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How to create an effective business continuity plan

Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros | Nov. 15, 2013
Natural and manmade disasters underscore the challenges of seamless disaster recovery in the real world. Having a comprehensive business continuity plan isn't just an IT concern; though. Nothing less than the survival of your company is at stake.

Because restoring IT is critical for most companies, numerous disaster recovery solutions are available. You can rely on IT to implement those solutions. But what about the rest of your business functions? Your company's future depends on your people and processes. Being able to handle any incident effectively can have a positive effect on your company's reputation and market value, and it can increase customer confidence.

First, Create a Business Continuity Plan
If your organization doesn't have a BC plan in place, start by assessing your business processes, determining which areas are vulnerable, and the potential losses if those processes go down for a day, a few days or a week. This is essentially a (BIA).

Next, develop a plan. You can use any number of free templates available online or find an actual plan published by an organization similar to yours and modify it as needed.

There are six general steps involved in creating a business continuity plan:

One common business continuity planning tool is a checklist that includes supplies and equipment, the location of data backups and backup sites, where the plan is available and who should have it, and contact information for emergency responders, key personnel and backup site providers.

Remember that the disaster recovery plan is part of the business continuity plan, so check with your IT department to ensure it has or is actively developing a DR plan.

As you create your plan, consider interviewing key personnel in organizations who have gone through a disaster successfully. People generally like to share "war stories" and the steps and techniques (or clever ideas) that saved the day. Their insights could prove incredibly valuable in helping you to craft a solid business continuity plan.

Then, Test Your Business Continuity Plan
You have to rigorously test a plan to know if it's complete and will fulfill its intended purpose. Many organizations test a business continuity plan two to four times a year. The schedule depends on your type of organization, the amount of turnover of key personnel and the number of business processes and IT changes that have occurred since the last round of testing.

Common tests include table-top exercises, structured walk-throughs and simulations. Test teams are usually composed of the recovery coordinator and members from each functional unit.

A table-top exercise usually occurs in a conference room with the team poring over the plan, looking for gaps and ensuring that all business units are represented therein.

In a structured walk-through, each team member walks through his or components of the plan in detail to identify weaknesses. Often, the team works through the test with a specific disaster in mind. Some organizations incorporate drills and disaster role-playing into the structured walk-through. Any weaknesses should be corrected and an updated plan distributed to all pertinent staff.

 

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