How to create a business continuity plan

There are many disruptive events that can affect a company's ability to keep doing what they do. In the modern world, businesses are at the mercy of all kinds of outside factors. Something as small as a power outage, or as large as a major blizzard, can knock business systems offline, prevent employees from coming into work and wreaking havoc on a company's processes. In order to be ready to deal with whatever problems may come, a company needs a good business continuity plan. The right kind of plan can protect a small business from major disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes as well as smaller issues like server crashes or computer viruses. It can even help cover contingencies for what to do if a key employee is sick or leaves the company.

"Business continuity planning starts with a business impact analysis."

Business impact analysis
Business continuity planning starts with a business impact analysis, according to CIO contributors Kim Lindros and Ed Tittel. A BIA is a process whereby a company can take a look at all of its systems and processes and identify what is most critical. It is important to view this analysis through the lens of the company's bottom line. Assess which processes would cost the most money if they were to be unavailable for a period of time. A BIA should take into account which employees, roles and equipment are vital to keep the company running and making money. The plan should help a company decide what processes to bring back online and in which order to keep disruption to its business to a minimum.

Create a plan
The next step is to use the information from the BIA to develop a good business continuity plan. It should cover many things, but there are some basics it needs to address. The Data Center Journal recommends a plan that involves all of a companies employees, not just those in IT. It should also involve training multiple employees in each of the emergency tasks laid out in the plan – that way the business can keep running even if some of the employees are unable to reach the office. The plan should also include an offsite meeting place to be used in a time of crisis as well as a crisis communication plan among the top executives at a company.

Test and retest
It's not good enough to simply have a plan – it also needs to be tested to be certain it works. Much like a building runs fire drills to make sure everyone who works inside is ready in the event of an emergency, a business needs to test its business continuity plan a few times a year to be sure that employees are ready to execute. In some cases, tabletop simulations of disasters and the steps to recovery are enough, but in others it can be beneficial to actually put employees under stressful, "lifelike" conditions to be sure they can execute the procedures under stress. CIO said it is important to make sure these tests are done on a regular basis as businesses are constantly in flux with new employees and new technology. In order to make sure that systems are ready, an employer must be sure the plans are tested and refined as things change.