Companies rarely get advance notice that something bad is going to happen.
Whether it involves a natural disaster, criminal activity, or some other adverse event that threatens business operations, it’s usually unplanned. Even when there is some forewarning, incidents like these still wreak havoc on a business and occasionally threaten its very existence. An estimated 25 percent of businesses never reopen their doors following a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety.
There’s one thing you can do that can limit the scope of the damage or even allow business operations to continue unimpeded. That action is designing and putting a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place now, well before the incident occurs.
Despite its obvious benefits—and the relative ease of putting one together compared to dealing with the fallout of a major incident—just 21% of small businesses have a BCP in place, according to the Travelers Business Risk Index.
In this post we’ll tell you how to go about putting a business continuity plan together and ensuring it’s available when it’s most needed.
First, what is a Business Continuity Plan?
Business continuity refers to maintaining business functions or quickly resuming them in the event of a major disruption. A BCP is a plan-of-action a company puts in place that can be relied upon in the event of an emergency to ensure that happens. It outlines the procedures and instructions an organization must follow in the face of such disasters, covering items such as business processes, assets, human resources, business partners and more. While the final product will be different for every company, a typical BCP might include evacuation plans, communication protocols, contact lists, key asset inventories, and anything else that would be important for employees in a crisis.
Reaching the end goal of a written plan should be the culmination of a long process involving many different parties. The document itself is the product of much planning, analysis, and input. It's your Bible when disaster strikes, so make sure it's clear, concise and simple enough for any employee to understand. It should address the basic questions of 'what are you going to do, where are you going to do it from, who is going to do it, and what resources, support, equipment, and facilities do you need to do that,' Bird says.
Building a Business Continuity Plan: Step-by-Step Approach
1) Scope the plan.
Before you start writing the plan, you’ll want to be clear about what you want the plan to accomplish. This is where a checklist will come in handy. What are the assets, supplies, equipment, or other physical items that need to be included? What resources need to be created? What is the plan timeline—and how does it change for different incidents? Where will the plan live after it is created? These are all questions that should be answered in step 1.
2) Involve the right people.
A BCP is only as effective as the people who put it into action. Thus it’s critically important to be specific about who will be directly involved, from the plan’s owner to those it affects. Getting these people on board during the planning stages can help with creating a stronger, clearer plan. As a general rule, when faced with a catastrophe, people want clear, straightforward steps that they can follow and know they’ve covered their bases. It’s best to leave as little to interpretation as possible, and considering diverse perspectives will help make the plan as detailed and clear as needs warrant.
Every BCP needs support from the top levels of the company. Senior management must be involved at every step of the plan’s creation, from sponsorship to implementation. The plan will not get much momentum or support if management doesn’t visibly make it a priority.
3) Prioritize key business areas and functions.
Next you’ll want to assess your business processes, determine which areas are vulnerable, and estimate the potential losses if those processes go down for a given amount of time—from hours to weeks or more. You can start by identifying the critical products and services your company delivers—the profit centers—and the customers or clients they are delivered to. This will help with prioritizing those parts of the BCP that pertain to the business’s most high-value assets, functions, and relationships. Understanding the financial impact of down time will lead you toward creating a BCP that’s most effective at preserving critical parts of the business.
4) Link together functions and people.
With the right people and business functions identified, you can begin to determine the links between them that must be established to ensure the plan is successful. This will include chains of command and lines of communication, including emergency contact lists and escalation protocols. It’s also where you’ll need to get specific as to who is directly responsible for different parts of the plan, whether it’s assigning owners to critical assets or managers to key functional areas. This is also where you’ll want to build redundancies—such as backup suppliers or duplication of activities—into the plan to increase the likelihood that business continues without interruption.
5) Create a plan...to maintain the plan.
Once the first draft of the plan has been created, you’ll want to test it rigorously until everyone is completely comfortable that it delivers on its core objectives. Common tests include table-top exercises, structured drills and walk-throughs, and disaster simulations. These should be devised with the intent to stress-test the plan, find its weak areas, or even break the plan completely. It’s better that happens before business is interrupted than after.
Once the plan is finalized, you should implement a strategy to continuously review and improve the BCP over time and as needs change, lest it becomes forgotten or obsolete. Many organizations test a business continuity plan two to four times a year. The schedule depends on your type of organization, the amount of turnover of key personnel, and the number of business processes and IT changes that have occurred since the last round of testing.
LogicGate Can Help You Start the Planning Process
At LogicGate, we believe a little preemptive planning can go a long way. Business Continuity Plans not only help protect core assets in the event of an emergency, they also preserve peace of mind for business owners and employees. A robust business continuity plan can also have the added benefit of reduced insurance premiums. No matter how you look at it, BCPs make good business sense for any organization.
LogicGate’s Business Continuity Management software can help ease the burden of putting a disaster-response plan in place, so you're ready to respond quickly and effectively. Our powerful business continuity platform offers one central system where you can develop and store your response plan, keep key personnel up-to-date, and equip your employees with the information they need to keep your business intact.
For more on Business Continuity Management, check out LogicGate's Business Continuity solution below.