An IT business continuity plan: Why you need one and what it entails

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Business continuity and disaster recovery plans (BCDR) are organization-wide plans to help prepare your business for a wide range of potential crises and to mitigate the impact of such events.

Threats to your business can take various forms—from global pandemics that disrupt supply chains to natural disasters that threaten your physical workspace. However, as businesses rely increasingly on various systems to manage core operations and house crucial information, including customer, employee, and financial data, threats to IT systems loom largest for many business owners.

That’s where your IT business continuity planning comes in. This may be part of a larger business continuity plan or may be conducted in isolation if IT is the sole concern of your business continuity management.

A deeper dive into business continuity planning

When an event disrupts your business’s operations, a business continuity and disaster recovery plan (BCDR) comes into action. Downtime can lead to financial losses for companies, so minimizing its impact is crucial to ensure prompt business recovery and minimize revenue loss.

Although disaster recovery is a critical function of IT systems, BCDR is much broader than merely ensuring the stability and security of your tech stack. It encompasses various aspects, such as ensuring employee safety, managing brand reputation, crisis management, identifying alternative work locations, and ensuring systems security and data protection.

Therefore, developing a comprehensive business continuity and disaster recovery plan requires thoroughness. While it may not be possible to predict every potential disaster that could befall your business, you can develop fallback plans to utilize when disasters inevitably occur.

Threats to your IT systems

When you think of your IT systems, it’s natural to think of things like cyberattacks or systems downtime as posing potential threats to your business continuity. However, IT systems can face various threats that can cause significant damage and disrupt business operations. These threats include:

  1. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, and tornadoes, which can damage physical infrastructure (like servers) and cause business disruptions.
  2. Cyberattacks and data breaches, which can result in data loss, system downtime, reputational damage, financial losses, regulatory fines, and legal liability. These attacks are becoming more sophisticated and frequent, and companies must take necessary precautions to secure their systems and data.
  3. Human errors made by employees, contractors, or vendors can also lead to system failures, data breaches, or other disruptions to business operations. Companies must invest in training and implementing proper protocols to mitigate such risks.
  4. Power outages can result in system downtime and data loss. Companies must implement backup power systems and disaster recovery plans to minimize the impact of such events.

It’s important for your organization to identify the specific threats that are most relevant to their business and to develop appropriate plans and strategies to mitigate those risks.

Where to start when developing an IT business continuity plan (BCP)

Most good plans start with information-gathering, and your IT business continuity plans are no different. The components of gathering the right information are outlined here:

Business continuity management (BCM)

Business continuity management (BCM) is the process of identifying potential threats and risks to an organization, developing plans to mitigate those risks, and ensuring that the organization is prepared to respond effectively to a crisis or disruption. 

The goal of BCM is to enable an organization to continue its critical operations during and after a catastrophic event, whether that event is a natural disaster, cyber-attack, or any other unexpected occurrence that could impact the organization’s ability to function.

The role of a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) in business continuity management 

A business impact analysis (BIA) is a key component of your business continuity management or BCM process. The BIA identifies and evaluates the potential impact of a disruption on critical IT functions and business processes.

When doing a BIA, you’ll:

  1. Identify the essential IT functions and processes your business needs to restore quickly after a disruption. For example, if you’re an e-commerce business, your website and payment processing systems are critical IT functions that need to be restored quickly to avoid losing revenue and customers.
  2. Assess and quantify the potential impacts of a disruption on each function or process. These impacts can range from shipping delays to customers to regulatory non-compliance. By understanding the potential impacts, you’ll be able to prioritize your disaster recovery efforts and allocate resources effectively.
  3. Understand the resources required to support each IT function or process. This can include personnel, technology, and facilities. This can help you identify single points of failure, such as only one person who knows how to operate a certain system. If that person is unavailable, it could result in significant downtime and lost revenue.

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By conducting a BIA, you can develop targeted and effective recovery strategies that minimize the impact of a disruption on your IT systems. It’s recommended that organizations conduct a BIA at least once a year or whenever there are significant changes to the organization’s operations or risk profile.

How your IT business continuity plan comes to life

As business continuity and disaster recovery are interdependent, there is a significant overlap in devising an IT disaster recovery (DR) plan and an IT business continuity (BC) plan. As such, we like to consider all three branches of BCDR when developing an effective business continuity plan. Those three branches are:

  1. Emergency response: This branch of business continuity focuses on the immediate response to a crisis or emergency situation. Think of it as the immediate “to-do plan” if there’s a natural disaster, cyber-attack, or any other unexpected event that can disrupt business operations.
  2. Crisis management & business continuity: Crisis management deals with the restoration of critical business functions after an interruption, including the recovery of data, systems, and operations. The objective is to ensure that business operations can be resumed as quickly as possible and minimize the impact of the disruption.
  3. Disaster recovery: Time to recover critical business functions! Whether you’re rebuilding infrastructure, replacing equipment, or upgrading systems, this stage is about getting your business back to where it was. This branch also focuses on the proactive measures that organizations can take to mitigate the impact of another potential disaster or crisis.

