When people talk about running a business, a lot of essential elements get covered. Financing, recruitment, health and safety, energy usage, social media, etc. But something that isn’t spoken about quite as much is business continuity. Sure, its importance may not be as immediately obvious as with some of the other business elements listed previously. But although it doesn’t sound very sexy, there’s no doubt that your company needs a business continuity plan.
What is this “business continuity plan” you speak of?
Some businesses put a lot of focus on disaster aversion. They’ll put up all the barriers they can think of to assure that nothing goes wrong. They’ll install hundreds of dollars worth of Internet security measures. They’ll install fire alarms, put sprinklers on the ceilings, place fire extinguishers in every corner of the office. They’ll make sure their office is somewhere with as low a risk of earthquakes as possible. But they won’t put any focus into how they’ll keep certain areas of the business going if these disasters strike, and how they’ll recover afterward.
Business continuity puts a focus on just that. Putting together a business continuity plan is a way of acknowledging and uncomfortable but simple truth: sometimes, disaster can’t be avoided. Fires, earthquakes, cyber attacks, falls, floods – these things can’t always be averted, regardless of how many resources you pour into prevention.
That’s not to say you should take the attitude of the person who smokes because “they’re going to die anyway”. Disaster isn’t guaranteed, and putting measures in place to prevent them from happening in your business are worth the trouble. But without a business continuity plan, your business could be in serious trouble if you find yourself unable to avoid those disasters. It’s about making sure you lose as little work time as possible; keeping the ship moving towards its destination even if some of its parts need fixing.
To better elucidate what we’re talking about and highlight its importance, let’s take some examples of a few problems that can cause severe disruption to your business and how they can be best dealt with. We don’t need to look to the possibilities of fire and floods to do this – we can look at much less dramatic scenarios to get the point across.
One of the simplest and most common examples – seriously, if you run a business, then you’ve probably dealt with it – is that of a disruption in employee availability. It’s a crucial day for your project and you need all hands on deck. But one of your workers has been struck with a terrifying illness and can’t make it in. A disruptive scenario indeed. How do you keep the train moving?
This isn’t a scenario in which you should have to come up with a solution on the spot. If you need a certain number of employees on a particular project at any given time, then you need to plan for the continuity of that project should numbers fall short. You could ensure that you have more than the minimum numbers of workers at any one time on a project. Or you could look into telecommuting methods that allows housebound employees to contribute from home, should they feel okay to do so.
Something else that affects more businesses than you think is service discontinuation. Let’s say your office relies on another company in order to do its job. This can take many forms. Perhaps you work with a particular supplier. Well, what if something happens to that supplier? What if they go out of business, or are unable to make an important delivery? You need to come up with a way to keep the business running regardless.
Another area this can affect is in software and Internet services. What business doesn’t rely on some sort of software these days? Let’s say your business uses, for example, Google Docs for collaboration purposes. It’s how you create and share documents. One day, Google Docs is down. You need an alternative to turn to if this happens; you can’t take its functionality for granted at all times. And if software that you use is discontinued due to the creators going out of business, then you either need a backup program that can take on the same task and import the required data, or you look into source code escrow in order to retain access to the software.
I’m going to paraphrase a sentence I wrote earlier to help highlight what it is business continuity planning is supposed to do. It’s not the avoidance of a disruptive scenario; it’s the avoidance of a disruptive scenario in which you should have to come up with a solution on the spot. There should already be a measure to which you can turn in order to keep your business moving towards its goals.
Considering the size and work of your business
As you can probably guess, how global your company is and what service it actually provides to others will influence just what scenarios you need to plan for to keep up business continuity. If you’re running an airline. Some of you may remember the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull (no, I can’t pronounce it, either) in Iceland back in 2010. When volcanoes erupt, it’s a pretty big deal for business the world over. No, the lava eruption doesn’t reach so high that it can reach planes – but the ash plumes they emit afterward can cause serious problems. They spread far and wide. Flights were disrupted for over a month due to many businesses being unsure how to keep up business continuity in such a scenario.
Now let’s say you’re a business that is fairly simple in its operations. It’s office-based and fairly small. Let’s say it’s in New York City or London. But some of the servers you’re outsourcing are based in Thailand or Japan – this is fairly common, and you may not necessarily know they’re based in such countries. Back in 2011, a flood in Thailand caused the destruction of a lot of servers and other computer-based companies. This caused problems the world over.
So while you may think you’re safe from natural disasters where you are, disasters in a completely different continent may affect you in some way! Remember this as you go forth and plan to preserve your business continuity.