What is a business continuity plan and why is it important?
What is business continuity?
Business continuity is your business’ ability to continue functioning as ‘normally’ as possible during and after a crisis. Essentially, it’s your ability to plan for and effectively manage disruption to business as usual.
A business continuity plan is your organisation’s formalised processes to manage these disruptive situations.
Now, while these disruptions may include things like flood, fires, cyber attacks, or even global pandemics, your business continuity plan actually sits at a higher level than this.
Instead of focusing on specific events, it provides the framework for your business to continue to operate as crises hit, and provides procedures you can follow to ensure your business is managed successfully during these times.
Why it’s important to have a business continuity plan in place
While it is possible to weather a crisis without a continuity plan, it’s going to be a difficult, uncomfortable experience, and you’ll feel like you’re flying blind.
So by building a plan early, and reviewing it regularly, you’ll get peace of mind that should a crisis hit, you can deploy your plan and use it as your roadmap forward. It provides the clear framework for your business to follow that enables you to continue as close to business as usual as possible, even when things are decidedly not usual.
As such, it’s important that you have a business continuity plan in place before these issues occur.
It’s important to remember that your business continuity plan is a framework. The plan itself provides the overarching structure for your response. How your business responds to specific disruptions can be detailed in individual incident response documents held within your plan.
This can include planning for:
Natural disasters such as storms, bushfires, or floods
Global pandemics (and at this point, we’ve all learned some valuable lessons on preparing for these types of crises)
IT events such as cyber attacks, network failures, etc
Financial crises like the GFC, economic downturns, and recessions
Issues at any point along your supply chain
Health & safety, such as what to do in the event of workplace injury or illness
Does my business need a continuity plan?
Regardless of your business’ size, it’s sensible to have a plan in place for handling disruption.
You likely have an IT recovery plan in place in case of data loss or cyber attack (and if you don’t, get on that immediately), but what about if an event occurs that puts half your management team out of action?
Even as a small business, having a continuity plan in place empowers you to continue servicing your clients without the threat of shutting down.
How to create a business continuity plan
Creating an effective business continuity plan will help you feel comfortable that your business has the ability to manage future crises to the best of your abilities. This isn’t to say it will be easy—but you will be as prepared as possible.
At the outset this process can seem overwhelming. So it’s always best to start simple, and create your core content, then build out your plan from there.
Here are the three key pillars you’ll need to create the core framework for your business continuity plan.
Plan for risks
Also known as a business impact analysis, this first building block allows you to map out your business-critical activities that must be protected at all costs.
Start by outlining the critical business activities that need to occur in order for your business to continue.
Then, identify any potential risks that your business faces that may impact these activities. By anticipating possible disruptions you’re able to plan how to manage them.
Analyse the likelihood that these may happen. For example, IT issues are much more likely than a tornado.
Evaluate the consequence of this disruption occurring. What will the impact be on your business? What will happen if your business stops performing a particular activity, and how long can it survive without it? Use this to rank the risks in priority order to determine a hierarchy of how and when to deal with them.
Identify processes that help your business minimise these impacts, including the resources required to do so.
Outline how you’ll respond to incidents
Once you’ve outlined the risks and impacts of disruption on your business, you need to define how you’ll handle them.
Start by identifying your crisis response team, those among your staff who will be needed when responding to an incident. Be sure to nominate who can take their place if they’re not available.
Determine messaging and communication channels used during the crisis, including the timing of your communications. What will you say to your stakeholders? How often will you communicate with your staff and clients, and how will you do so?
Create a contact list with all the necessary contact details for communication in these times. This includes your internal staff, their families, clients, suppliers, and even emergency service contacts. Depending on your communication channels, this can include phone number, address, email, Skype ID, or Twitter handle.
Use the processes you created in your risk planning to formalise the actions you’ll take when specific disruptions occur. This is where you should go into detail, so you can make it as easy as possible for any reader to understand what to do in specific situations.
The Victorian government provides a guide of what to think about when creating your incident response plan. You can check it out here .
Put steps in place for recovery once you’re out the other side
Once the disruption has occurred and it’s been managed successfully (i.e. your business is still afloat and everyone is safe and healthy), it’s time to begin the recovery phase of your continuity plan.
Your recovery plan outlines the steps to take to resume your business-critical activities, and the required timeframes, that will lead you back to business as usual—whatever that may look like.
Determine the specific processes that will get your core business activities back online as quickly as possible.
Identify the key resources and staff needed to complete these steps.
Develop a checklist, or key indicators, to mark your recovery plan against, to ensure you’re on track.
These steps might look simple, but there’s a lot that goes into your recovery plan. For a better understanding of what you’ll need the Queensland government have created a thorough walkthrough to help you create a strong recovery plan .
A business continuity plan helps you plan for the future
Having a business continuity plan in place provides peace of mind that your business is protected against potential threats, and you’ll be able to safely manage your way through them.
For an in-depth guide on how to create one for your business, the Australian government’s guideline When things don’t go to plan is a valuable resource for how to develop and build a complete continuity plan, and help you weather any crisis.
It can be daunting to begin with, but by spending the time on your continuity plan now, you can take comfort knowing that your business has the flexibility to bounce back, whatever gets thrown at you.