We live in a world where, on a daily basis, anything can happen. Big or small, good or bad, exciting or mundane, surprises await at every corner. And often, large-scale disasters can’t be avoided.
So, what can your business do when life inevitably throws you a curveball?
Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans are designed to help prepare your business for that very scenario. These plans anticipate all eventualities and ensure that if some unforeseen disaster does happen (whether it’s a sophisticated cyberattack, natural disaster, human error, or other), your business can quickly get back on its feet with minimal operational or financial losses.
But how do you go about building a BCDR plan for your business? And why is it important that you do?
Throughout this article, we’ll take a look at what BCDR is, why it’s necessary, and the steps you can take to build an effective plan.
What Is BCDR?
Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) is a set of processes, plans, and policies that you can put in place to help you recover from a disaster and ensure the effective continuation of business operations.
Your BCDR plan should include processes to help you recover from a wide range of disasters and disruptors—including, but not limited to:
- Cyberattacks (ransomware, malware, etc.)
- Natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, etc.)
- Service provider outages
- Floods and water damage
- Accidental damage or deletion
- Hardware failure
BCDR plans fuse together business and IT functions as they involve not only efficiently returning business operations to normal after a disaster, but also dealing with restoring IT systems after outages, breakages, or disruption.
The goal is to enable you to remain operational or return to normal operational efficiency as soon as possible after a disaster hits.
Business Continuity Vs Disaster Recovery
The term “BCDR” is made up of two components: business continuity (BC) on the one side, and disaster recovery (DR) on the other.
And, while closely related, BC and DR aren’t quite the same thing. So, what’s the difference?
Business continuity focuses on putting processes and procedures in place to ensure you can effectively maintain business operations and mission-critical functions both during and in the aftermath of a disaster.
A BC plan, therefore, deals with the people, processes, and resources needed to deal with specific disaster scenarios as they unfold, and outlines how business operations can seamlessly continue to function with minimal disruption.
Disaster recovery, on the other hand, is a component of business continuity that focuses on recovering and restoring critical technology, infrastructure, data, applications, and systems following a disaster to minimize downtime and data/financial loss.
While BC is proactive, DR is reactive and deals with the specific steps that you must take to restore operations following a disaster or outage.
It’s vital that, as part of your BCDR plan, both the BC and DR components work together and support one another to create an effective program. BC without DR will fail technologically, while DR without BC will fail in terms of maintaining operations.
Why Is BCDR Important?
No matter how big or small a business you are, what industry you’re in, or who your clients might be, you need to have a robust BCDR plan in place in case of disaster. But why?
Let’s take a look at seven reasons why your business needs a BCDR plan.
1. Increase Business Resilience
First and foremost: BCDR plans are designed to help your business survive a disaster. Without having a plan in place, you risk sinking into oblivion if the worst does happen.
And these wide-scale disasters aren’t just a hypothetical—they really do happen. Just look at COVID-19. When the pandemic first reared its head in 2019, only 45% of businesses had a pandemic response prepared as part of their business continuity plans. This means more than half of all businesses were left vulnerable to the pandemic’s catastrophic affects.
We understand it can be tempting to focus your efforts on more imminent and pressing issues as opposed to spending your time and energy on preparing for events that might not ever happen. But let us ask you this: what if they do happen? As the saying goes: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. BCDR is key to being prepared.
2. Minimize Downtime
A key benefit of having a BCDR plan in place is to minimize the time that your services are down in the event of a disaster or outage. Because, as we all know, downtime equals losses—whether these are financial, in productivity, or in reputation/customer trust.
Almost 9 in 10 of organizations require 99.99% uptime just to carry out normal business operations—yet 40% of servers are estimated to experience at least one outage annually. With a single hour of downtime costing $300,000 for 91% of mid-sized enterprises, without having a BCDR plan in place, can your business afford the downtime?
With a BCDR plan, you can ensure that both your most essential services are able to continue in the event of disaster, and that you can get any resources that are experiencing outages back up and running with minimal downtime—and minimal losses.
3. Ensure Employee Safety
As a business, your number-one priority should be your people. And a key reason to implement a BCDR plan is to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of your employees in the event of a disaster.
For example, in the event of a flood or other kind of natural disaster that might impact your premises or employees’ homes, you should have a plan in place to evacuate your employees safely and any critical services or support you can provide, among other things.
BCDR planning is a way that you can ensure these procedures are in place to protect the health and safety of your people.
4. Protect Sensitive Data
If all (or even just part of) your business’ sensitive data was permanently lost today, how would that impact your day-to-day operations? Would you be able to operate at an acceptable capacity?
Data loss as a result of human error (for example, accidental deletion), cyberattacks (such as ransomware), or server outages (perhaps you’ve failed to create regular backups) can be devastating for maintaining business operations—as well as complying with data security and privacy laws.
BCDR plans can help you not only put in place the right measures to ensure your data remains protected, but also help you to recover data in the event of an outage or loss.
5. Prepare Employees To Act
Creating and regularly testing a BCDR plan will keep your employees sharp on how to behave in the event of a disaster, what their roles and responsibilities are, and what objectives they are expected to aim for to return service to normal level.
A surprising number of employees are underprepared for disaster. A recent study uncovered that 16% of SMB executives didn’t know what their recovery time objectives (RTO) were—despite the fact that 24% expect to recover data in less than 10 minutes in the event of a disaster.
Regularly testing your plan is just as important as creating it. If your employees know how to act accordingly during a disaster, that’s half of the battle won.
