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A Business Continuity Plan is a plan-of-action a company puts in place that can be relied upon in the event of an emergency or a disruptive incident in the daily course of business. It outlines the policies, procedures, and instructions an organization must follow in the face of such disasters, covering items such as internal and external communication, critical business processes, data access, and security layers. The lens we’ve always looked through when putting these plans together has now forever changed in the light of our current situation and requires everyone to take another look at how they’re preparing for future situations. While the final determinations may be different for every organization, the general elements of the plan remain the same. Here are some key elements that should be included in your discussions as you put together or update your business continuity plan.
Identification of Risk
One of the key elements of a good plan is doing a risk analysis of your business processes and determining what impact each risk would have on your business. Identify which processes are critical and what could happen that would bring things to a grinding halt. That gives you a starting point to begin identifying how you might mitigate or prevent those incidents from happening, determine what your response would be, and how you’d recover.
In today’s landscape, criminals target companies or people during times when they are most vulnerable, so that’s why it’s important to have thought through security and controls well before you find yourselves in the mist of a crisis. Each scenario you identify should consider what information could be compromised and how you plan to keep your data and company safe. Every employee should be trained on what to be looking for and understand that when an incident happens, it’s that time that they must be more aware and intentional about what they’re doing.
One thing is for sure, if you were scrambling to work remotely during this pandemic, you are likely feeling the sting much more than if you were prepared. Most any business can work remotely if there is a plan to follow and proactive measures taken to prepare for those types of situations. Access to data is critical to enable employees to work remotely. Identify what hardware and software would be needed and then ensure that the appropriate security measures are in place to allow those identified employees to have access to whatever they need from wherever they are. At that point, you can determine what parts of that can be built into everyday use and what spare equipment you may want to keep on hand.
Speaking of spare equipment, as with any good structure, you always try to avoid single points of failure. This could include hardware, software, or even people. If something is critical to your operation, having a spare or building in some type of redundancy is a must. Virtualization and cloud services have revolutionized this topic over the years and continue to be a leading discussion topic in creating redundancy within an environment and minimizing risk.
Preventative or proactive measures also come into play here. Devices like a UPS battery backup provide uninterrupted power to your server or appliances in the event of a power failure. Power disruptions can have devastating effects resulting in data corruption, hardware failure, network crashes, and the potential of lost customers.
Simple steps can be implemented to minimize the impact of unforeseen failures.
Keeping internal communication happening during a crisis is critical to keeping your business moving forward. Implementing tools, like Microsoft Teams that allow employees to chat, video conference, collaborate, and share documents can be a major player if operating procedures must be adjusted.
A document management service solves multiple needs in a business continuity plan by providing storage, organization, backup, and recovery of sensitive data and makes it simple to convert paper documents into digital files. Documents can be shared across departments or external contacts and mail can be distributed quickly and efficiently. Most solutions are stored in the cloud reducing downtime and eliminating the loss of important data, leaving the rest of your plan to focus on logistical operations. That doesn’t even bring into consideration the automation and workflows that can be built into these systems that improve operational efficiency and help the bottom line.
Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems offer far superior mobility, functionality, and cost-efficiency than traditional landlines. Work from anywhere utilizing call forwarding (along with a wide variety of additional features, like a digital softphone) and video conferencing allowing your team to communicate in a more personal way internally and externally. The average business sees a 30%-50% cost savings after switching to a VoIP phone system and while the amount of savings can vary from case to case, almost all companies see a meaningful reduction in their telecommunication expenses.
Backup & Disaster Recovery
The importance of protecting your data cannot be overstated. DR plans are designed to get systems back up and running in the case of a disaster based on Recovery Time and Recovery Point – If lost, do you need to restore your data within 3 days or 3 minutes? Can you live without the last 8 hours of data or do you need those critical changes to that document you made 15 minutes ago? Redundancy is paramount to this solution and you should have at least one copy of your mission critical data going offsite or to the cloud. Testing should be performed as often as possible with step-by-step procedures documented and given to key personnel.
Incident Response Team
Identifying how the plan is going to be kicked off, who is going to be making decisions and communicating both internally and externally pays off if you ever must put the plan into effect. It creates a sense of calmness knowing that you have a plan, and everyone knows the role they are supposed to play. It’s important that this plan is reviewed periodically to keep it up to date, remind people of their roles, and test it annually with table top scenarios to determine if there are new gaps or weaknesses within the plan. When needed, the company’s that prepare for these events, tend to be the companies that can weather the storms.
Your Business Continuity Plan should be a living document and updated as such. Every plan evolves as technology improves and new challenges present themselves. Employers that remain responsive, flexible, invested and proactive in preparing an intelligent plan will fare better in current and future environments.