These days, cybercrime is rampant. It’s no longer a matter of “if” you’re going to suffer an attack but “when” it will happen. All companies want to be ready for any crisis. And this is where a business continuity plan comes into play.
But what is a business continuity plan exactly? Why is it important? What should one include? Today, we’re exploring all these questions in-depth.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that sets guidelines for how an organization will continue its operations in the event of a disruption, whether it’s a fire, flood, other natural disaster or a cybersecurity incident. A BCP aims to help organizations resume operations without significant downtime.
Unfortunately, according to a 2020 Mercer survey, 51% of businesses across the globe don’t have a business continuity plan in place.
What’s the difference between business continuity and disaster recovery plans?
We often confuse the terms business continuity plan and disaster recovery plan. The two overlap and often work together, but the disaster recovery plan focuses on containing, examining, and restoring operations after a cyber incident. On the other hand, BCP is a broader concept that considers the whole organization. A business continuity plan helps organizations stay prepared for dealing with a potential crisis and usually encompasses a disaster recovery plan.
Importance of business continuity planning
The number of news headlines announcing data breaches has numbed us to the fact that cybercrime is very real and frequent and poses an existential risk to companies of all sizes and industries.
Consider that in 2021, approximately 37% of global organizations fell victim to a ransomware attack. Then consider that business interruption and restoration costs account for 50% of cyberattack-related losses. Finally, take into account that most cyberattacks are financially motivated and the global cost of cybercrime topped $6 trillion last year. The picture is quite clear — cybercrime is a lucrative venture for bad actors and potentially disastrous for those on the receiving end.
To thrive in these unpredictable times, organizations go beyond conventional security measures. Many companies develop a business continuity plan parallel to secure infrastructure and consider the plan a critical part of the security ecosystem. The Purpose of a business continuity plan is to significantly reduce the downtime in an emergency and, in turn, reduce the potential reputational damage and — of course — revenue losses.
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Purpose of the Plan
Scope of the Plan
The initial stage of developing a business continuity plan starts with a statement of the plan’s purpose, which explains the main objective of the plan, such as ensuring the organization’s ability to continue its operations during and after a disruptive event.
The Scope of the Plan outlines the areas or functions that the plan will cover, including business processes, personnel, equipment, and technology.
The Budget specifies the estimated financial resources required to implement and maintain the BCP. It includes costs related to technology, personnel, equipment, training, and other necessary expenses.
The Timeline provides a detailed schedule for developing, implementing, testing, and updating the BCP.
II. Risk Assessment
Identification of Risks
Prioritization of Risks
The Risk Assessment section of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is an essential part of the plan that identifies potential risks that could disrupt an organization’s critical functions.
The Identification of Risks involves identifying potential threats to the organization, such cybersecurity breaches, supply chain disruptions, power outages, and other potential risks. This step is critical to understand the risks and their potential impact on the organization.
Once the risks have been identified, the Prioritization of Risks follows, which helps determine which risks require the most attention and resources.
The final step in the Risk Assessment section is developing Mitigation Strategies to minimize the impact of identified risks. Mitigation strategies may include preventative measures, such as system redundancies, data backups, cybersecurity measures, as well as response and recovery measures, such as emergency protocols and employee training.
III. Emergency Response
Emergency Response Team
This section of the plan focuses on immediate actions that should be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of employees and minimize the impact of the event on the organization’s operations.
The Emergency Response Team is responsible for managing the response to an emergency or disaster situation. This team should be composed of individuals who are trained in emergency response procedures and can act quickly and decisively during an emergency. The team should also include a designated leader who is responsible for coordinating the emergency response efforts.
The Communication Plan outlines how information will be disseminated during an emergency situation. It includes contact information for employees, stakeholders, and emergency response personnel, as well as protocols for communicating with these individuals.
The Emergency Procedures detail the steps that should be taken during an emergency or disaster situation. The emergency procedures should be developed based on the potential risks identified in the Risk Assessment section and should be tested regularly to ensure that they are effective.
IV. Business Impact Analysis
The Business Impact Analysis (BIA) section of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is a critical step in identifying the potential impact of a disruption to an organization’s critical operations.
The Business Impact Analysis is typically conducted by a team of individuals who understand the organization’s critical functions and can assess the potential impact of a disruption to those functions. The team may include representatives from various departments, including finance, operations, IT, and human resources.
