What is business continuity planning?
In order for any organization to build and maintain a reputation as a trusted source of products or services, it needs to offer consistency to its clients and end users — having business continuity planning in place can help to provide this. When events occur that have the potential to disrupt business practices (for example, IT failures or natural disasters), those organizations who have invested time and effort in business continuity planning (BCP) will be best placed to continue to offer the expected level of service to their customers and clients.
Many businesses, including cloud-hosted PBX and phone systems operations, have already recognized the importance of disaster recovery planning and business resumption planning to help them quickly recommence operations in the face of unforeseen events. Businesses and shareholders will be pleased to hear that BCP goes a step further by implementing plans and practices that help to ensure any disruption is kept in-house without the effects being passed on to — or even perceived by — customers and clients.
BCP helps to identify the elements that must be installed for a business to operate. It pinpoints the areas that operations are dependent upon to continue providing the service clients expect and puts in place measures to protect and replicate these functions in case of events that have the potential to disrupt operations. With good business continuity planning, organizations can continue to deliver the same standard of service that end users have come to expect whether it is during, or in the aftermath of, a crisis.
Why do you need a business continuity plan?
Nobody can predict the future, but everyone can prepare for it. Even the most conscientious business owners are sometimes at the mercy of staff illness, IT outages, accidents, or the elements. Having a great BCP can help to minimize the impact of these unforeseen events on an organization’s ability to continue to service its clients.
Without a BCP, unexpected events could have a catastrophic effect on a business’s level of consumer trust which, in turn, could lead to lost clients or even the need to cease trading, in the worst-case scenario. Putting a business continuity plan in place before your organization is affected by unpredictable outside influences could not only ensure survival, but allow you to thrive through adversity, as your organization is able to cope in situations where competitors are left unprepared.
Even the process of preparing a business continuity plan can help to reduce the risk of disruption to service provision for companies, including cloud-hosted PBX and phone systems providers. Identifying vulnerable areas of operations makes it easier to put protection in place to prevent services from being adversely affected by unexpected turns of events.
Creating a comprehensive business continuity plan before it is needed is a key part of corporate preparedness. All staff should be given a copy of any BCP, and should understand their own role within the identified practices in case of emergency. Once the BCP is in place, organizations can carry out drills and testing on a regular basis to ensure that all members of the workforce are familiar with their responsibilities.
What should be in your business continuity plan?
To be effective, a business continuity plan needs to clearly outline the steps to be taken before, during, and in the aftermath of a crisis to ensure the smooth running of your operation. It will also need to designate those responsible for each step, without any ambiguity. This will help to ensure that there is a clear management structure in place even in times of uncertainty. During an emergency is not the time to expect decisions to be taken by committee. Granting certain staff the power to act unilaterally can help to expedite decision making when swift action is required.
An effective BCP will include a realistic look at potential threats to operations — from viral infections to IT systems, to loss of power or weather events that require evacuation of premises or prevent staff attendance. As well as putting practices in place that will minimize the effect of any of these events on operations, the plan will provide a detailed, step-by-step roadmap of how to resume or sustain operations.
The plan should include realistic training timetables to ensure all staff members are familiar with their roles in an emergency scenario, and are competent to deal with incident management as it affects them. Training can also be utilized to equip a Disaster Recovery Team with the necessary skills to lead your organization capably in the event of crisis.
In addition to identifying key roles, strategic recovery steps, and necessary skills and training, the BCP must include contact details for key members of the organization (including CEO and legal advisors) to ensure they are easily brought on board in the event of an emergency. There should also be details of external agencies whose services may be required, such as fire, ambulance and security providers.
Details of emergency provisions such as power generators and data backup should be provided, and staff should be aware of how to access and use these in the event of an emergency. Backup contacts and communications systems (including alternate T1 lines or other cell phone and email addresses), should be made available to all staff, along with comprehensive access instructions to ensure the smooth implementation of BCP steps.
How do you identify your business’s essential services and functions?
There are three questions to ask yourself in order to identify the essential services and functions of your operation:
- Can the business operate if this element is not available?
- Will employees be able to work safely without this function?
- Can your business legally operate without this in place?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you are dealing with an essential business function that needs to be protected within your BCP.
It is important that businesses address all of the above questions within their continuity planning, because while the second and third questions may not have an instant impact on the ability to service client needs, ignoring staff safety and legally mandated practices and procedures could leave your business open to catastrophic litigation. If the answer to all three of the above questions is yes, the function is a non-essential one that need not necessarily be covered within a BCP.
How do you safeguard your business in the event of an emergency?
There are a number of steps that can be taken to protect your business against unforeseen circumstances. Business continuity planning is only one piece of the puzzle, and is designed to ensure that you can continue to service the needs of your end users in times of crisis.
A business continuity plan is designed to be a last resort, and it is important that staff, premises, and systems are protected as well as possible to reduce the likelihood of ever needing to implement the plan. Protecting workers, buildings and IT provisions as much as possible can also help to ensure that your BCP will be as effective as possible in the event that implementation is indicated.
It is important to ensure that all premises meet with relevant regulations for safety. Designate workplace first aiders to deal with medical issues that arise during normal working life and/or as a result of an unforeseen event, and ensure that staff are aware of who these people are. Integrate regular safety drills into workplace practice to ensure that everyone is familiar with what is expected of them in the event of an emergency. Conduct staff inductions and ongoing training to ensure that everyone knows the location of such things as fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
All staff should be familiar with the basic emergency plan of a business, which should detail such things as evacuation procedures, emergency exits, and muster points. Systems should be protected with regular data backups, as well as up-to-date virus and malware protection. Surge protection should be fitted as standard.
Lastly, ensure that sufficient insurance is in place to cover any potential loss or damage that your business may incur as the result of an unforeseen event. A great BCP will help protect your reputation during troubled times, but you will need to be covered if you want to get your business back on track quickly after an emergency.