. From understanding your entire risk profile you can develop comprehensive strategies to ensure that your business can continue operations and recover quickly from any sort of disruption.
This component of risk assessment not only provides strategies for dealing with crisis, but it also provides financial stability and a safer workplace.
Business insurance does not cover every risk your business potentially faces. Regardless of what financial assistance an insurance policy provides in the event of a catastrophe your business remains non-functional. In the time it takes to get back on your feet you will have lost valuable time and resources, and it is likely that your customer base will hemorrhage as a result.
A business continuity plan serves to keep the enterprise functioning and provides a clear way to resume normal operations after a disruption. By keeping the wheels moving you ensure that it will take less time and fewer resources to resume normal operations and that your customer base will stay with you as you recover.
A business continuity plan provides you with the ability to:
- Stay competitive. If your doors close the competition keeps operating. A business continuity plan can mitigate the damage your operations sustain from a disturbance and provide you with the means to keep moving.
- Reduce the financial losses that may incur from a disturbance.
- Identify vulnerabilities both to specific core elements of your enterprise and the enterprise as a whole.
- Demonstrate your business’ resilience and reliability. This can be a valuable tool in negotiating with investors, creditors, insurers and banks. Anyone who has a vested interest in the continued success of your operations will be assured by a comprehensive business continuity plan.
- Ensure the safety of customers and staff.
Data is often one of your most valuable resources. Ranging from the information your employees use to do their jobs to sensitive customer information the financial shadow of the data your organization possesses is disproportionately huge. There are enormous financial penalties for losing sensitive customer data especially if you’re in the health care industry. The Ponemon Institute reports that the average cost of data center downtime across industries is roughly $7,900 per minute. This cost considers lost revenue, productivity losses, and the cost associated with recovery. This figure steadily rises every time the Ponemon Institute files a new report on the subject.
It is important that as you consider your business continuity plan as a whole you pay special attention to your organizations data protection. The first aspect of that is considering your cybersecurity profile and what you are actively doing to prevent a cyberattack. Cybercrime is on the rise, and the criminals are not targeting your grandmother’s pocket book. The criminal element of the internet is deliberately targeting small to medium sized businesses who don’t take their data protection seriously, especially ones who do business with large corporations or handle sensitive data.
In the event of a cybersecurity incident you need to have a data protection plan that is capable of keeping your critical information assets secure. Data protection starts with backing up hard drives and keeping your networks away from the dark corners of the internet. Data protection reaches maturity when you have the tools and ability to implement a disaster recovery plan for your data. It should be asynchronous, geographically diverse, with strong redundancy and a straightforward process of restoration. A disaster recovery plan for data should be a central piece to your business continuity plan as a whole.
Five Steps to Developing a Business Continuity Plan
Analyze Your Business: Consider and document all elements that make your business function. What is the overall objective of the business as a whole? What products and services do you provide? How do you execute providing those products and services, and how to you achieve your overall objective? What is the minimum amount of resources required for your operations to function at a basic level?
Inventory all the people involved in the operation of your business. Consider employees, partners, suppliers and any other person who is integral to your enterprise functioning. If you have customers on premises, consider the average and maximum number of customers who are present at any given time. While the overall goal is to protect your business and provide comprehensive recourse in the event of a disaster, the first priority should be the safety of the people involved.
Assess Vulnerabilities: Providing you have considered all the elements of the operation of your enterprise, consider what potential hazards and risks those elements are vulnerable to. Rank these vulnerabilities based on likeliness to occur and the impact severity should they occur. Consider primarily vulnerabilities related to the minimum amount of resources required to function and safety hazards to your people.
Vulnerabilities are broken into five key categories that address each element of a business.
- Personnel. Likely risks to personnel include the physical security of your locations, potential issues with the spread of disease, loss of staff and labor action.
- Infrastructure. Anything that could threaten the physical assets of your organization ranging from fire and hazardous materials to a loss of utilities such as power should be carefully analyzed.
- Security. This is less about physical security, though that is an element, and more about asset security. Where are your risks for theft, fraud, vandalism or even sabotage? What kind of security profile do you have for cyber threats?
- Operational. These are risks to the nuts and bolts of how your business functions. Are there vulnerabilities to your supply chain or transportation? Have you considered how you would react should something occur with your information technology or telecommunications? This category, more so than any other, is likely to have a single critical gap that presents a huge risk should something go awry.
- Severe Weather. This may not be relevant to all organizations but can be extremely important based on your locality. Understanding what weather patterns can present a threat to your organization can be critical to developing a comprehensive continuity plan.
Develop Strategies: Now that you have a solid overview of the elements of your operation and what vulnerabilities they incur, consider your options for remediation in the event that any one (or multiple) of those vulnerabilities comes to fruition.
- Personnel. Consider cross-training your employees in core areas so they can easily switch tasks. Have a clear hierarchy and succession plan in the event that there are breaks in the chain of command. Appraise your staff on vulnerabilities and establish guidelines in the event of a disaster. Discuss with your employees how communication and work duties will continue in the event of a disruption.
- Infrastructure. Maintain an inventory of necessary resources off-site. Establish alternative work locations, or implement a contingency work-from-home protocol. Understand and adhere to all safety protocols in relation to fire or hazardous materials. Install uninterruptible power supplies on core components. Invest in a generator.
- Security. Develop a healthy cybersecurity profile. Engage your employees in awareness trainings to keep them alert on threats they may inadvertently bring into the work environment. Keep valuable or sensitive assets under appropriate security measures.
- Operational. Keep old equipment in functional condition as a backup. Identify alternative means to acquire the resources your business needs to function. Establish secondary methods of telecommunications.
- Know your local weather, and take reasonable precautions appropriate to the risk that potential weather presents.
Construct a Plan: With comprehensive plan to address each specific vulnerability it is time to appraise the business continuity plan as a whole. This involves documenting preferred strategies and step-by-step instructions for all persons involved. This should heavily consider human safety and core operational priorities.
Exercise the Plan: It is critical to exercise the various elements of your plan regularly. Involve your staff in these exercises so that they understand their expected role in the event of an emergency. From these exercises take the opportunity to troubleshoot your plan to identify any potential pitfalls that could present an issue.
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