In early October 2016, the southeast United States braced for what would prove to be one of the costliest hurricanes of this decade. Hurricane Matthew inflicted $15 billion in damages along the Atlantic coastline and left over 2 million people without power in its aftermath.
Recovery from the storm took months, and businesses faced numerous challenges including rebuilding, restoring power, bringing systems back online, recovering data, meeting customer needs, and managing a displaced workforce.
Communities pulled together to make sure people had food, shelter, and basic provisions. And businesses began implementing their disaster recovery plans to minimize economic losses and protect sensitive data.
In the wake of natural disasters like Matthew, companies with strong business continuity plans will weather the storm and emerge with critical functions, data, and customer support processes intact. But for those that fail to plan effectively? The lights may remain out long after power is restored.
Why Some Business Continuity Plans Don’t Survive the Storm
Business continuity planning requires long-term vision and careful analysis. A strong plan will include risk measurement, impact and threat analysis, impact scenario preparation, IT disaster recovery, data protection, testing, and more.
Ineffective business continuity plans often fall prey to one of two errors:
1. Relegating business continuity planning to the IT department.
While IT plays a vital role in developing a business continuity plan, this area should be a holistic business concern. When you fail to include executives and other departments in the process, you overlook key business functions, interdependencies, and support needs that fall outside the scope of IT. So you end up with a plan that gets you back online but doesn’t restore the way your business actually works—leading to employees who can’t do their jobs and customers who aren’t happy.
2. Not including IT early enough in the planning.
The flip side of that problem happens when the executive office develops a business continuity plan or chooses business continuity software tools without consulting IT. That’s a recipe for disaster. Once your IT manager explains that your infrastructure can’t support the software you’ve chosen or that it doesn’t execute critical functions, you’ll have to chuck your carefully composed short list and start over. Or, IT will spend significant time and money trying to implement a plan management made without fully considering the technical implications. Worst of all, a disaster happens, and the best laid plans don’t actually get the business back to work, because software isn’t connected to the network or to employees or to customers.
Successful business continuity management must develop and maintain current, actionable recovery strategies, meet compliance requirements, and ensure seamless operations and processes both for the business as a whole.
That means anticipating problems, putting both proactive and reactive measures in place, and making sure your employees can easily learn and implement the plan and its associated software.
Key Components of Your Business Continuity Plan
Business continuity isn’t just about getting your ERP back online. It’s also about managing assets, human resources, business partners, customer support, and employee needs. Developing a strong plan will require input from key individuals at every level of the organization as you work through the following steps:
Establish scope—What key business areas, critical functions, and support needs should the plan cover?
Assess internal and external risks—Include risks caused by natural disasters (hurricane, earthquake, fire, flood), smaller local events (power loss, server crash, health crises), and technology disruptions (computer viruses, telecommunications failure, security breaches).
Perform impact analysis—Determine what impact each scenario could have on your organization and identify any measures in place to prevent or respond to the threat.
Ensure compliance—Businesses operate under different regulations and compliance requirements based on industry. Be sure your plan meets the guidelines for data protection and risk mitigation in your sector.
Create disaster recovery protocols—Disaster recovery plans should cover priorities, recovery times, and restoration protocols for hardware, applications, software access, and data.
Avoid silos—No single person or single department should have access to your plan. Document the details of your plan, as well as of your systems and software, and make sure that key stakeholders across multiple departments and multiple locations have access. That way, if one key person falls ill, or if one location goes offline, you will still have access to your plan and, more importantly, your software systems.
The Role of Software in Business Continuity Planning
To execute your plan effectively, you’ll need employee-buy-in at every level of the organization, from the executive suite to the mailroom. The right software can help you develop both proactive and reactive strategies to make sure you’re ready when disaster strikes.
