Business continuity is the process of setting in place a contingency plan in case of an unexpected event that threatens an organization’s ability to operate. Such events could include ransomware attacks, unexpected failures, outages, and natural disasters. Business continuity is closely related to — and complements — disaster recovery (DR), commonly referred to together as BC/DR. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, business continuity strategies focus on keeping the organization as a whole operational, while disaster recovery strategies focus on restoring IT systems as rapidly as possible.
Why is Business Continuity Important?
Business can stop unexpectedly for any reason. A natural disaster. A labor disagreement. A digital heist.
Yet in today’s digital-first business world, IT is most often the reason for downtime. And because consumers now expect to be able to do everything online, including shopping, banking, visiting a doctor, learning, discovering new products, and making appointments, business continuity management is more important than ever.
Failure to plan for unexpected disruptions — from an hour of downtime to a years-long pandemic — can be disastrous for organizations. In a worst-case scenario, a business may never recover and may have to close permanently.
Creating a comprehensive and well-tested business continuity plan helps ensure that your organization can survive unexpected downtime.
Who Is Responsible for the Business Continuity Plan?
Typically, the following individuals and teams are involved in crafting enterprise-wide business continuity plans:
Chief Information Officer – This role is critical to understanding all of the IT requirements and dependencies
IT Resilience Team – This group of IT professionals typically has representatives from key groups (e.g., development, operations, networking, end-user computing, etc.) advising the CIO
Crisis Response Team – This team typically comprises lines-of-business leaders, human resources, and facilities professionals from around the world that make recommendations to executives running the business
Security Response Team – These professionals offer physical and digital security recommendations to the response
What Should a Business Continuity Plan Include?
As workplaces embrace remote and hybrid work, IT is now a major consideration in any business continuity plan. Policies and procedures must be in place to ensure that the business continues. If your business cannot provide access to data, applications, and infrastructure because of a natural disaster or cyberattack, the repercussions are serious.
Yet many organizations struggle because of the fragmented nature of their IT environments. So before the power or anything else goes out, ensure IT resilience is a cornerstone of your business continuity plan. And once your plan is written, test it early and often.
That includes choosing to implement proven data protection architectures and nimble disaster recovery with efficient recovery point and recovery time objectives (RPOs/RTOs). The most effective solutions are software-defined, self healing, and automated. They require less manual intervention which reduces failures and speeds remediation, should downtime occur.
How Do You Write a Business Continuity Plan?
A comprehensive business continuity plan will outline all of the people, processes and technologies involved in keeping the organization as a whole operational. It is slightly different — and more complete — than a disaster recovery (DR) plan that focuses entirely on restoring IT systems as rapidly as possible from an unexpected event.
Your business continuity management plan should outline and include:
A team to drive crisis response – this can be the same team that wrote the plan or not
Safety protocols and evacuation plans to make sure employees and customers are cared for during the event
Internal communications channels
Advanced software that automatically monitors key external developments that informs internal communications channels
An IT/technology runbook with blueprints and scripts as well as data and IT governance protocols for enterprise IT systems as well as collaboration and productivity tools
Once the business continuity plan is crafted, teams should be prepared to test each element to ensure it will work in a crisis situation and to fix what doesn’t.
What Is the First Step in Writing a Business Continuity Plan?
Once your team is assembled, the first step it should take in crafting your business continuity plan should be identifying personas. What this entails is performing comprehensive “day-in-the-life” journeys of key worker types across the organization.
For example, a retailer may have these types of personas:
Retail floor sales associate
Warehouse pick/pack professionals
Call center employee
Backoffice/knowledge workers (e.g., finance, HR, real estate, executives)
The business continuity team would then map each persona’s mission-critical functions to the plan, noting application dependencies.
With both knowledge of the IT data management (i.e., backup and recovery) systems as well as the IT topography, the team would then determine the following:
What data to protect first?
If compromised, what data to recover first?
