In states like Washington, there was no notice given to businesses or people before they were forced to close their doors and self-quarantine. Disasters and crises rarely give forewarning and with it, comes disruptions. That is why strong business continuity plans are essential to survival.
The global pandemic, COVID-19, has highlighted enterprises with solid business continuity plans and disrupted those without. The time to sit back and hope this passes swiftly is over. Employees and customers have been impacted by the non-action from leadership.
If your organization is one of the many being disrupted due to lack of disaster recovery and business continuity planning, we are here to help. It is not too late to get back on track and work through this as a team.
Having a business continuity plan in place will ensure your company continues to function at some level even in the worst scenario. I will dive into what makes a business continuity plan effective, eight steps to create or update yours, and how disaster recovery experts can help.
What Is Business Continuity Planning?
Business continuity planning is the process of creating prevention and recovery controls to combat any risks or threats an organization could face. The plan ensures that personnel and assets are protected and are able to function quickly in the event of a disaster. A business continuity plan is generally created in advance and involves input from key stakeholders and personnel.
Mapping out a business continuity plan involves defining any risks that could affect the company’s operations and making it an important part of the organization’s risk management strategy. Risk may include natural disasters, such as fires, floods, or other weather-related events. Like COVID-19, natural disaster may make it impossible to work from an office. Other threats all businesses face include cyber-attacks.
Disaster recovery and business continuity planning are an important part of any business. Threats and disruptions mean a loss of revenue and higher costs, which leads to a drop-in profitability. Businesses cannot rely on insurance alone because it does not cover all of the costs such as customers who move to the competition that was prepared.
Once the risks are identified, the plan should also include:
- Determining how those risks will affect operations
- Implementing safeguards and procedures to mitigate the risks
- Testing procedures to ensure they work
- Reviewing the process to make sure that it is up to date
Now that you know what business continuity planning is, and why it is important, it is time to start creating your own. Here are eight boxes to check while creating your business continuity plan during COVID-19.
#1. Creating a Business Impact Analysis
A business impact analysis helps to identify functions and related resources that are time sensitive. What disaster scenarios could your business survive and for how long? What costs could you not survive? Where do you draw the line of tolerable risk? A business impact analysis aims to reveal the most critical parts of your business’s operations and to what extent a disruption of these areas could cause harm.
This is not a plan of action. Instead this should serve to inform your business continuity plan of what goals it needs to achieve and what areas of your business need the most protection. The strongest business continuity plans start with conducting a business impact analysis.
To avoid hitting any roadblocks as you conduct your business impact analysis, take time to prepare. Create a roadmap for how you will execute your analysis, mapping your goals and ensuring leadership is onboard with your plans. Determine how you will gather and interpret both qualitative and quantitative data, including through surveys and interviews.
Interview Subject Matter Experts
Identify the key individuals and leaders in your business that you will interview and gather information from. Consider those with critical roles and subject matter expertise in your business, as well as those who work hands-on in key areas.
Any information you can gather about your business’s finances, processes, and employees prior to conducting interviews will help you determine the focus of your questions. Use questionnaires and surveys to gain a solid starting ground.
- Rank processes, roles, and resources in your business in level of priority and importance
- Learn what would happen if those critical responsibilities were unable to be carried out
- Consider how various different disasters (pandemics, natural disaster, human error, cyber threats, etc.) might impact your business, to what degree, and in what ways
A business impact analysis takes time but is an important first step in the business continuity planning process. This analysis can save your enterprise from losses down the line. Once you have completed your business impact analysis, it is time to identify your essential services and functions.
#2 Identify Essential Services and Functions
During an emergency, your business may experience a disruption in your operations due to:
- High staff absenteeism
- Unavailability of supplies and materials
- Interruptions to services like power, transportation and communications.
During this step of your business continuity planning, determine how your organization will maintain essential services in the event of a disaster or incident.
Essential services include anything that creates an impact on the health and safety of individuals, a service that may lead to the failure of a business unit if activities are not performed in a specific time period, or services that must be performed to satisfy regulatory requirements.
Your organization must determine which of its services are essential. From there, it is important to modify, reduce, or increase services to cope with the impacts of an emergency.
Here is a template to help prioritize or categorize your essential services:
- Priority A: Essential services or functions
- Priority B: Services that can be suspended for a short period of time (for example, services that can be suspended for one month).
- Priority C: Services that can be suspended for an extended period of time. This may require a corporate overview.
#3 Identify Skill and Staff Requirements
As part of your business continuity planning process, you’ll need to identify the number of staff and skills required to perform and maintain the essential services and functions. In addition, you will also need to identify the equipment needed by staff to complete these critical services.
