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Ensuring business continuity across your organization

Best Practices Industry News
  • March 30, 2020 | Helee Lev
Ensuring business continuity across your organization

Ensuring business continuity - Why having a plan is important

Disasters can strike at a moment’s notice, as evidenced right now as we live through the Covid-19 global pandemic. Even with advanced notice, each unique event can wreak havoc upon businesses large and small alike, along with the economy. Threats and disruptions mean a loss of revenue, higher costs, and, most likely, a drop in profitability.

To support your business through difficult times, organizations can rely on a personalized business continuity plan. These plans help protect companies from profit and customer losses, as well as reputation damage. So, let’s take a look at what this means and how to put a business continuity plan in place.

What does "business continuity" mean?

Business continuity is the way in which businesses function, or resume functions, in the event of a major disruption, such as a fire, flood, cyberattack, or disease outbreak. It is best achieved through the creation of a plan that outlines procedures and instructions an organization must follow during a crisis, including processes, assets, products, human resources, vendors, and business partners. A business continuity plan looks at the entire organization, from top to bottom, and addresses every key area of operation.

Why does business continuity planning matter?

Whether you run a small business or a large corporation, business continuity planning is critical to the success of your company during a crisis. A business continuity plan provides a system of prevention and recovery from potential threats. These plans can help identify and define the risks that can affect the company's operations and bottom line.

Being able to handle any incident effectively can increase customer and employee confidence and help build a positive reputation for your company while, ideally, maintaining profitability and successfully navigating an adverse event.

Building a plan

To begin building a plan, businesses can begin by creating a business continuity management team. The team should be unique to your organization and is dependent upon your size and how you will implement your plan. Individuals from the team should help prepare, test, and refine the plan as well as train others.

Once this team is in place, you can begin creating a business continuity plan by following these key steps:

  • Identify measurable objectives and goals, along with the purpose, policy, and scope of the plan
  • Identify key business areas and critical functions along with dependencies between these areas
  • Create a list of tasks to keep operations flowing and determine acceptable downtime for each critical function
  • Determine key roles and responsibilities for your team

Once you’ve established this foundation, you can begin to create a plan that will help you keep critical business functions operating through a crisis. The best place to start is with scenario analysis. Detail multiple scenarios for every level of disaster and consider logical and realistic plans for each.

No matter what the scenario, the response plans should include:

  • Prevention strategies - these need to take place before a disaster occurs
  • Response strategies - identify response teams and emergency steps for each
  • Recovery strategies - outline the steps needed to return to optimal operations after the event has stabilized

Checklists can also be an extremely helpful tool. Lists can include supplies and equipment, data backup protocol, emergency response communication chains, evacuation site locations or steps to take for a potential backup site or work from home scenario.

Also, consider exploring case studies or interviewing people from organizations who have gone through a disaster successfully. These insights and tips could help you to craft a better plan.

Testing your plan & training

The only way to know if something will work is by testing it. A real-life scenario is a true test, but companies can run controlled testing ahead of time as well. This will help identify areas that need improvement. Testing your business continuity plan through structured walk-throughs or simulations at least once or twice a year will help keep the plan fresh and allow for fine-tuning and changes as needed.

Plan testing and training should have:

  • Clear objectives and goals
  • A clear scenario narrative
  • Instructions for all participants
  • A post-exercise evaluation

Structured walkthroughs provide the opportunity for each core team member to walk through his or her piece of the plan to identify weaknesses. These walk-throughs are most successful if the team works from a specific disaster scenario. To run disaster simulation testing, companies will need to create an environment that simulates an actual disaster, with all the equipment, supplies, and personnel, including business partners and vendors, that would be needed. This simulation should help determine how your plan could hold up during an actual emergency.

All core members of the business continuity plan team should be familiar with the plan and complete all the testing exercises. These simulations provide your business continuity team with the training and testing they need to be prepared for an actual emergency. After the testing and training are completed, company leaders should identify if further training or improvements to the plan are needed.

Questions to consider when creating a plan

Businesses should define and create a continuity plan that supports their company across multiple levels. Considering this starter list of questions to begin defining your plan.

Questions about the plan

  • How detailed and practiced should the plan be?
  • What departments will the plan cover?
  • What are the outcomes of a successful plan?
  • Are there potential fines or legal issues tied in with this plan?
  • Who will be responsible for developing, updating, and sharing the plan?

Questions about operations & human resources

  • What business operations does this plan support?
  • What would be the revenue loss if critical operations were not completed?
  • How will your company maintain day-to-day operations if areas are destroyed or subject to quarantine?
  • Who are the teams and individuals who handle critical processes and services on which the company depends?
  • Who will fill in/take over if team members get injured, sick, or need to go on leave to care for other family members or deal with family loss?
  • Do you have a way to get HR, manufacturing, and sales and support functionally up and running so the company can continue to make money right after a disaster?

Questions about remote working

  • Do you have an infrastructure in place that allows your employees to work remotely?
  • How will you ensure employees can continue to access the tools and data they need to do their jobs, even if they’re working remotely?
  • What methods of communication will you use for internal employees as well as external customers and partners?
  • How will your remote teams access business applications? Are they using personal devices, company laptops, or third-party devices?
  • Have you established a remote working plan and process for non-exempt workers to set a schedule and track hours?

An evolving plan

Business continuity planning should evolve and grow with your organization, so don’t let your plan go stale! Make sure to review and test the plan regularly. If you need more help getting started, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides a worksheet to help businesses run a continuity analysis. The worksheet analysis can help companies identify and understand both the financial and operational impact of a loss of individual business processes and functions.

Helee Lev

Helee joined our team in 2012, overseeing strategic account management, new business, and industry alliances. In 2015, she participated in raising $5M of venture capital funding. She leads sales, business development, and Conservice ESG's strategic consulting group.

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