Businesses rarely like to think about failures, disasters, emergencies, accidents, or uncontrollable circumstances. However, if history has proven anything, it’s that even the most powerful are eventually brought to their knees. In the unfortunate event something happens to your company, it’s critical that you have a strong, effective, and organized business continuity plan in place to help you weather the storm and come out alive.
Understanding Business Continuity Planning
Most people aren’t reluctant to create a business continuity plan – they just aren’t aware of why they need one or what they are. With dozens of other tasks on their daily dockets, business owners aren’t fond to the idea of adding another assignment or responsibility (especially when the purpose or value isn’t clearly understood).
According to CBT Nuggets, a professional IT training service, it’s important to shed more light on the topic by clearing up terminology and establishing a definition of business continuity. While they do a great job of providing detailed terminology, Investopedia gives us a simple and effective definition. They describe business continuity planning as, “The creation of a strategy through the recognition of threats and risks facing a company, with an eye to ensure that personnel and assets are protected and able to function in the event of a disaster.”
As the extended definition goes on to explain, business continuity planning consists of five distinct stages: (1) defining potential risks, (2) determining how/whether those risks will affect operations, (3) developing and implementing safeguards or procedures to diminish those risks, (4) testing those safeguards and procedures to verify they work, and (5) continually reviewing processes to ensure the plan is up to date.
Top Reasons to Create a Business Continuity Plan
With a clear understanding of what business continuity planning is and how it works, let’s examine some of the top reasons businesses like yours need these safeguards in place:
- Minimize interruptions. In their most basic sense, continuity plans minimize interruptions in the event that something unforeseen happens. Instead of having to deal with each problem or issue as independent events, you can streamline your responses for minimal downtime. For companies that depend heavily on things like customer uptime or largescale manufacturing, the time saved from these interruptions can be worth thousands – or even millions – of dollars.
- Limit damage. In addition to minimizing interruptions, continuity plans limit potential damage. Take, for example, a financial institution that stores private customer data and information. In the event that their data centers are compromised from an external threat, the business continuity plan would have clearly outlined steps and procedures for how to handle the situation. While the initial damage (compromised data center) is irreversible, the continuity plan can limit that damage and prevent more information from being leaked.
- Establish alternatives. When something happens that shuts down production or disables standard means of operation, a continuity plan can save the day by establishing alternative options. For example, a large storm may cause a power outage in one of your production facilities, but with a continuity plan, managers understand how to access and use generators to keep production going.
- Ensure employees are responsive. Finally, one of the most important reasons for developing a business continuity plan is to ensure all employees are on the same page. Without one, you can’t be certain your employees will be responsive and capable of handling unique circumstances. Newmark Knight Frank, a New York City-based real estate services firm, has seen the importance of this firsthand. They’ve experienced a variety of uncontrollable circumstances in the past few years, but have never been daunted. “Depending on the severity of the disaster, we can now quickly scale to allow key personnel to connect remotely to their desktops and stay prepared,” said Robert Ross, IT Director.
There are plenty of other company-specific reasons to create a business continuity plan, but these four are near the top for every business. If you think hard enough, you can probably come up with a dozen more reasons why your company needs one.
Elements That Need to be Included
However, it’s not enough to simply know you need a continuity plan. You must work hard to ensure it’s functional and effective. Here are some elements you’ll definitely want to include:
- Facilities management. When natural disasters hit, it’s difficult to know what (if anything) will be spared. That’s why it’s critically important that you include detailed facilities management planning. Everything from office space and warehousing to storefronts and manufacturing plants should be included. If any sort of physical threat (fire, burglary, vandalism, natural disasters, etc.) can harm it, assume it will, and include it in the plan.
- Disaster recovery. From a virtual perspective, you also need to think about disaster recovery. What will your business do in the event your critical IT systems are compromised or disrupted? How will data be backed up and accessed? Computers, servers, and data centers all need to be carefully dealt with.
- Supply chain management. Take a careful look at your supply chain and identify each and every point on it. All of these points represent potential areas of vulnerability. Regardless of how remote the risk, it needs to be addressed. As you know, a problem with any part of the supply chain has a chance of interrupting production or distribution down the line. There should be contingencies and solutions for all risks so that responsible parties know what to do when disaster strikes.
- Health and safety. One area that many businesses forget about is health and safety. However, with the ongoing threat of Ebola and other dangerous diseases, it’s important that you take health threats very seriously. For example, in 2014, Sierra Leone introduced a 72-hour nationwide shutdown in an effort to curb the spread of disease. Many businesses there were forced to develop temporary solutions on-the-fly. Would you have to do the same?
Start Building Your Business Continuity Plan Today
So, where do you start? How can you develop proper plan and ensure it’s effective? The best advice you can receive is to start today. Meet with your business’ key decision makers, identify potential risks, determine the extent of those risks, develop safeguards, implement them, and educate your employees. From there, you should continually monitor and tweak the plan to account for changing variables and new risks.
As business owners, we all like to think about success and profitability; however, you should simultaneously consider the risks, too. While you should always aim for the best, it’s unfortunately necessary that you plan for the worst.