Currently with the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are requiring their staff to work from home to reduce the spread of this deadly virus. Staff information that would be needed to successfully work from home include:
- Home internet speed: Is it fast enough to continue business as usual? What measures need to be taken to get it there?
- Personal hotspots: Do your employees have a personal hotspot on their smart phone to use if needed?
- What equipment is needed: Do your employees need monitors, headsets, phones, laptops, etc.? How will your organization ensure staff has the essential equipment to keep business afloat?
Requirements may vary from department to department. It is important for each department to determine the answers to the questions above. Being able to reference this information in a moment’s notice is critical for your business continuity plan.
You may also wish to prepare a list of special tasks and skills required in emergency situations and assign them to appropriate employees, e.g. crisis management team, employee support, IT backup, defining security perimeters etc.
#4 Identify Potential Issues with Your Plan
Rarely do things go as planned, especially in an emergency. Because of this, it is important to discuss what threats or issues could arise when your organization has to reduce, modify, increase, or eliminate essential services.
It is important to document all possible results. To conduct this audit, here are three questions to cover with any threat:
- Document all issues that may arise
- Create an action plan to combat each threat
- List out responsibilities of designated people for each essential service
#5 Identify Recovery Steps
While all businesses hope for 100 percent uptime, it is important to prepare for the possibility of downtime. In this portion of your business continuity plan, identify and implement steps to recover critical business functions.
Offsite backups are necessary in the event of a physical threat, like a major hardware failure, accident, or natural disaster, because you will need to be able to retrieve your information. If all of your backups are located in one spot, whether that be on-prem or in the same facility, you are exposing yourself to a loss that may be impossible to recover from.
Offsite backups can take a few different forms. One is quite literally making a local backup on a disk and then delivering it to another geographic location. While it is ensured you have a backup made if you do it locally, the due diligence required to make sure the media is physically being delivered to wherever it is being stored may be considered a hindrance.
The other, more secure possibility is to perform the backup over the network, and have it downloaded at another location. This also negates the possibility of the physical media failing as it is transported.
#6 Communicate and Train Employees
Practice crisis communication with employees, customers and the outside world. Your employees cannot deploy this business continuity plan if they are not informed. Train employees on the importance of business continuity planning and share resources with them to preform yours seamlessly.
This may also mean training backup employees to perform emergency task. The employees you count on to lead in an emergency will not always be available.
Most importantly, this part of the plan should establish a process for locating the necessary resources and communicating with employees after such an event.
#7 Review Your Preparedness Checklist
Review your business continuity plan to make sure that all issues have been addressed and identify. Update any areas in which you may need additional documentation. During your review consider the following:
- Impact on your business
- Impact on your customers and employees
- Allocating resources to protect your customers and employees
- Communicating with employees
- Coordinating with external organizations and helping your community
Here is the time to consider adding or revising your business continuity plan to ensure the points above have been covered and are clear.
#8 Test, Test, Test
Be proactive: put your plan to the test by performing trial runs. This will help you identify any missing aspects or weaknesses.
Test your continuity plan regularly to reveal and accommodate changes. Technology, personnel and facilities are in a constant state of flux at any company. Start by preforming continuity exercises. Make sure that all employees-as well as executives-are involved in the exercises so that they get practice in responding to an emergency.
Make business continuity exercises realistic enough to tap into employees’ emotions so that you can see how they’ll react when the situation gets stressful. Evaluate your company’s performance during each test, and work toward constant improvement. Continuity exercises should reveal weaknesses and areas to improve.
How Business Continuity Experts Can Help During Crisis like COVID-19
What would happen to your mission critical infrastructure and data if a disaster were to hit this very second? Are you prepared? If not, or if you’re in need of a better disaster recovery solution. Thankfully, LightEdge can help. Now that modern IT practices have started to blend physical with virtual, and cloud with on-premises, safeguarding your applications and data requires several tools and methods.
LightEdge is committed to keeping our customers’ IT operations, critical applications, and data protected. We provide the technology and resources our customers require to get back to a production state that meets their RTO and RPO requirements.
LightEdge offers a comprehensive set of disaster recovery solutions to ensure uninterrupted performance of IT operations and mission-critical systems in the event of a disaster.
The reliable availability of business IT is essential to the management and livelihood of every company, large or small. All elements hinge on the dependability of your technology to deliver vital information right when you need it.
Our LightEdge facilities are more advanced than traditional data centers. We have created true Hybrid Solution Centers designed to offer a complete portfolio of high speed, secure, redundant, local cloud services and managed gateways to public clouds through our hardened facilities.
Want to learn more about LightEdge’s disaster recovery and business continuity services? Contact one of our disaster recovery experts to get started or to schedule your private tour of any of our data center facilities. We have disaster recovery, colocation, and business continuity experts standing by to answer any of your questions.