When speaking to some IT professionals the sheer mention of business continuity can make them glaze over in tedium. For the more risk adverse it can spark panic like remembering you left the oven on when you’re half way to the office. Whatever camp you fall into there is no getting away from the fact that business continuity is an integral part of any successful organisation.
For those new to the term, business continuity is a set of processes and procedures that ensure an organisations critical business functions continue to operate in the event of disaster or a serious incident. Examples could be anything from a hurricane, national power cuts or even a fire in the office comms room.
For the sceptics out there a common retort when discussing business continuity is “What are the chances of that happening!?! I have a dual networks feeds, redundant power and hardware so why should I worry about business continuity". Having worked in IT for a number of years, what I have learnt is if there is a chance of something going wrong it will inevitably will!
Dependent on the size of your organisation your business continuity plan (BCP) can be anything from a one pager through to a library of processes and procedures. The key to a good plan is for it be concise and clear. When there is a major issue the reader of the plan will not want to scroll through reams of text so it’s always good to keep that in mind when writing the document.
Here are some other useful tips when thinking about business continuity:
Make sure you have access to the plan — It’s surprising how many companies store their business continuity plan on their Intranet or locked in a filing cabinet in an office. What if can’t get to the office and have lost connectivity to your Intranet? Key stakeholders and staff should all have a hard copy of the plan in case of an emergency.
Regularly test the plan — It’s all well and good having something written down, however, if you haven’t tested the process or actually carry out some of the actions how do you know if it will work in an emergency? Sometimes running a real life test can spark new ideas so even if the test was a success always look for a better, more efficient way to achieve the same goal.
Treat the plan like a living document — Companies, peoples and processes change all the time so it’s important to keep the document updated. It’s therefore advised that you revisit the BCP as often as possible to make sure the information is current.
Be realistic — Unless you have a bottomless budget you’re not going to cater for every eventuality. It’s therefore important to identify key services and functions that need to be available and agree areas that are not essential. For the areas that are deemed non-essential how long can you do without these as a business?
Think longer term — What happens if the incident disrupts service for longer than a day, a week or even a month? However unlikely it seems it’s good to have thought about the 'what if' scenarios over an extended period.
In summary, having a strong business continuity plan in place is a lot like having insurance on your car. Although you begrudge doing it each year you appreciate it when something goes wrong.