Guide to Creating an Effective Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

Guide to Creating an Effective Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

Digital technology has ingrained itself in every facet of business life. From human resources to project management, sales, marketing, and beyond, day-to-day operations in every area have evolved. However, as the pace of digital evolution gets ever faster, this presents a unique challenge.

Business change has become exponential, and it’s tough to keep up with the latest updates. The most successful companies in the future will be those able to maintain agility in the face of constant change.

Developing a business strategy to accelerate digital transformation is critical. However, as part of their planning, organizations must prepare not only for innovations but also for the possibility of what happens when innovation goes awry. Businesses of all types and sizes are increasingly reliant on digital technologies, putting them at higher risk for technical disasters that can threaten their operational viability. This is on top of existing threats, like natural disasters.

A business continuity plan (BCP) is the solution. A BCP offers a comprehensive, systematic approach to preventing and recovering from major business disruptions. This guide explains what a BCP is and provides insights into creating an effective BCP that will protect your business.

Business continuity planning: What a BCP is and why you need one

Business continuity planning is rooted in prevention. It involves creating a prevention-based system that identifies potential threats to operational continuity before they happen, and defines step-by-step guidance on what to do when those threats occur. Having a well-thought-out plan ensures prompt action, allowing for better protection of business data, workers, customers, and assets.

In general, a business continuity plan involves identifying all possible types of risks and defining how each of those risks will impact operations (also known as a business impact analysis). With this information, business continuity planning teams can implement procedures and safeguards to decrease risk, test these procedures and safeguards to check that they work, and periodically review the business continuity planning process to ensure it’s up to date.

With your business continuity plan, you can be sure that your business is better prepared if disaster strikes.

Elements of a BCP: Aspects your plan should address

An effective business continuity plan will be crafted with input from all relevant stakeholders and personnel, depending on the relevant department affected. Say your company intranet is breached by hackers, for example. If you’re like most modern businesses, you have a hybrid workforce, encompassing both in-house and remote workers. Your business continuity planning must take this into account. When preparing your BCP, get input not only from in-house but also from remote information technology professionals. How can operational continuity be preserved for all?

Note that risks factored into a business continuity plan don’t have to be cyberattacks. They don’t even have to be digitally related. Other examples of issues include weather-related events, like floods or fire. Here are some of the most common issues a modern BCP should address, regardless of what industry you operate in:

  • Natural disasters: Floods, fires, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornados can all seriously upend day-to-day life, including business life. Some of these natural phenomena are also hard to forecast. Know what to do in case of structural damage to business facilities and supply disruption. These disasters can also interrupt utilities, causing water loss and power outages, which is another factor to consider.
  • Global pandemic: 2020 has made it clear that a public health crisis like COVID-19 will take a toll on every industry, from food services to manufacturing. An unexpected issue like a virus can affect companies from all over the world. Have a system to govern how workers will communicate in such a situation (for example, if they have to switch to telecommuting suddenly). It’s also important to figure out what you’ll do in case of supply chain interruptions.
  • Cybersecurity: A cyberattack can come in many forms, from data theft to ransomware attacks and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Even if you don’t rely on complex IT systems, cybersecurity is probably relevant to you. Say you run a small shop, for example. Every time you accept electronic payment from a customer, you’re handling sensitive client data. You want to protect that data and, along with it, your clients and business reputation. Have plans to protect, back up, and recover information from data centers.

6 keys to effective business continuity planning: Building your BCP

A business continuity plan is not a “nice to have” in the modern business world, it’s a must. The variety and severity of threats to businesses, from viruses to cyberattacks, has increased. This isn’t meant to scare you. It’s just to emphasize the importance of preparedness.

This section provides actionable steps for creating a business continuity plan that can protect your business and aid its recovery in the event of a disaster. These tips are created with all industries in mind. They may be relevant whether you’re running a small family business, a midsize e-commerce company, or a multi-million dollar corporation. Preparedness is something businesses of all sizes and types can benefit from.

Here are some tips on how to create your business continuity plan.

6 Steps to Building Your Business Continuity Plan

1. Create a core continuity team

A business continuity team is responsible for crafting your business continuity plan. This should include critical players in your organization—those people without whom operations will cease. The emergency management team will be responsible for compiling the BCP based on the critical business functions they identify and will also be accountable for subsequently testing and checking the efficacy of the plan.

Additionally, the team will be responsible for revisiting the plan as needed. Last but not least, your disaster recovery planning team will be the first responders to put your BCP plan into action if it’s needed.

