What is business continuity and why is it important?

Business continuity is the term used to describe a set of plans, policies and guidelines which ensure that your company can continue to function after a serious incident, unusual circumstances or radical changes. These vary from the dangerous but unlikely, such as an office fire or local flooding, the technical, such as a major loss of data or long term connectivity failure, to the unimaginable, such as the loss of some of the workforce in a vehicle or other accident.

Larger businesses have these rules formalised and put in place as part of their business strategy, but smaller companies must also put plans in place. Backup plans will include a list of alternative offices to hire, nominated data backup repositories or cloud services to store digital information and an accessible list of at-home contact details to inform staff of working changes and updates.

When it comes to staffing, plans can cover a variety of scenarios, as unappealing as they may be. From a team on business travel being lost in an accident, or if the company’s resident genius or leading directors are poached by another company, where more complex plans are required. These involve making sure all progress of business plans and projects are accessible, nothing is locked behind a single password that only one person knows and so on. For staffing upheavals, a direct chain of succession needs to be put in place, and a period of handover and gardening leave must be built into all contracts to ensure they don’t leave the company in peril and take valuable information with them.

When it comes to business continuity and data or IT services, most companies would be unable to function, if it were lost in a catastrophic failure. That could be the server room being flooded, a hack attack or theft, down to hard drive failure or data corruption. Every business must consider how it backs up its data, keeps it accessible and provides alternate methods of recovery. All of these methods need to be listed in a business continuity plan, which is known across the leadership and teams. The company needs to ensure the steps to accurate and regular backups take place, and not rely on them being done by someone, somewhere at random intervals.

Allied to data management is security management, showing a clear trail proving that a company is on top of its IT infrastructure, firewall and antivirus software, and other types of data protection. Should your company “IT guy” leave, someone else will need to know how to manage and operate all these services, or you will need to find an IT company that can help manage it for you.

For larger companies, business continuity management can be a full-time role, or a function outsourced to business specialists. For smaller companies, it’s more of an exercise to develop and communicate your disaster recovery plan and ensuring that your data is backed up and available in various forms. This can vary from traditional paper backups that are stored off-site, either at home or in a storage facility, backups to portable hard drive or DVD-ROMs that are also kept off-site or in a fire- and water-proof safe.

With your data secure, you also need to consider how people will work if the office is unavailable. The rise in BYOD or laptops that workers take home is rising, as is the use of cloud office use and collaboration tools. This means that workers could carry on from home, or could bring their systems to a shared space or temporary office to continue working, until a permanent solution is arranged.

Finally, the loss of staff needs to be addressed. Initially, workers may cover the roles of those who have left the company. In the short term, temporary staff can be hired to fill in some gaps, while urgent recruitment could help find full time replacements. To ease this process, all teams need to have up to date role descriptions, a list of their contacts, suppliers, bank accounts, credit cards and other information, all accessible along with the company’s other data.

By keeping all this data and information secure and accessible, companies can survive the worst that nature, accidents, negligence or just plain bad luck can throw at them. Your local IT provider can help cover the data, cloud computing and IT support sides of the equation to ensure your business can keep running or get back up and functioning as soon as possible after a disaster or event.

However small or large your business, planning for the unforeseen is essential. Banks and investors will expect to see business continuity plans before they invest, and insurers may also expect to see evidence of security, document and change management before they will cover a business.

Download the Business Continuity Management Toolkit.