For each IT function, you should have a plan in place that covers all three branches. Let’s look at an example:

Example: A power outage impacts critical IT systems

Power outages or blackouts can happen for a number of reasons, but if your business is located in a region that is prone to volatile weather or extreme heat, power outages are something you should prepare for well in advance. If and when a power outage occurs, you might have the following steps in place:

Your emergency response to a power outage: 

With the correct procedures and training in place, your team will know exactly how to respond the next time there’s a blackout. This might include:

  • Using personal wireless hotspots for urgent tasks that require web access
  • Unplugging devices from power sources so they don’t short circuit when power returns
  • Reporting the outage to the relevant authorities 
  • Seeking to understand the extent of the problem (often this can be found on websites or through social media accounts of power companies)
  • Notifying key people (customers/leaders) about the situation (this can even be done through social media

Roles and responsibilities will also be clear so people do not duplicate efforts or create confusion.

Crisis management & business continuity: 

Now that initial steps and actions have been taken, you can move to actively manage your business while the power is out. Actions taken now will depend on the duration of the power outage, but some options include:

  • Sending employees home if it’s easier for them to simply work from home or it looks like the outage may impact the rest of the business day
  • Investing in a backup generator if the power will be out for a prolonged period (this might also be part of disaster recovery if it’s a proactive step to be taken for next time)
  • Continuing to keep customers and stakeholders up to date via essential channels like social media, email, and even phone

Disaster recovery from power outages: 

Hooray! The power is restored. Your office can now return to normal productivity. But before everybody jumps in, your tech team might want to:

  • Reset the circuit breaker before turning on devices and network routers
  • Confirm any steps for restarting systems that have not been shut down properly

Having survived an outage, your business might now reassess your preparedness for such events and decide to implement some changes. This can include things like:

  • Setting up an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to allow people to safely shut down their computers
  • Ensuring all staff members store all business documents, contact lists, and other critical information in the cloud so it’s accessible from anywhere with an internet connection

Who’s responsible for your IT business continuity plan

Going through each and every IT system, from hardware to software, that your company uses may seem like a daunting task. That responsibility typically falls on the organization’s IT department or a designated IT team. 

However, depending on the organization’s size and structure, the responsibility for a successful business continuity plan may also fall on other departments or individuals, such as risk management, operations, human resources, or a business continuity team.

Moreover, your IT team will likely depend on all staff and even business partners for inputs on the nature of certain systems, how essential they are to maintaining business operations, and the revenue implications of those systems being down.

For example, your marketing team may use various systems for email deployment, social media monitoring, content production, and more. As such, your IT team may require information from them on which systems you use that are most critical to maintaining productivity and which systems are most closely tied to revenue.

The importance of staff training

Because human error puts your IT systems at risk, all staff should also be required to undergo annual training on data security and emergency procedures. Depending on the compliance frameworks your company adheres to, certification may also be required for all employees. 

For example, if your company processes credit card information, it may be required for all employees to complete PCI compliance training. PCI compliance training refers to a program or series of courses designed to educate individuals and organizations on the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) and the requirements for complying with these standards. 

PCI DSS is a set of security standards developed by major credit card companies to help ensure that businesses that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information do so in a secure manner and protect against fraud and data breaches.

The importance of testing & iterating your IT business continuity plans

Just like running regular fire drills, your IT business continuity plan needs to be constantly tested and updated. Plus, every time you do a new business impact analysis (or BIA), you’ll potentially identify new areas of vulnerability that your BCDR needs to account for.

Here are some steps to follow when testing your BCDR plan:

  • Define the testing objectives: Defining the objectives of the test can include testing the effectiveness of specific recovery procedures, identifying weaknesses in the plan, or assessing the readiness of key personnel.
  • Develop a testing strategy: A testing strategy will outline the scope of the test, the testing approach, and the expected outcomes. This should include a detailed test plan that identifies the testing scenarios, the resources needed to conduct the test, and the criteria for success.
  • Conduct the test: Run the test according to the testing plan. This may involve simulating a disaster scenario, testing specific recovery procedures, or conducting a tabletop exercise to test the response of key personnel.
  • Evaluate the results: This may involve reviewing the test data, conducting post-test interviews with key personnel, or analyzing the effectiveness of specific recovery procedures.
  • Improve: Based on your results, improvements to the BCDR plan may be identified and implemented. These may include revising specific recovery procedures, updating the contact list for key personnel, or investing in additional resources to improve the organization’s overall readiness for a disaster.

Need help? Working with the experts at Thoropass can help you build the foundations for a resilient business that stands the test of time.

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