Mastering BCDR: Essential strategies for effective business continuity and disaster recovery

Weathering the storm with Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR)

There are many threats to your normal business operations: Those threats can include everything from a natural disaster that causes unexpected power interruptions to the ever-present threat of cyber attacks. Add to this the fact that customers expect maximum uptime from your systems, and you’ve got the recipe for a potentially difficult business environment. 

But it is possible to survive and even thrive. A bulletproof BCDR (business continuity and disaster recovery) plan that defines your vulnerabilities and provides guidelines on how to minimize their effects is vital to your organization’s resilience. In this blog post, we’ll cover why BCDR is so important and the steps you can take to develop and execute one properly. 

Key takeaways

  • BCDR planning is integral to any business, evolving to emphasize operational resilience and ensuring the continuation of critical functions during and after a disaster.
  • A robust BCDR framework encompasses risk analysis, BIA, setting recovery objectives such as RTO and RPO, and aligning these plans with the overall organizational risk management strategy.
  • BCDR plans require regular audits, training and empowering of recovery personnel, implementation of preventative measures, and strategic alignment with organizational goals and regulatory compliance standards.

The core of BCDR: Understanding its significance

BCDR serves as a strategic shield for your business operations, protecting against known possible disasters (and anticipating otherwise unforeseen ones) and guaranteeing the uninterrupted provision of essential functions. 

BCDR is also a dynamic concept, constantly evolving and expanding its focus on business resilience, particularly emphasizing operational resilience as a key organizational asset. Simply put, BCDR planning is like the roots of a tree, providing a foundation for the organization to withstand storms and continue to grow.

Crafting a robust BCDR framework

Building a robust BCDR framework involves:

  1. Developing a disaster recovery plan
  2. Performing risk analysis
  3. Conducting a business impact analysis
  4. Integrating BCDR planning with your organization’s overall risk management strategy

Identifying critical business functions

Identifying critical business functions is essential for the continuity of your business during a disruption. These functions are the backbone of your company, necessary for maintaining operations and ensuring survival in the face of adversity. They encompass a range of resources, such as business data, skilled personnel, facilities, supplies, information technology, and relationships with goods and service providers.

Recognizing the interdependencies between these critical functions is also crucial. It’s about understanding how different areas of your business are connected and affect one another. This perspective is vital when analyzing information from the Business Impact Analysis (BIA), as it helps to consider how different areas within the organization rely on each other and share common requirements.

Establishing recovery objectives

Setting recovery objectives involves determining the specific goals for your business’s recovery process, including:

  • Recovery Time Objective (RTO): the amount of time it takes to actually recover a system/data/process
  • Maximum Tolerable Downtime (MTD): the maximum time your business can tolerate being offline
  • Recovery Point Objective (RPO): the maximum amount of recent data your business can afford to lose
  • The effects of system downtime on your operations
  • The financial and reputational costs associated with downtime
  • Expectations outlined in service level agreements with customers
  • Requirements to comply with industry regulations

By establishing clear recovery objectives, you ensure that your business is ready to face disruptions and can reduce the negative effects on your operations.

The Business Impact Analysis (BIA) helps you understand what you need to meet these objectives, like how much downtime is acceptable and how much data loss can be tolerated. It’s important to communicate the specifics of RPO and RTO to everyone involved in the recovery process, including IT staff and service providers.

Key definitions: RTO, MTD, and RPO

Recovery Time Objective 

Your RTO or Recovery Time Objective is the maximum acceptable amount of time for restoring a network or application and regaining access to data after an unplanned disruption.

An RTO is measured in terms of time to recover (seconds, minutes, hours, or days.) It is an important consideration in a disaster recovery plan (DRP).

