Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This wisdom directly applies to crafting effective business continuity strategies in today's unpredictable market environment. Unexpected disasters, cyberattacks, and sudden market shifts can disrupt any organization. While some incidents are inevitable, having a solid business continuity plan (BCP) helps you maintain critical operations and bounce back from any system-wide downtime or cyberattack.

Despite the risks of not having a business continuity plan, we find that most businesses are still underprepared for potential disruptions. In fact, they often tend to underestimate the likelihood of disruptions.

However, the reality is starkly different. PwC found that96 percent of organizations experienced disruptions caused by cybercrime, supply chain issues, and climate crises in the past two years.

This guide will walk you through how to create a business continuity plan, detailing its importance and outlining potential pitfalls that could undermine your efforts.

The Consequences of Not Having a Business Continuity Plan

The absence of a feasible, actionable business continuity plan can leave small and mid-sized businesses particularly vulnerable. Without such a plan, your organization is less equipped to handle disruptions that, while inevitable, are often manageable with the right preparations. These disruptions could range from natural disasters to cyber-attacks, each capable of stalling your operations without warning.

For SMBs, the impact of such interruptions can be disproportionately severe, threatening survival itself. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest impacts that can occur.

Cloud Service Disruptions

In November 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWS), a leading cloud service provider, experienced asignificant outage that lasted several hours. This incident disrupted services for many businesses reliant on AWS for hosting websites, storing data, and other cloud-based operations. The outage impacted a wide array of services including online retail, web applications, and IoT functionalities. Organizations that had established backup systems or multi-cloud strategies were less affected, as they could swiftly pivot to alternative services, maintaining their operational continuity amidst the downtime.

Phishing Scams

According to a 2023 survey by Egress, an overwhelming 94% of leaders reported facing phishing attacks. These attacks often involve deceptive emails designed to steal sensitive information and can lead to unauthorized access to business systems. Organizations that have implemented strong email security measures, comprehensive employee training on identifying such threats, and quick-response strategies as part of their business continuity plans are more effectively able to mitigate the impact of these incidents.

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have severely disrupted operations across multiple sectors, with cybercriminals encrypting critical data and demanding ransoms for its release. These incidents cost global organizations millions of dollars in losses and recovery expenses.

Cost of Each Leaked Record in Global Data Breaches from 2014 to 2023 via Statista
Cost of Each Leaked Record in Global Data Breaches from 2014 to 2023 viaStatista

Research shows that most businesses spend about $165 to recover from one compromised record. In other words, if you had just 1,000 records compromised, it could cost your organization $165,000 or more. 

Natural Disasters

Flooding, acommon natural disaster in Pittsburgh, can significantly disrupt business operations. Such natural disasters often lead to extensive power outages and damage to physical assets, causing severe operational challenges. As a result, businesses in affected areas may face prolonged downtimes, sometimes extending over a week, which can critically hinder their ability to function and deliver services.

Impact on Employee Well-Being

Lacking a business continuity plan can also have profound effects on employee well-being. In the absence of clear guidelines and protocols for dealing with disruptions, staff may experience increased stress and uncertainty during critical incidents. This not only affects morale but can also lead to decreased productivity and higher turnover rates. A comprehensive continuity plan reassures employees, providing them with a sense of security and preparedness that can sustain their focus and engagement during challenging times.

The Difference Between BCP and Disaster Recovery

Understanding the distinction between Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and Disaster Recovery (DR) is crucial, as both play integral roles in an organization's resilience strategy. BCP ensures that critical business functions like client services and order processing continue during disruptions.

Disaster Recovery specifically targets the recovery of IT systems after an emergency has passed. It involves restoring data from secure backups, repairing damaged hardware, and addressing cybersecurity breaches. These steps are vital for quickly resuming full business operations and mitigating the impact of the disruption.

While both strategies are interconnected, BCP focuses on operational continuity during a crisis, whereas DR emphasizes the technical recovery afterwards. For SMBs, having plans for both is essential to protect against disruptions and ensure a swift return to normal operations.

How to Create a Business Continuity Plan

Now that we’ve established the criticality of planning, let’s discuss how to actually create a business continuity plan. Adopting a methodical, step-by-step approach to your business continuity planning is crucial for comprehensive coverage and oversight prevention, ensuring that no critical aspect is overlooked as you prepare your organization to face and recover from disruptions.