Whether acceptable, and if so, how much downtime is acceptable for critical systems?
What are the Benefits of a Robust Business Continuity Plan?
Your organization’s ability to recover from a disaster — natural, technical, health, or human error — is essential for your business to survive over the long term.
A continuity plan is critical for a variety of reasons, including:
Protecting lives – If a dangerous incident occurs, such as a fire or earthquake, triggering an effective business continuity plan can prevent unnecessary injuries, even deaths
Keeping the lights on during the disaster – A well-planned business continuity strategy will ensure that downtime is minimized, business impact is mitigated, employee productivity is still near-normal, and that commercial operations are not disrupted due to an unforeseen event
Getting back to business-as-usual more swiftly – A well-designed business continuity also entails returning to normal as soon as possible, with well-laid out blueprints to restore data and networks, commercial activities, and a return to workspaces
Minimizing the costs of an unexpected catastrophe – If your business isn’t operational, revenues will freeze, but expenses will continue to accumulate. Additionally, the cost of addressing damage from the disaster could be significant. With a business continuity plan, your ability to generate revenue continues despite the catastrophe. In many cases, a business continuity plan that exhibits wise forethought even has the potential to reduce the damage caused by disasters
Mitigating corporate risk – The steps taken to implement a comprehensive business continuity plan, such as having the right backup and recovery solutions and processes in place, mean that you’re reducing overall corporate risk, such as that of data loss or breach
Gaining a competitive edge – Your ability to resume operations immediately or soon after a disaster gives you a distinct advantage over competitors that haven’t put together an adequate business continuity plan
Protect your organization’s reputation – Businesses that go offline during a disaster and can’t quickly pick up the pieces lose loyalty in the marketplace. Your business continuity plan helps you make a swift recovery, preserving your brand’s reputation and value
Complying with regulatory requirements – Privacy laws are multiplying, from the European Union’s GDPR to the California Consumer Privacy Act. Losing data could result in severe penalties. And depending on your industry, you may have other strict regulations governing the loss or theft of sensitive data. A business continuity plan helps you remain compliant in the face of unexpected disruption
Sleeping better at night – Finally, a business continuity plan can give you greater peace of mind that you have contingency plans in case something goes wrong
Is Business Continuity a Subset of Risk Management?
Yes, business continuity management is part of risk management as effective planning and execution is critical to reducing overall enterprise risk.
However, since the pandemic, there has been renewed focus at all levels of organizations — not just those evaluating risk — on how prepared the business is to support a wider range of challenges from immediate events such as disaster recovery and ransomware recovery to longer-term realities such as data protection.
A key to mitigating risk and boosting business continuity simultaneously is having a system in place that not only captures data but has the intelligence to fine tune operations and remediate, as needed.
Business Continuity and Cohesity
A mainstay of any business continuity plan is a robust disaster recovery (DR) solution. Because attackers, disasters, and human errors are unpredictable, a DR solution must always be ready for the worst-case scenario to ensure a viable business continuity plan.
Cohesity boosts business continuity strategies by providing a DR solution as part of its comprehensive data management platform rather than a patchwork of legacy, on-premises DR products that only protect specific application tiers and meet the individual corresponding service levels. Cohesity’s platform caters to the protection and recovery of all your applications — on-prem or in cloud. With a unified policy engine that lets you control your protection (snapshots/continuous) and failover (secondary site/cloud) modalities, Cohesity puts you in control of your business continuity plan. The Cohesity solution is deeply automated, with instant failover and recovery across business-critical as well as mission-critical applications, service levels, and environments with near-zero downtime and almost no data loss.
While there are multiple ways to design a robust backup/DR plan, the goal is the same: to deliver always-on resiliency and availability to your customers and employees. Cohesity helps you do this by eliminating your legacy DR silos, consolidating the recovery processes of all your critical data and infrastructure on a single, seamless, automated software platform.