Disaster doesn’t come in one shape. From pandemics to extreme weather to cyber attacks, effective business continuity and disaster planning is a modern problem that requires modern solutions, says Chris Axton, director of business continuity at b1BANK.
If the past few years have felt like one crisis after another, you are not alone. The pandemic, inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing economic uncertainty have disrupted every company and every industry, and we are still dealing with the knock-on effects. These crises highlight the need for organizations to update their business continuity and disaster recovery strategies because, if you are not prepared, the next time you get disrupted could be the last.
It is crucial to recognize that resource availability has become the biggest challenge to business continuity. Suppliers no longer stockpile the items you might need during a disaster, whether you are helping your business recover or supporting others in their recovery efforts.
Businesses can no longer rely on making a few phone calls to get what they need at the time of a disaster. Even when resources are available during a crisis, procuring them likely requires additional planning, coordination and costs. This reactive process takes critical time and attention away from other tasks. Forward-thinking businesses have updated their mindset to embrace resilience and proactively arrange for the items they might need in difficult times.
Throughout my career in business continuity and disaster recovery, I have found that careful planning and thorough execution can help companies weather even the worst disasters. You cannot prevent fires, hurricanes and floods, but you can develop an effective plan that minimizes the impact on your business and protects your people, customers and data.
Natural disasters are not the only disruptions I have encountered, either. While anthrax and fentanyl scares are less common and harder to predict, the same principle applies: Proper planning for incident responses leads to positive outcomes.
Creating business continuity and disaster recovery plans
The best time to improve your business continuity preparation is now, before a crisis. I recommend thinking about your relationship with potential events in three phases: plan, prepare and adapt. Begin by identifying and planning for your most significant risks. Be proactive about mitigating those risks and rely on your plan to guide you if and when incidents happen.
Creating recovery plans requires your time and capital, including additional operational costs, but it is worth the investment to realize long-term cost savings and improved business resiliency. Here is how to get started with each step.
Whether your business endures a natural disaster, a cyberattack or accidental data loss, the impact can be significant. This risk applies not only to your business but also to your partners and vendors. Supply chain attacks, for example, often target suppliers, making them harder to detect and leaving business partners vulnerable.
You need to identify and plan for your most significant risks before they become reality. Think of it as conducting a thorough health checkup for your business. Delve into every nook and cranny of your organization to assess potential risks.
Let’s say you are faced with a natural disaster. Your planning is not just about immediate survival but also preparing for long-term effects. As part of your holistic assessment, identify the resources you will need in the immediate aftermath. Think about how you will manage the impact on business operations over the long haul. Considering each phase of an adverse event can help you develop full and robust response strategies.
Your planning should look at aspects including your people, physical supplies, equipment and financial resources. How will you prepare your people for disruptive events — and protect them so they can respond at full capacity? This is also a good time to ensure you have the right team in place to carry out business continuity and disaster recovery plans.
With a clear understanding of the risks your business faces, it is time to roll up your sleeves and mitigate them. Preparation is essential for minimizing the impact of potential events and providing a swift response.
A well-developed risk management plan is the backbone of disaster-preparedness efforts. This comprehensive document outlines the steps and processes your company will take to mitigate risks based on their severity and probability. It serves as your road map — that central document every employee and stakeholder can consult with confidence.
Think about how each risk might manifest and how your organization can respond accordingly. For instance, imagine your business is in the path of a hurricane. Your plan should include specific steps to reduce the potential impact, such as forming a dedicated crisis management team and creating a robust communication protocol. Communication does not stop at the door, either. How will you communicate with customers and the proper authorities during a disaster or other disruption? Designate who will spearhead the response and establish clear channels of communication for your teams.
Another part of risk management is backstopping against worst-case scenarios. Is your company invested in appropriate insurance plans and cybersecurity measures? Consider options including business interruption insurance, cyber-liability insurance and contractual risk transfer. Explore what measures are in place to minimize damage to physical facilities, intellectual property and data — especially sensitive information.
Keep in mind that preparedness is an ongoing commitment. Regular training for all employees is needed to make sure everyone is ready to respond at a moment’s notice. These trainings can include mock drills or classroom education on topics like emergency response protocols, data protection best practices and the importance of vigilance in safeguarding company assets.
Additionally, make sure you regularly verify and update important records, including contact information for employees, vendors and clients. Your emergency procedures and infrastructure documentation should also be accessible, ideally from multiple locations.
When the unexpected strikes, the true test of your business’s resilience is how you adapt to real-time conditions. Your well-crafted response plan remains your north star, especially if you have detailed steps and decision trees for employees to follow when faced with adversity. This plan should encompass situations like incident detection and initial response, protecting customer information, ensuring personnel safety and restoring operations.
Your business continuity and disaster recovery plan is not just about internal operations. In countless regulated industries, as well as in government, business continuity is crucial for maintaining compliance with regulatory and legal requirements. By following the plan, your business demonstrates its commitment to meeting regulations even in difficult times. Staying in compliance reduces the risk of legal repercussions and helps you focus on restoring normal conditions even as you continue to deliver essential services.
Resilience in an uncertain world
The key to building a resilient business is embracing thoughtful planning, preparedness and continuous improvement. Adaptation not only helps you weather any storm, it also helps you thrive in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. By continually refining your recovery plan and learning from each experience, you will be ready to handle any challenge that comes your way.
Remember, preparing for the worst does not mean being pessimistic — it means being prepared, proactive and resilient. So, embrace the power of adaptability. Let your business continuity plan be the compass that guides you through uncertain times and helps you emerge stronger on the other side.