Building a Business Continuity Plan: You Will Need One

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David Van Allen, VP of Operations, INetU. Van Allen has been involved with INetU since its inception over 16 years ago, but with his own company at the time, FASTNET. 

Dave-Van-AllenDAVID VAN ALLEN
INetU

Disaster does strike. It is likely that you and your business will experience a very disruptive and costly interruption. The question is: are you ready?

IT professionals always hear the phrase “plan for the unexpected,” but this way of thinking ends up making us too overwhelmed to actually plan for an (unlikely) ominous, “unexpected” event. Relax, the meteor will not hit us, trust me. What businesses should be doing is planning for the “expected.”

Big catastrophic events are not your most probable threat to business continuity. In reality, smaller, disruptive events can cause the same damaging effect and are far more likely to occur.

For example, pipeline gas leaks, an isolated tornado, a railway accident with a spill, HAZMAT incidents or a plane crash, can all affect your business’s continuity. Even though your office may not be directly damaged, if an accident or incident takes place in close proximity, you and your employees may not be allowed to access your facilities for an extended period. If this happens, your organization is now set up to suffer from sudden customer loss, project delays, significant unplanned expenses, employee issues and more. However, by planning for the expected, you can overcome this and build a business continuity plan that is both usable and valuable.

To begin building a plan, ask yourself the following questions:

What if you and your employees could not get into your facility for just a few days – what would happen to your business?

  • Without access to the building, could you have communicated with customers, employees and vendors?
  • If you possess critical systems, can they be maintained remotely?
  • For your IT infrastructure – can you have the ‘must have’ systems up and running?
  • For things like your web sites, payment processing and ecommerce systems, healthcare information storage, ERP systems, email, electronic records, etc., could you have accessed these systems in whole, in part, or at all?

When you take the time to slow down, dissect and consider the unique aspects of your business, you will find that you are asking the important questions that you may have missed before. Answering these questions will help you identify what you really need to prepare for, even if it’s only a few days of a business continuity failure.

Once you’ve taken measures to answer these questions, you can begin to create a plan based on your needs. While drafting a business continuity plan, it’s important to include four key factors: consequence-based planning, identifying critical functions, planning for the expected and preparing a check list to cover all your bases.

Consequence-based Planning

When putting together a business continuity plan, use real consequence-based planning for this exercise. For example, “What would we do if our building were hit by a tornado?” Be realistic and specific in identifying threats for your location. Make a list of things that are critical to keeping your organization functioning within those first few hours after an interruption, and another list of things that will be important later on.

Business Critical Functions

Be sure to identify your business’ critical IT functions. These are those most basic systems or processes that must continue or be restored first to keep your organization functioning. These may include a customer facing website or mission-critical applications, your email or accounting systems. Once you identify what technology must be maintained, you can begin to design, prepare and test a cost effective fail-over solution, the process of switching from your main systems to your backup systems, either manually or automatically. The most important part of this is to be realistic in your expectations during a fail-over.

Make and Use a Checklist

Here is a framework for a sample checklist/questionnaire that will get you thinking in the right direction:

  • Who is my first call to?
  • Do I have a way to conference together key decision makers?
  • If I can’t get access to my building, is there a way I can contact those employees that may be inside?
  • If I have to evacuate the building, who goes where?
  • Is there a physical administrative ‘meet’ point, and an alternate?
  • Is there a location I can use as a temporary operations site? Can you make a mutual deal now with another business owner a few miles away?
  • Which employees are key decision makers/key tactical assets?
  • Do I bring in additional people to help run the business?
  • Are we able (and set up) to telecommunicate and operate remotely?
  • What contracts, covenants, compliances or laws might I breech during this situation?

When building a business continuity plan, think about the real and possible events that can occur, disregard the rest. Once you have a final well thought out and tested plan, you will feel more confident should something bad happen. Along with feeling confident, your business will survive and not lose productivity, profit and all of the hard work you and your employees have put into it every day to get it to where it is now.

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