Maximum Tolerable Downtime

MTD or Maximum Tolerable Downtime is the total amount of time the organization can accept for a system/process outage or disruption and includes all impact considerations.  Loss of revenue and the extent to which a disrupted process impacts business continuity can both have an impact on MTD. It can be calculated by adding up the total amount of time it takes to successfully execute each step to bring the business back and recover from a disaster. Since each of these steps needs to be adjusted properly and requires the specific tools and the right permissions, it can take some time to configure ahead of time. 

Steps can include: 

  • Bringing servers back online
  • Making sure storage devices are working
  • Bringing in network devices from secondary locations
  • Restoring mission-critical data
  • Having emergency work locations for critical staff 

For example, if an outage occurs at midnight and it takes until 6:00 am to complete each step to become fully operational again, the recovery time is six hours. Comparing this length of time to existing service level agreements (SLAs) will allow the organization to see if its processes and efforts are efficient or need to be improved. 

Recovery Point Objective 

Your RPO, on the other hand, is the maximum amount of data loss after a disruption that your organization can manage before data loss is simply irrecoverable. This metric tells you how resilient your organization would be against a cyberattack that breaches sensitive information. It is expressed as the amount of time that you have to recover data. 

For example, if a backup occurs at noon, 12:30 pm, and 1:00 pm, your RPO is set at 30 minutes. A backup occurs every 30 minutes, and any data lost within the half-hour time frame is manageable. 

While it is good to calculate your RTO and RPO ahead of time, you will want to put your infrastructure through some stress tests to determine whether or not it is equipped to handle a sudden, unexpected event. This can involve on-site and off-site data centers as well as a number of different kinds of backups, including full backups, incremental backups, and differential backups. 

Delineating between business continuity and disaster recovery

While both Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery are essential components of a disaster recovery business continuity plan, they each have their unique focus within the broader scope of business continuity disaster recovery (BCDR). 

Think of it like the two sides of the same coin. Business continuity planning ensures that critical business operations such as operational procedures, staffing, and supply chain management can continue during and immediately after a disruptive event. Incorporating business continuity plans into your organization’s strategy is crucial for maintaining continuous business operations and resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Stylized image of branches of a tree to represent branches of business continuity
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What you need to know about Business Impact Analysis icon-arrow-long

On the other side of the coin, disaster recovery focuses on the restoration of IT systems and data after a disruption. It’s like the medical team that rushes in to perform the necessary procedures to restore normalcy after a health crisis. 

Your organization’s risk management strategy should seamlessly blend both business continuity and disaster recovery plans, including disaster recovery strategies, due to their complementary nature and collective effectiveness.

Maintaining your business continuity and disaster recovery plan

Every BCDR plan undergoes a lifecycle, necessitating constant updates, frequent risk reassessment, testing, and audits to verify its effectiveness and relevance to the organization’s changing needs.

Conducting regular BCDR tests and audits

Within BCDR, audits (more commonly referred to as tests) are essential for checking the effectiveness of business continuity management. Regular tests of the business continuity plan (BCP) make sure that all parts of the plan work as they should and meet the company’s standards.

Tests offer clear feedback and suggest improvements. Companies can choose to use their own staff for testing, as they know the business well, or bring in outside testers for an unbiased view. Decisions about who conducts the test, the extent of the test, and how the plan is kept up to date are important for making sure the test is useful.

Training and empowering recovery personnel

The effectiveness of a BCDR plan relies not only on the outlined strategies but also on the personnel tasked with implementing these strategies. Comprehensive training programs to clarify each employee’s responsibilities during disaster events are integral to successful BCDR strategies.

But it’s not just about training; it’s also about empowering your recovery personnel. Engaging team members in business continuity education and certification programs equips them with best practices knowledge to implement BCDR strategies. Furthermore, maintaining frequent communication about BCDR training reinforces its significance and encourages stakeholder engagement.

Preventative measures in BCDR planning

A fundamental aspect of BCDR planning is forestalling catastrophic damage to your business resulting from natural disasters. Implementing preventative measures, such as hardware and software redundancy, can help prevent outages and data loss during disaster events. Ensuring data protection is also a crucial part of these measures.

