“When a disaster occurs, it often reveals the true measure of an organization’s preparedness.” – Rich Schiesser (Infrastructure Expert)
Unfortunately, no matter how well a business is doing, unexpected downtime is inevitable and unavoidable. Many e-commerce businesses experience unexpected downtime during times of high internet traffic. Just last year, the internet superstore Amazon, experienced a 40 minute website blackout that cost the company over $5 million, according to VentureBeat. Sadly, this type of blackout occurs many times during Black Friday sales and Semi-Annual sales when servers are inundated beyond capacity.
However, web outages aren’t the only causes of business downtime. Superstorms, strong winds, earthquakes, national disasters, power outages, cyber theft and floods are all common threats that affect businesses throughout the nation. Although these threats can’t always be contained, the effects they have on businesses can. The one item proven to significantly shorten downtime in the wake of a catastrophe is a continuity plan.
What’s Does a Continuity Plan Contain?
A business continuity plan (BCP) contains information about an organization’s weaknesses and a plan to overcome each weakness, should it become exposed. These plans contain actionable steps that every department within an organization is to follow. Although smaller businesses hand out these BCPs to every team member, larger organizations leave them with team leaders and C-suite members. When a threat arises, the ones possessing the BCP will immediately spring it into action. This fast response shortens downtime from days to mere hours in most cases.
As to what an actual plan contains, it varies by industry and organization, but you can expect to see the following elements overall:
- Business Impact Analysis (BIA) – This analysis defines which functions are critical and non-critical. The conclusion helps businesses to identify which operations should be first to spring into action after a crisis.
- Recovery Options – This part of the plan explains which options can be used to overcome damaged operations. It usually lists more than one option in case the first isn’t viable. Normally, recovery options include ways to access company data and customers. It also includes the RTO (Recovery Time Objective) which is how long the business needs to run from the plan until it can resume normal operations.
- Threat and Risk Analysis (TRA) – This outlines each threat (weakness) and what steps need to be followed in the event of each one.
Once the plan is put together, organizations normally drill their team to make sure they all know what to do. This ranges from simple question and answer sessions to full on exercises. Periodically, the BCP will require maintenance to ensure that each option is still viable, if it isn’t, the plan should be amended and the staff re-drilled.
Why are Some Businesses Still Without a Continuity Plan
After Hurricane Sandy, Fox News reported that 25 percent of the businesses affected have ceased to reopen. This was solely due to the fact that they were without continuity plans. In the face of insurmountable odds, a continuity plan containing alternative supply, distribution, sales and customer service backups can help a business continue running, even if the premise is completely destroyed.
Sadly, after Sandy, 83 percent of businesses are still without plans. Experts have discovered that this is due to a mixture of elements, with the most common being technical inexperience. Some business owners just aren’t tech savvy, so they don’t know what options they have available in the event of a crisis. Others are new in business and aren’t sure how to go about drafting a plan.
A Google search provides a vast amount of advice on continuity planning both from the government and from professional organizations. If running your small business is already taking all your focus, and creating a continuity plan seems like a recipe for overwhelm, think about getting some help. Virtual staff can support you in a variety of ways that you may not have considered.
A skilled assistant from a company like Worldwide101 can free up your time by taking over key tasks, so that you can take time out to work on planning. They can do research to help you find advice, help draft the plan, and organize a legal lookover. And if heaven forbid the worst should ever happen, an assistant can help you implement your plan, as well as offering phone and email support, effectively keeping your customer base intact.
About the Author: Mark Franklin (@markfranklinca) is a small business consultant based in Toronto, who helps small business owners to work more effectively.