Step 1: Determine Your Greatest Risk Potential

Begin with a detailed risk assessment led by your organization'skey leaders. Focus on identifying specific vulnerabilities that could have substantial impacts, such as:

  • Susceptibility to regional natural disasters, like floods or severe storms, which could disrupt local operations.

  • Trends in cybersecurity threats specific to your industry, such as ransomware or phishing attacks, that threaten data integrity.

  • Weaknesses in your IT infrastructure, including outdated systems or insufficient network security.

Rank these risks based on their probability and the potential severity of their impact on your operations, which will help guide the prioritization of your mitigation efforts.

Step 2: Define Your Organization’s RTO and RPO

Establish the maximum allowable downtime for critical business operations, ensuring that customer service, manufacturing, or other essential functions can continue with minimal interruption. There are two factors to consider:

  • Recovery Time Objective: RTO refers to the maximum acceptable downtime for critical systems, applications, and networks. This metric guides how quickly you must restore operations to reduce disruptions.

  • Recovery Point Objective: Your RPO indicates the maximum amount of data loss your IT system can tolerate during downtimes. It’s common to see IT professionals express RPOs in units of time.

Step 3: Plan for Data Protection and Cybersecurity

Develop a robust strategy for safeguarding your critical data, focusing on comprehensive measures to protect against unauthorized access and data loss. Additionally, incorporate strategies to ensure the continuity of supply chains and the safety and availability of personnel to maintain operational capabilities across all business areas.

Start by establishing a resilient data backup system that ensures data is regularly copied and stored securely, both on-site and off-site. This dual-location strategy enhances your ability to recover data quickly, even in the event of physical damage to one of the storage locations.

Next, fortify yourcybersecurity defenses by implementing stringent access controls and encryption for sensitive information, such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Regular updates to security protocols and frequent system patching are crucial to defend against new vulnerabilities. Additionally, conduct ongoing cybersecurity training for all employees to cultivate a culture of security awareness and proactive practices.

Step 4: Create an Incident Response Plan

Craft a detailed Incident Response Plan (IRP) to outline the specific steps your organization should take in the event of a disruption. This plan should address both IT-related incidents and other disruptions such as natural disasters or supply chain failures, detailing specific operational and managerial responses.

It should clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all involved parties, ensuring everyone knows what actions to take immediately after an incident occurs. Include clear communication protocols to facilitate effective information sharing and decision-making, reducing the risk of confusion and errors during a critical time.

Your IRP should provide clear procedures to ensure calm and deliberate action. Even the most composed leaders can be prone to panic in a crisis, so it's vital to have a plan that everyone can follow confidently. For guidance on developing a robust incident response plan, refer to theCISA's Incident Response Plan Basics as a resource to get started – or partner with an experiencedPittsburgh IT MSP who can develop a tailored IRP.

Step 5: Create a Communications Plan

Develop a two-pronged communications plan:

  • Internal: Establish clear channels for informing employees of the situation. Provide updates and coordinate response efforts. Prioritize easy-to-use communication tools such as designated messaging platforms, emergency notification systems, andintranet updates.

  • External: Outline protocols for timely and transparent communication with clients, stakeholders, and other third-party vendors. You should keep them in the loop throughout incidents. Define escalation procedures, pre-approved messaging templates, and the use of tools like client relationship management (CRM) software for tracking outreach.

Step 6: Consider Legal and Compliance Obligations

Identify industry-specific regulations and data privacy laws your organization must follow, including but not limited to:

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

They dictate data security protocols and recovery timeframes that your business continuity plan must adhere to during disruptions.

Bottom Line: How to Create a Business Continuity Plan for Organizations of All Sizes

Operational resilience involves more than just preparing for the occasional power outage or recovering lost files. It encompasses a comprehensive strategy that covers all facets of your business – from IT systems and supply chains to employee training and communication protocols. This holistic approach ensures that your organization can not only withstand crises but also adapt and thrive amidst ongoing changes and challenges.

We understand that creating your own business continuity plan may feel daunting, and that’s where aspecialized IT management firm like Ceeva can help. Whether your organization needs some extra assistance or a full-scale strategy, we’ve got you covered. Our team caters to various organizations with and without existing IT teams.

Learn more about how we can help you ensure business resilience today!

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