6. Adhere With Regulatory Compliance
If the benefits we’ve outlined above aren’t reason enough, having a strong BCDR plan set is also a requirement for compliance with many regulatory bodies.
For example, for businesses in the health industry, the Health Insurance Portability And Accessibility Act (HIPPAA) requires hospitals to have data backup and and disaster recovery plans and strategies in place—and can dole out steep fines for non-compliance.
BCDR planning is also a requirement for businesses in the finance industry, with bodies such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), PCI DSS Requirement 12.10.1, and others requiring organizations to have strong plans laid out to maintain compliance.
7. Build Customer Trust
Last—but certainly not least—thorough BCDR plans are often a key thing that customers look for when selecting a third-party supplier to work with and is something they’ll likely ask about during their vetting process.
And it’s easy to see why. A huge part of winning customer trust and being selected for contracts is proving that you have the right contingency strategies in place to be able to continue service during an outage or event.
Customers need to know they can rely on you for the safety and continuation of their business operations. BCDR is a step towards being able to prove that.
How To Build A BCDR Plan
It’s one thing to understand the importance of having a BCDR plan, but another thing completely to actually build and implement this plan from the ground up. So, we’ve put together a few steps to help guide you in your BCDR journey.
Every business is unique—so, you need a unique plan that’s tailored for your specific needs and requirements. So, building your plan could take some time, but it’s important that you get it right and cover all your bases, rather than rushing through it and leaving numerous gaps wide open.
Here are five steps to building your BCDR plan:
1. Assemble Your Critical Response Team
Before you get started, we’d recommend assembling a strong critical response team. This team will be in charge of planning your recovery strategies, communicating these organization-wide (both in documentation and in employee training), and carrying out your BCDR plan in the event of a disaster.
Since BCDR fuses both business functions and technology together, you might want to gather individuals and specialists across both areas to ensure both a well-rounded team and plan.
2. Conduct Risk Assessment And Business Impact Analysis
The next step when creating your BCDR plan is to assess potential risks and the impact that disruption could have on your business. You can do this by conducting both a risk assessment and business impact analysis (BIA).
Conducting a risk assessment involves identifying areas of risk and points of failure across your entire organization. This includes man-made disasters (human error, technological failures, or outages) and natural disasters (floods, fires, volcano eruptions, or adverse weather).
As part of the risk assessment, we’d recommend collaborating with teams across the entire organization, as well as stakeholders, to identify risks, prioritize which are most likely to happen, and which will have the greatest impact if they do.
Business Impact Assessment (BIA)
Conducting a business impact assessment involves quantifying the potential impact of sudden outages, downtime, or loss of function. This includes calculating estimated financial loss, impact on productivity, regulatory fines, service level agreement (SLA) breaches, and reputational damage.
The BIA also identifies the most mission-critical functions that your business relies on for its operations. This enables you to determine which functions to prioritize to recover during a disaster, as well as the resources you need to support them. In this sense, the outcome of the BIA influences your recovery strategies quite heavily.
As part of the BIA, you should also calculate your recovery metrics and key performance indicators. These include your recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO). Your RPO is the maximum amount of data that’s acceptable for you to lose during a disaster, while your RTO is the maximum amount of downtime that’s acceptable for you to experience.
3. Create Recovery Strategies
After you’ve conducted your risk assessment and business impact analysis, you can use your findings to start brainstorming and piecing together recovery strategies for each of your functions. We recommend developing strategies to compact each business risk you identified in your risk assessment—”leave no stone unturned”, as they say.
When creating these strategies, you might consider investing in a BCDR solution or disaster-recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS). These services can vary massively in scope—so, we’d recommend carefully analyzing your requirements before investing.
4. Develop And Communicate Plan
Step four is where you formalize and finalize your chosen strategies in a cohesive documented BCDR plan. This should include step-by-step directions and specific actions that need to be taken during a disaster to continue operations and restore service. It should also include the roles and responsibilities of all employees involved.
You can, of course, write the plan from scratch or make use of a template or BCDR software to create and format the plan. Whichever you decide, you should ensure that your plan is easily editable—it needs to be a living document that’s continuously updated as processes evolve.
But simply creating the plan is only half of the battle. Next, you’ll need to clearly communicate the plan to employees—ensuring that they understand their roles and responsibilities, as well as training them on how to carry them out, if necessary. You might also want to communicate the plan to any third-party suppliers that you rely on or other relevant external parties.
5. Continuously Test Plan
The final step—but by no means the end of the process—is to continuously test and revise your plan. BCDR planning is a cycle, a continuous feedback loop that grows stronger over time, rather than a stagnant document that’s created and then abandoned in a shared folder until disaster strikes.
Tests can range from simple tabletop exercises, where teams are brought together to walk through the plan step-by-step, to simulation exercises and drills, where teams are expected to carry out the plan as if a real-life disaster were actually happening.
By carrying out regular tests, you can identify any gaps within the plan, processes that aren’t quite working or achieving their objectives, employees that are unfamiliar with the plan and their roles within it, and any out-of-date processes that need updating. You can then use these findings to build improvements into your next iteration of the plan.
To sum up, BCDR is more than just a “nice-to-have”—it’s a “must-have” for businesses of all sizes, industries, and function.
BCDR protects employee safety, business operations, finances, reputation, sensitive data, and more. And, with surprises awaiting at every corner, do you really want to take the risk of not having it in place?