Let’s look at six ways software helps you prepare for a crisis:
1. Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment
Identify key processes, document critical functions, monitor interactions with customers and suppliers, and assess vulnerabilities by capturing and tracking data related to your daily operations. Ensure you have access to and visibility into this data, so you can catch issues quickly before they escalate into an emergency.
2. Strategy Development
Generate communication plans, response protocols, and recovery policies that can be accessed from mobile devices as well as desktops in the event of an emergency.
3. Diversified Hosting
With the emergence of cloud hosting, you can mitigate the risk of having your systems go down. You’ll need to ensure that security meets your organization’s unique requirements, but it may not be necessary to host your applications and data in a server in your physical space anymore. Switching to the cloud will help to protect your business against major local crises.
Your plan isn’t viable if it hasn’t been tested. Schedule regular business continuity tests to make sure your team knows exactly what to do in every scenario and that you can meet all of your objectives both before and after an emergency.
5. Incident Management
When problems happen, you need a way to track and manage your team’s response. With the right software application, you can collaborate online, communicate effectively, and keep your recovery plan on track. Email can help do this, but you will probably need the ability to communicate on actual issues (in a software like JIRA) or via another tool (like Slack). This redundancy ensures communication will be possible, even if your email servers are inaccessible.
6. Emergency Notification
You need a way to contact team members and those responsible for implementing recovery and response procedures when disaster strikes. Your software should provide emergency notifications to make sure everyone receives the information they need as quickly as possible—via push notifications, automated text messages, or in another way. Explore these possibilities proactively, instead of searching for solutions in the midst of an emergency.
Is Off-the-Shelf Software the Right Solution For You?
Because software plays a key role in executing your business continuity plan, you need to be absolutely confident that you can count on it in a crisis. Some companies find that an off-the-shelf solution delivers the functionality they need—but you should be aware of some potential hang-ups before you take the plunge.
Here are a few of the most common problems encountered with business continuity software:
Limited customization—If the product doesn’t align with your established business processes, you may be handicapped as you try to recover your operations.
Integration problems—Can the software integrate with your HR database or ERP? If not, you may have problems with data transfers and integrity, or with accessing data at key points.
Complicated interface—Complicated software discourages user adoption. Even if the product has all the functions you need, it may not be a good fit if your employees feel frustrated when they use it. If that’s the case, then productivity will plummet if you’re forced into that software during an emergency.
Expense—Consider not only initial purchase costs, but also upgrade costs, maintenance fees, add-ons, and monthly fees for cloud solutions. Is the cost you’re paying merited by the risk you’re mitigating?
Static capabilities—The product may perform beautifully now, but does it have the capacity to evolve along with your business?
Lack of training and support—No matter how wonderful the software is, it won’t help in an emergency if people don’t use it. And they’ll only use it if they feel comfortable with it. Lack of training and support can leave your team unprepared and disengaged from your plan when they need it most.
Another problem is that businesses sometimes expect the software to do the planning for them. Remember, software is not a magic wand. It can help you develop and execute your strategy, but it is not—in itself—a comprehensive plan. You still need to assess risks, identify priorities, and conduct a business impact analysis to determine what procedures need to be in place.
The Bottom Line
Before you choose any software—or choose to build a custom enterprise-level software solution that accounts—ask these questions that help you plan for business continuity:
* Will it function within our IT infrastructure?
* Is it hosted in-house or cloud-based?
* What encryption methods does it use to recover data?
* Does it meet my industry’s compliance regulations?
* Is the interface simple and easy to use?
* Does the company offer training and support?
* Does it include a strong analytics function?
* Can it be accessed from any device?
* Does the company promote a culture of innovation?
* How quickly can the system recover if there is a failure?
* What backup protocols does it use?
When you know the answers to these questions, you’ll have a good foundation for choosing the right software solution for your company—whether it’s software specifically for crisis management, or software specifically designed to continue working through an emergency.
And you’ll be in the best possible position for recovery when the equivalent of the next Hurricane Matthew strikes in your neighborhood.