The importance of business continuity

If your business is hit by a sudden event - a cyber attack, say, or a flood - would you be equipped to pick yourself back up from where you left off and continue? That’s what business continuity (BC) is all about. Here’s why you should embed BC in your business.

What is business continuity?
BC is formally defined by the International Organization for Standardization, the independent body that develops standards, as the “capability of the organisation to continue delivery of products or services at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident”.

In plainer language, business continuity is about taking a common-sense approach to your business, putting the necessary steps in place so that should something happen, you’re in a great position to recover from an event. Keeping your staff safe, continuing to trade and being resilient in the process.

What kind of events might affect business continuity?
It depends on the sector in which you operate, but examples of events that could affect your business include:

Natural disasters like flooding
Reputation management - during a product recall, or an instance of negative publicity
Theft of equipment
Power cut
Cyber attack
Outbreak of diseases
Supplier suddenly going bust

Why is BC important?
It’s crucial that you implement a business continuity plan - it will give you a thorough plan to protect yourself from a variety of risks, whether it’s an IT system failure, arson attack or something else. If you’re a small business then a BC plan becomes even more crucial - in larger firms you are unlikely to have vast resources, so will need to act fast in the event of a crisis.

Failing to have a plan could significantly impact your business. Whether it’s loss of suppliers, customers or reputation, theft of equipment you can’t afford to replace, damage to business premises or, in the very worst cases, the complete shutdown of your firm, BC can help you plan accordingly to meet and manage these risks.

How can I set up a business continuity plan?
Start by assessing your risk to business discontinuity. How likely are you to be hit by a particular crisis? Do you live in a flood risk area, for example? Do you work in a major city that could be a terrorist target? Is your IT system very old? Look at your situation and decide what your risk level is, and then the kind of incidents you might face.

Next, work out what the impact of these incidents would be. If you were to be flooded, look at what you have on the ground floor of your premises, as these would be the first to be hit. If a supplier suddenly ceased trading, would you be able to continue to provide to your customers? Assessing the impact of the incidents you are most at risk of facing will help you shape a BC plan.

BC plan template
Armed with this information, start creating a plan. Here’s a template you could work from:

Main risks to our business - include here the key threats facing your operations
Our critical business functions - which areas of your business do you definitely need to get back up and running asap should a crisis hit?
Immediate actions to take - something happens. How do you respond?
Key contacts - who will lead the response in your business?
Contact details - you will need to tell people about any emergency, including employees, insurers, suppliers, shareholders and customers
Premises map - a map of your building so you know where everything is

Some more things to think about...

Staff training
Depending on the risks facing your business, you might want to train up some members of your team so they can form a business response taskforce should a crisis happen.

Business insurance
It’s a good idea to take out business insurance to cover you in the event of a serious incident. Depending on the kind of cover you take out your premises could be covered and injuries to staff could be too.

Test your plan
You have a plan, but does it work? While you can never be completely sure how an emergency will play out, the key to testing out your BC plan is to rehearse it then rehearse it some more.