V. Recovery and Restoration
Procedures for recovery and restoration of critical processes
Prioritization of recovery efforts
Establishment of recovery time objectives
The Recovery and Restoration section of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) outlines the procedures for recovering and restoring critical processes and functions following a disruption.
The Procedures for recovery and restoration of critical processes describe the steps required to restore critical processes and functions following a disruption. This may include steps such as relocating to alternate facilities, restoring data and systems, and re-establishing key business relationships.
The Prioritization section of the plan identifies the order in which critical processes will be restored, based on their importance to the organization’s operations and overall mission.
Recovery time objectives (RTOs) define the maximum amount of time that critical processes and functions can be unavailable following a disruption. Establishing RTOs ensures that recovery efforts are focused on restoring critical functions within a specific timeframe.
VI. Plan Activation
The Plan Activation section is critical in ensuring that an organization can quickly and effectively activate the plan and respond to a potential emergency.
The Plan Activation Procedures describe the steps required to activate the BCP in response to a disruption. The procedures should be clear and concise, with specific instructions for each step to ensure a prompt and effective response.
VII. Testing and Maintenance
This section of the plan is critical to ensure that an organization can effectively respond to disruptions and quickly resume its essential functions.
Testing procedures may include scenarios such as natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and other potential risks. The testing procedures should include clear objectives, testing scenarios, roles and responsibilities, and evaluation criteria to assess the effectiveness of the plan.
The Maintenance Procedures detail the steps necessary to keep the BCP up-to-date and relevant.
The Review and Update Procedures describe how the BCP will be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure its continued effectiveness. This may involve conducting a review of the plan on a regular basis or after significant changes to the organization’s operations or threats.
What should a business continuity plan checklist include?
Organizations looking to develop a BCP have more than a few things to think through and consider. Variables such as the size of the organization, its IT infrastructure, personnel, and resources all play a significant role in developing a continuity plan. Remember, each crisis is different, and each organization will have a view on handling it according to all the variables in play. However, all business continuity plans will include a few elements in one way or another.
Clearly defined areas of responsibility
A BCP should define specific roles and responsibilities for cases of emergency. Detail who is responsible for what tasks and clarify what course of action a person in a specific position should take. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities in an emergency event allow you to act quickly and decisively and minimize potential damage.
Crisis communication plan
In an emergency, communication is vital. It is the determining factor when it comes to crisis handling. For communication to be effective, it is critical to establish clear communication pipelines. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand that alternative communication channels should not be overlooked and outlined in a business continuity plan.
A recovery team is a collective of different professionals who ensure that business operations are restored as soon as possible after the organization confronts a crisis.
Alternative site of operations
Today, when we think of an incident in a business environment, we usually think of something related to cybersecurity. However, as discussed earlier, a BCP covers many possible disasters. In a natural disaster, determine potential alternate sites where the company could continue to operate.
Backup power and data backups
Whether a cyber event or a real-life physical event, ensuring that you have access to power is crucial if you wish to continue operations. In a BCP, you can often come across lists of alternative power sources such as generators, where such tools are located, and who should oversee them. The same applies to data. Regularly scheduled data backups can significantly reduce potential losses incurred by a crisis event.
If a crisis is significant, a comprehensive business continuity plan usually includes detailed guidelines on how the recovery process will be carried out.
Business continuity planning steps
Here are some general guidelines that an organization looking to develop a BCP should consider:
A business continuity plan should include an in-depth analysis of everything that could negatively affect the overall organizational infrastructure and operations. Assessing different levels of risk should also be a part of the analysis phase.
Design and development
Once you have a clear overview of potential risks your company could face, start developing a plan. Create a draft and reassess it to see if it takes into account even the smallest of details.
Implement BCP within the organization by providing training sessions for the staff to get familiar with the plan. Getting everyone on the same page regarding crisis management is critical.
Rigorously test the plan. Play out a variety of scenarios in training sessions to learn the overall effectiveness of the continuity plan. By doing so, everyone on the team will be closely familiar with the business continuity plan’s guidelines.
Maintenance and updating
Because the threat landscape constantly changes and evolves, you should regularly reassess your BCP and take steps to update it. By making your continuity plan in tune with the times, you will be able to stay a step ahead of a crisis.
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