There are numerous threats that can disrupt your business, and different scenarios of how these hostile events may unfold. A  study by Allianz found events like cyber incidents, business interruptions, changes in regulations and natural disasters are the top business risks in 2021.

Effective planning puts you in the driver’s seat when tackling response and recovery efforts after a disruption.  If your plan is sound, you can make it a repeatable approach to minimize downtime, so much so, it becomes almost second nature for your business.

To put it simply, a well-thought-out business continuity plan (BCP) prepares you for unexpected business disruptions.

What is a Business Continuity Plan?

A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that outlines a set of preventive strategies to ensure business continuity following any disruption caused due to cyberattacks, on-premise accidents, supply chain disruptions, natural disasters, and other operational failures.

BCP is essentially a hedging tool to reduce the risk associated with data loss and infrastructural downtime.

However, your BCP requires a coordinated effort across several departments. You need to build out a business continuity management (BCM) team that will be responsible for putting the business continuity plan in motion.

A good BCM team consists of:

  • Sponsor. The top brass individual oversees the entire BCM operation.
  • The Business Continuity Manager. The individual is directly responsible for the BCM operations.
  • Administrative Assistant. The individual is responsible for supporting the business continuity manager.
  • Team Representative. A rep from each department should be involved to give input on the implementation of appropriate recovery strategies across the organization.

Components of the Business Continuity Plan

BCPs vary based on the requirements of the organizations’ industry and the unique needs of the business. However, there several components every healthy BCP should have.

1. Recovery personnel

A dedicated individual should be assigned to manage the recovery process to get systems back up and running quickly. Ideally, at least one such person should be appointed from each department.

2. Recovery procedure

The recovery procedure outlines the strategies to restore key business functions and helps to prioritize assets critical to business operation. These assets include equipment, IT systems and contact lists. To protect critical assets, work with line of business leaders to classify them based on their criticality to the business and define recovery objectives such as Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO). Identify risks and potential threats, and determine the right tools and techniques required of a system to guide you in recovering these assets in case of an unwelcoming event.

3. Data backup

Your BCP should clearly establish how to back up data, as well as the methods used for backup and recovery. Depending on RTO and RPO as well as the granularity of recoveries required (i.e., restoration of individual files), your methods may vary. Data backup tools may include the use of on-premise appliances, virtual appliances, cloud targets, SaaS backup, and direct-to-cloud backup.

The Benefits of Business Continuity Plan

Ambassadors of BCP tend to keep the conversation around what will happen to the business if there is no plan? Let’s switch tracks and talk about the benefits your business can enjoy if a business continuity plan is in place.

Business continuity on point

A comprehensive BCP ensures product and service continuity even during an ongoing crisis. It creates fodder for enhancing the operational effectiveness of the business; instead of painting a bleak picture in the wake of a disaster, consider an approach that highlights the advantage of resuming operations with minimal downtime. The BCP keeps revenue flowing. The quicker disruptions are resolved, the shorter the downtime, and the smaller your losses. In many cases, a BCP has prevented disruption from snowballing into destruction – often the potential losses from damages are far greater than the cost of developing a business continuity plan.

Resilience and reputation intact

A business continuity plan safeguards your business’ reputation. In many cases, the BCP outlines protocols for protecting priority customers or partner infrastructure. Meeting your obligations despite calamities puts your business in a favorable light among customers and partners. This vote of confidence ensures customer retention, protecting your market share while avoiding major financial losses.

Enable security on all fronts

Business disruptions can be manmade as well. Interestingly, human error is the leading cause of business data loss, not hardware failure or data corruption. A BCP addresses intentional or unintentional asset misuse as part of the risk assessment. As you evaluate and update your plan regularly, acknowledge your risk assessment findings and leverage them to realign systems and processes to tackle the security loopholes.

Watch the video to learn more about the benefits of a healthy business continuity plan.

Types of Continuity Plans

Let’s explore the different types of BCPs and their purpose within your overall business continuity strategy.

Business Continuity Plan

The ISO 22301 states that a BCP should typically focus on the implementation, maintenance, and management of a system designed to protect against disruptions should they arise as well as the recovery of resources, services and activities required to ensure the continuity of critical business functions.

In many ways, a successful recovery strategy may resemble a sequence of business continuity plans being initiated in a prioritized order, with ongoing reporting of their status to the crisis management team. The communication between the department-level recovery teams and crisis management team is critical in executing a successful recovery per the methodology in the BCP.

A BCP outlines the following:

  • Resources that need to be resumed to enable product and service continuity.
  • A prioritized list of resources that need to be available for running specific departments following a disruption.
  • Defined roles, responsibilities, and contact information of personnel executing the recovery process.
  • Methods of communication with all stakeholders.
  • A manual to enable participants to recover and operate following a disruption.