The business continuity planning process should develop strategies that encompass applications and data, business processes, technology, and facilities.

For example, say you run an e-commerce store. Your disaster recovery plan might include your head of supply chain management (who procures the goods you subsequently deliver to customers) and customer service teams. If a global pandemic interrupts the supply chain, what alternative options for procurement can your head of supply chain management propose? How will your customer service crisis management team reply to customer inquiries if orders are delayed?

2. Consider people, assets, and processes

To implement a business continuity plan, people, assets, and processes will have to be used according to a set strategy. Consider each one of these points and how they can be implemented. “People” include workers, both full-time employees and independent professionals. “Assets” can include everything from office space and equipment to vital data records, like customer information and contact information. “Processes” should include every day-to-day task that your business must perform.

Take the e-commerce example described above, for example. Say you are subject to a cyberattack, and your customers’ login data to your platform has been breached. Here is what your business continuity planning committee might consider:

  • People: What people will be involved in remedying the situation? You’ll likely need to call on your customer service and IT departments.
  • Assets: What assets are at stake, and how can these be recovered or remediated? In this case, it’s your clients’ personal login details. You’ll likely want to send an email to all clients, explaining there was a breach and suggesting they not only change their login information for your site but also for other platforms if they use the same password elsewhere.
  • Processes: Finally, you’ll have to consider what processes will be impacted as a result. You may have to temporarily pause taking new orders, for example, and run an IT security audit.

3. Discuss dependencies

As mentioned, the first step of the business continuity planning team will be to identify critical business functions. Critical business functions also have so-called dependencies, however, secondary functions are impacted by these critical functions. You can basically think of critical functions as those must-have tasks that need to be taken care of for the business to run at all, while secondary functionality is more of a “nice to have” (although also important).

Take the e-commerce example. As discussed in point one, if there’s a global pandemic, your supply chain continuity and customer service teams will have to take fast action to ensure continuity of service and client satisfaction. However, you also have to reconsider your brand’s communication approach. You’ll likely want to alert customers via social media and on your website of possible delays, alleviating some of the burdens of customer communication from your customer service team. While it’s not the first priority “must” to figure out, it’s undeniably helpful.

4. Identify operational priorities and define acceptable recovery time objectives

When classifying and discussing critical functions versus dependencies, you’ll have to classify tasks according to importance. In the face of a disaster, you can’t expect every task to be taken care of immediately and simultaneously. Create a hierarchy of recovery point objectives based on what an acceptable downtime is for each one. For example, in case of a breach of sensitive customer data, your priority will be ensuring the breach is not continuing and communicating this to customers so that they can change their passwords.

5. Practice your plan and plan to practice

There’s no point in creating a business continuity program if you don’t test it. What you theorize is the worst-case scenario, and what can actually occur when that scenario takes place can be very different. Doing a dry run of your BCP allows you to identify gaps and improve it. Your BCP plan should develop scenarios that are challenging but could feasibly occur. You can then run full risk assessments. There are a few ways to do this.

One option is to conduct a structured walk-through, in which every emergency response team member goes through their part of the plan’s implementation to identify potential hurdles to implementation. Alternatively, you can try a table-top exercise and have every person sit around the table in a conference room and go through the plan point by point. Disaster simulation is another option, especially for natural disasters like hurricanes. Since a simulation can strain resources and personnel, you may want to do this annually.

6. Review and update your plan regularly

Of course, with the information you get from your practice runs, you should update your BCP as needed. Business continuity management is a constant process. A BCP isn’t something you create once and never look at again; your BCP team should revisit these guidelines regularly. Giving a specific set of people the responsibility and agency to take care of this ensures this important job doesn’t slip through the cracks.

To make the process less arduous, keep accurate and up-to-date BCP documentation on hand. Saving a BCP template that you can revise as needed will save time and energy when you have to make amendments. This is the kind of internal documentation that every senior leader in your company should be familiar with. Make sure to update the document with versions (for example, V7, Nov. 16, 2020) so that people can easily refer to the most recent document.

From preparation to implementation: Support your team with independent talent

A well-thought-out risk management plan will allow you to more easily sustain business operations and recover more quickly in case of a disaster, be it a cyberattack or a flood or wildfire. The above guide explains the basics of how to create an effective business continuity plan with actionable recovery strategies.

You can also bring on independent professionals to audit your organization’s preparedness and develop a BCP in cooperation with your organization. Upwork gives you access to a global pool of talent that can help you achieve this crucial element of running your business.

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Guide to Creating an Effective Business Continuity Plan (BCP)
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