It takes a lot to run a business. Caring for customers, leading employees, working with vendors, conference calls, meetings – it’s endless. With so much going on, Business Continuity planning quietly simmers on the back-burner. It’s a task we’ll get to in the future, when we magically have more time.
Aside from the busyness of our workweek, many of us balk at continuity planning when we roll up our sleeves to tackle it. At a glance, continuity planning looks daunting. It involves documenting things we already know subconsciously. Lots of things. We see it as … a pain.
But, it’s a task that doesn’t belong on the back-burner. Anyone who’s dealt with significant system downtime or the aftermath of a data-breach will tell you the same things: they’re exhausted because they haven’t slept; hindsight is 20/20; they didn’t see it coming; and they wish they’d done more to prevent the disaster before it happened.
To make continuity planning easier, we’ve broken it down into four manageable stages. If you’re starting from scratch and juggling continuity planning with the rest of your work responsibilities, try completing one stage per quarter. The important thing is to start.
1. Analyze the Impact
The first step in any Business Continuity plan is to conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) that’s unique to your business. The goal of this stage is to identify critical business functions (‘critical’ being the key word). Imagine if systems or connectivity were disrupted. What can’t you survive without? It’s tempting to be inclusive here. After all, every business function contributes to the success of your company – and you need all of it to survive. But during a system disruption, think lean. You may not be able to function long-term without advertising, graphic designers, recruiters, etc. But, are these functions your first priority during a system outage? The answer depends on your business. An advertising agency or job-placement firm has different criticalities than a software company.
Once you’ve identified critical business functions, it’s time to get granular. Who performs these functions? What systems, processes, resources, and files do they use? Where are files located? Who else is involved? Approach this with the premise that you don’t know what you don’t know. Team members might rely on software and files that are stored locally – which could mean they’re not being backed up regularly. Get functional owners involved in your analysis, and guide them by asking the right questions. Provide a BIA template or form (try downloading one, and then customize it) to gather information from your team.
2. Implement a backup & recovery strategy.
Implementing a data backup and recovery strategy is integral to any Business Continuity plan. In the not-so-distant past, backups were an expensive endeavor reserved for large organizations who create a huge amount of transactional data each day. The rise of cloud computing and storage has dramatically changed the landscape, empowering small businesses and liberating IT staff from back-up tapes, data centers, and co-locations.
Even if you’re already relying on the cloud, regular supplemental backups should be performed. Daily back-ups are a good solution if your business can handle a day’s worth of data-loss. In high-transaction organizations, several data snapshots can be scheduled throughout the day to further mitigate loss.
When selecting a recovery solution, think in terms of recovery time. How long can you survive an outage? Identify the maximum recovery time for each critical business function. Nowadays, physical servers and even desktops can be virtualized, allowing you to minimize or completely eliminate downtime. Re-deployments become painless – as easy as copying and pasting files.
If you find yourself thinking, “I’m a business owner, not an IT wizard,” our team can help you design a backup & recovery strategy that meets your needs. When it comes to data integrity, it’s important to put correct solutions in place – that work when they’re supposed to.
3. Develop and document a plan (and make copies!)
It’s time to write up your plan. Include a minimum of two sections: Critical Business Functions & Data Recovery. Check out the tips below for how to structure each section. Save your plan in several locations; secure it in the cloud; and make sure designated team members can access it from anywhere. Even though printing isn’t normally our advice, it doesn’t hurt for Business Continuity Leaders to safely keep a soft copy… just in case.
For each critical function, identify the task owner(s), and write up TWO sets of step-by-step directions. One set describes how to perform the task when systems are up. Include systems, processes, and files. The second set contains instructions for an alternate, manual workaround that will allow you to perform the task if systems were disrupted. For example, if you’ve lost connectivity, an alternate workaround might be to call (or use a personal device) to contact a vendor, rather than uploading data on their website as you normally would. Get detailed with your document. We don’t realize how heavily we rely on bookmarks and password managers to keep track of everything. Include URLs, login IDs, vendor contact info, account details, etc. Collaborate with functional owners to be comprehensive as possible.
Document your backup processes (frequency, location, vendor dependencies & contact info) and step-by-step data recovery instructions. If you’re relying on a Managed Service Provider for backup & recovery, ask for documentation that you can paste into this section; and include their contact information in your document.
4. Train it & Test it
Every functional owner and key business stakeholders should know about the Business Continuity plan, how to access it, and what’s expected of them during a disruption. Don’t be passive about it. If you send one email with instructions and move on, no one will know what to do if a system disruption takes place- and employees might not have system access to dig up the email from months ago, (or was it last year?) Consider holding quarterly training and awareness seminars to reinforce regular, frequent communication.
Test and keep your plan up-to-date by periodically enlisting the help of functional owners. Designated employees (who would be called upon during a disruption) should practice performing manual steps of each critical function. It’s an opportunity for testing, training & awareness; plus, procedural changes and vendor info can be updated as needed.
We’re here! We’re happy to answer your BCP questions, and our team will design a data backup & recovery plan that meets business your needs today & is scalable for the future. Get in touch with us to discover more.