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The essentials of a business continuity plan (plus the one thing you might be missing)

If you keep up with business tech news, you’ve undoubtedly come across the idea of business continuity. But working with Chicago-area businesses to meet their IT needs every day, we know an alarming number of organizations either don’t have a business continuity plan.

Or—just as bad—their current business continuity plan is missing some critical pieces.

Which is why we’d like to share some valuable information about business continuity with you. Namely, what is it? Why do you need it? What should it include? And what’s the one important part of it that so many companies miss?

“Surprisingly, more than 1 in 3 businesses admit they don’t have a disaster recovery policy in place.” –CIO

What is business continuity?

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Business continuity is closely related to disaster recovery, but the two are not the same thing. While disaster recovery is primarily focused on protecting your data via offsite backups, business continuity includes more.

Disaster recovery is a part of it, but your business continuity plan will address your whole business. The goal is simple. If there’s a disaster, your business continuity plan will help you keep the most critical, vital parts of your business going while you deal with the aftermath.

A disaster can be anything from a power outage that only lasts a few hours to your office literally burning to the ground. In either extreme case, your business continuity plan will give you a strategy for keeping your business going.

Why you need a business continuity plan

You need a business continuity plan because disasters are more or less inevitable.

There’s no way to avoid the little stuff, like power outages and network downtime. And while you can certainly hope nothing catastrophic happens, like a flood or fire, there are no guarantees. Even with top-notch IT support, some things (like natural disasters) are completely out of your hands.

In fact, 77% of businesses have experienced at least one outage in the last year. Those outages run the gamut from rolling blackouts to cybersecurity attacks to acts of God.

If an outage happens to you, do you know how you would keep your business going?

“Every organization should have such a plan in place to avoid losing money or halting operations . . .” –TechRepublic

What your business continuity plan should include

Bare minimum, your business continuity plan should include the following things.

Clear documentation

Your business continuity plan should always be written out in detail. We cannot stress this enough. Clear documentation readily available to everyone in your organization is the only way to make sure everyone is on the same page. That matters in an emergency.

A breakdown of critical operations

Take stock of the most critical processes your company depends on. What has to keep happening, even if other parts of the business can be put on pause. Record these processes and then come up with a plan for maintaining them, no matter what.

A communications plan

In emergency situations, communication is typically one of the hardest things to maintain. People panic. If you just assume everyone will know who to talk to or how to keep in touch, you’re not well prepared. Make sure everyone on staff knows the communications plan for emergency situations.

Roles & goals

When dealing with a disaster, you may need to shift some responsibilities and tasks. Some people may need to ignore significant parts of their normal job and focus on just one thing. Make sure this is documented and then everyone knows what their top priorities will be for business continuity.

Complete data backup

We mentioned this earlier when we were defining disaster recovery. You absolutely need a thorough backup plan. All your company data should be backed up regularly on an offsite server. Even if you have onsite backup, your data needs to be stored in another location, as well, to ensure its safety.

A secondary work location

If it happens that your office is inaccessible (or just not there), you’ll need a plan for where everyone will work. Do you have another location in a different city? Is everyone equipped to work from home for a while? Think this one through and be prepared to keep things running without your office.

The one thing you don’t want to forget

When it comes to disaster recovery, 23% of businesses never actually test their plan. We suspect the number for business continuity is even higher.

Here’s why that oversight is incredibly dangerous. Your plan may look amazing on paper, but there are all kinds of possible flaws you couldn’t possibly see until you try to put it into action. Would you rather discover you missed something essential during an actual emergency or during a drill?

Testing your business continuity plan takes time, yes. But it has the potential to make a huge difference when you actually need your BC plan. That’s why we strongly recommend that you don’t forget to test your plan. Not just once, but periodically.

If you need help testing and revising your business continuity plan, reach out to your managed IT services provider. They should be able to provide some valuable insights.