Crisis Communications Plan

How do you communicate with stakeholders on the status of your business when a disruption occurs?

A crisis communication plan ensures businesses can promptly, accurately and confidently communicate with customers, employees and other stakeholders. It also includes legal implications associated with public statements and certain key points that could impact response and recovery. The goal is to minimize reputational damage resulting from poor communication.

A crisis communication plan outlines the following:

  • Individuals who will conduct internal and external communications, respectively.
  • Internal and external stakeholders, like customers, business partners, and suppliers.
  • Primary and secondary methods of communication with respective stakeholders.
  • Boilerplate messages distributed to respective stakeholders.
  • When and how each stakeholder will be contacted during the disruption.

Crisis Management Plan

A crisis management plan is designed with higher-level managers in mind and provides a structured response to a disruption that could potentially threaten business survival. Typically, it does not deal with the recovery activities of a single business process, and instead focuses on the high-level tasks that will help the organization as a whole to respond and recover.

A crisis management plan outlines the following:

  • The structure that will help top-level managers assess the situation and potential impact of the disruption.
  • The timeline for activating the plan.
  • Activities and resources that must be recovered across the entire organization.
  • Roles and responsibilities of those who will execute the plan.

Disaster Recovery Plan (DR Plan)

A disaster recovery plan restores critical IT infrastructure in case of a disruption. DR is primarily concerned with restoring critical IT operations after a crisis. Unlike other aspects of the BCP, DR plans are typically run by IT managers responsible for restoring hardware and software.

A DR plan outlines the following:

  • Defined thresholds of acceptable data loss (RPO) and downtime (RTO).
  • The functionality of each application after restoration.
  • Technical specifications to restore the software or hardware (e.g., host, networking, and security).
  • IT professionals tasked with managing recovery and testing.

Business Continuity Plan Testing

Testing is vital to the success of your business continuity plan. You don’t want to find out an aspect of the plan doesn’t work during a crisis. Testing identifies potential gaps, oversights, or vulnerabilities in the plan and, other than a real disaster incident, is the only way to truly know if your BCP works.

Controlled testing for your business continuity plan allows you to pick out the weaknesses in the plan, evaluate response to various kinds of disruption, and improve processes based on test results.

Testing frequency is dependent on the size, location and the rate at which the business goes through changes. For instance, businesses with rapid employee turnovers should test twice a year to ensure the plan is fresh in the minds of the employees. In cases where turnover isn’t that regular, test at least once a year.

Here are the different ways you can test your BCP:

Plan Review

The BCP team and the top-level management together review the plan. The components audited tend to be contact information, recovery coverage for desired business continuity, validity of recovery contracts and training material for new members of the BCP team.

Table-Top/Simulation

A scenario-based, role-play exercise to ensure all BCP members are in sync with the latest processes. It consists of members sitting around a table and primarily reviewing the plan to identify shortcomings in the current process and how to improve them.

Walk-Through drill

A walkthrough drill is a more hands-on version of the tabletop. Team members physically demonstrate the steps expected during a disruption. This can include moving to the right backup location, choosing the communication methods mentioned in the plan and contacting the right personnel. The test records validation of team response and BCP processes.

Parallel

Recovery systems are brought up to a state of operational readiness, required personnel are relocated to the recovery site, and recovery media is tested to see if they can perform actual business transactions to support key processes. During this test primary systems still carry the full production workload.

Sandbox

You can take the help of third-party companies that offer disaster recovery as service (DRaaS) solutions “sandbox” or partition virtual machines so testing can be performed without affecting production servers.

Full Interruption

The simulation reflects a real-life disaster and includes a complete testing process: running up the backup systems and processing data transactions. It has the potential to actually disrupt business operations and can be time-consuming. However, it’s extremely effective in identifying problems in your DR plans.

Peace of Mind with Automated Testing

It’s almost impossible for businesses to manually test DR processes with the frequency at which cyberattacks occur. As a result, businesses run the risk of unplanned downtime due to business disruptions or recovery failures.

Unitrends Recovery Assurance delivers automated recovery testing, both onsite and offsite, with the ability to set recovery objectives and SLA s ahead of time — giving you peace of mind when it comes to ensuring business continuity.

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Adam Marget
About Adam Marget

Adam is a Technical Specialist on the Unitrends marketing team supporting digital and in-market events. Over the last 4 years with Unitrends, he has been delighted at the opportunity to work with customers, prospects, and partners alike to help solve challenges around data protection and business continuity. Adam joined Unitrends in 2016, bringing with him experience working with variety of manufacturers’ technology from edge to core as a coworker from national IT solutions provider CDW.