The Importance of Business Continuity Planning

If our stormy spring has taught us one thing it’s that we as businesses are rarely ready for mother nature and all her wicked effects. Adverse weather conditions such as floods and gale force winds have caused damage to many companies’ premises and prevented them from accessing their offices…

 

Not only can these conditions prevent normal operation but they can result in hundreds of missed calls, losing businesses potential custom and making them appear unprofessional. Furthermore if data is not securely backed up one runs the risk of losing important information, accounts and custom.

But weather isn’t the only potential hazard for business owners. What would happen if a fire broke out? Or what if your power lines were cut? What if your pc’s and electrical equipment were damaged? How would you function?

Have you ever considered what would happen to your incoming calls? Are they answered or is there an automated message in place to inform staff/suppliers? Or are your pc’s and data backed-up? Can your employees still get to work?

An essential tool which can help you answer these questions and ensure your business can operate effectively is a Contingency Plan. A Business Contingency Plan is a proposed implementation tool which is triggered by an unexpected event. The plan outlines what you should do in advance of an event’s occurrence so you can reduce its impact and recover quickly.

It’s not just major disasters that require a Contingency Plan, its events which effect smaller businesses too such as server crashes, data loss and power cuts. So it’s imperative that you adopt contingency planning no matter what size business you are.

Now that you’re aware of the importance of contingency planning let’s look at how to develop a plan.

The planning process can be broken down into three question:

1. Risk Assessment – What could happen?

When writing your plan it’s essential that you firstly conduct a thorough analysis of all the possible risks your business faces. Developing scenarios, both likely and unlikely of thinking through the possible impacts and allows you to develop a plan that outlines the responses/resources needed.

Here are the key principles at the Risk Assessment Stage:

  • Identify critical business functions – Identify your most important business functions and ways to minimise their loss.
  • Identify Risks – For each critical function conduct a risk analysis to identify what could potentially disrupt them. Once you have identified these risks you should prioritise them.
  • Prioritise Risks – Analyse the impact of each risk and estimate the likelihood of their occurrence. You can then see which require the most attention. Functions that are essential to long term profitability are generally highest on the list.

2. Plan Development – What can we do about it?

After prioritising the potential threats it is necessary to develop a plan to counter them and ensure your business is kept operational and profitable. Here are the key principles in the Plan Development Stage:

  • Identify Staff Needs – List what staff must have to function normally.
  • Identify Resource Restrictions – Determine if you will be able to operate effectively if you implement the plan or if it will reduce capabilities.
  • Set Time Periods – List what must be done during the first hour/day/week of the plans implementation.
  • Keep it Simple – Always use clear, simple and plain language.
  • Identify The Trigger – Define what will cause you to implement the plan.
  • Determine The Actions – Decide which actions you will take, and when you will take them. Also determine who is responsible at each stage.
  • Determine ‘Success’ – Determine what you will need to do to completely return to normal operation.
  • Discover Inefficiencies – Find opportunities to improve the planning process and keep employees informed of any changes.

3. Plan Maintenance – What can we do to ensure its success?

After developing your plan you should ensure it is kept relevant and practical. Here are the key principles in the Plan Maintenance Stage:

  • Communicate the plan to everybody
  • Inform employees of their roles/responsibilities
  • Provide training to fulfil these roles
  • Conduct necessary contingency drills
  • Review the plan periodically:   Reassess the potential risks, Score against expected performance levels, Make any necessary changes.

Lastly I recommend the following services. When attached to your plan they can help ensure your business is prepared for any eventuality.

Telephone Answering Service – An automated service can be set up so when unexpected events occur calls will divert to a telephone answering company. This ensures clients are kept informed and your calls are always answered.

Information Line Service – An information line allows you to record and have a message in place to inform clients about an unexpected event when they call.

SMS Messaging Service – This is an efficient way of keeping in touch with stakeholders and can be used to inform them about an incident, of an alternative number to call or to to inform staff of any necessary instructions.

Back Up Service – Outsourcing pc back-up to a specialist is vital. An encrypted and tapeless back-up system which allows quick disaster recovery, daily server and pc imaging and the ability to be managed remotely is essential.