Additionally, securing against data breaches and utilizing backup solutions, such as cloud services, are key preventive strategies in BCDR planning. New technologies, including cloud computing and AI, present opportunities for better disaster preparedness, while observing industry best practices for data management helps maintain alignment with these advancements.

Overcoming common BCDR challenges

BCDR planning presents its own set of challenges. However, these obstacles can be overcome with strategic planning and prudent decision-making. Identifying and prioritizing essential expenses, and focusing on critical resources crucial for recovery operations, can help overcome budget constraints in BCDR planning.

Moreover, maintaining detailed records of BCDR-related expenditures is critical for regular monitoring and optimization of expenses. Implementing a change control process ensures that alterations to the BCDR plan are necessary and managed effectively to minimize cost impact.

Leveraging technology for enhanced BCDR

In the current digital age, technology significantly contributes to the enhancement of BCDR. Adopting cloud-based services can increase data availability, allowing for quick failover if one data center goes down, thereby supporting scaling according to need.

Furthermore, Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) provides a comprehensive recovery solution, while Cloud Backup ensures data backup and fast restores to maintain operations. For instance, Gaille Media, during Hurricane Harvey, leveraged cloud storage and remote work capabilities to keep their operations uninterrupted.

If you aren’t sure what steps to take, speak to an expert on how you can get started today.

Aligning BCDR with organizational goals

A meticulously designed BCDR plan is not a standalone entity but a strategic instrument that aligns with the organization’s overarching objectives. Informed BCDR investment decisions can be aided by estimates from business leaders across corporate disciplines regarding the expected costs of disparate types of disruptive events.

Moreover, service-level agreements (SLAs) in a BCDR plan set quality standards for recovery services, ensuring they meet predefined performance criteria. Thus, aligning BCDR with organizational goals ensures that the continuity strategy supports the overarching mission and vision of the organization.

Regulatory compliance is a key component in BCDR. Compliance with standards like ISO guides the formulation of BCDR strategies, guaranteeing alignment with industry best practices.

Furthermore, understanding regulatory requirements for critical business functions is crucial as some functions may need to be prioritized to fulfill these standards. Audit frameworks like ISO provide structured methodologies for businesses to validate their continuity plans against recognized industry practices and controls.

Conclusion: BCDR planning is a strategic linchpin in your business operations

BCDR planning is a strategic linchpin for any organization, ensuring business continuity and resilience in the face of unforeseen disruptions. 

From identifying critical business functions, setting recovery objectives, leveraging technology, and aligning with organizational goals, each aspect of BCDR plays a crucial role in safeguarding business operations. With proactive planning, diligent execution, and regular audits, BCDR ensures that your organization stands resilient in the face of adversity.

Note: This article was originally published on May 17, 2023, and updated on March 14, 2024, which included optimization and SME reviews.

More FAQs

BCDR stands for “business continuity and disaster recovery,” and it refers to a set of practices that help an organization continue or recover business operations in the event of a disaster.

BCP stands for Business Continuity Plan, which is a document outlining how a business will continue operating during an unplanned disruption in service. It includes a plan for workspaces, telephones, workstations, servers, applications, network connections, and any other resources required in the business process.

DRP stands for Disaster Recovery Plan, which is a document outlining how a business restores platforms, systems, and/or data during an emergency event. It includes a step-by-step plan to recover technical systems back to their original state.

BCDR is significant as it safeguards business operations against disasters, ensuring the continuity of essential functions and enhancing business resilience.

Recovery objectives, such as RTO and RPO, are established in BCDR planning by considering factors like downtime impact, financial costs, regulatory requirements, and service level agreements.

Technology enhances BCDR by decentralizing data storage, increasing availability, reducing the impact of service disruption attacks, and eliminating the need for expensive physical mirror sites. This allows for more efficient and effective business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

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