Having a business continuity plan is one thing, but having one that really works and covers all angles is another story. Disasters and disruptive events can occur at any time, and if one is a firm believer in Murphy's Law, then they’re most likely to occur at the most inopportune of times. It makes perfect sense that if the plan wasn't well written or was outdated or ineffective, it may even result in a situation far worse than if one had no plan at all. Find below five key elements of an effective business continuity plan.
- Understand your business.
One of the pillars of ISO 22301, the International Standard for business continuity is to "know and understand one’s business". What does that mean? It means exactly what it says: "know and understand one’s business". To break it down a little, it means knowing what your business does, what is required to keep the business going and what the key entities in the business are. The five vital entities are staff (people), assets, services (internal or external), facilities or departments (locations) and services (vendors). These five entities are inextricably linked to and dependent upon each other. By analysing these five entities, one can get to know and understand the business. There are also other factors, like the company’s vision and goals, but these five entities are the most important ones to consider.
- Assemble a clearly defined and competent team.
People are the greatest assets in any business. In the midst of a crisis, having the wrong team can prove to be a major disaster. Much like a winning recipe, in a business continuity plan, each member has his/her place and needs to complement the other. A plan manager needs to be able to manage his teams effectively. Having team members that can handle duress, take direction and make rational decisions in the ‘heat of battle’ is not only an advantage, but essential. Each member should know exactly what his/her role is, which should be clearly explained and defined.
- Conduct regular and effective testing.
Even the most well thought out plans can go horribly wrong. Things change every day and regular tests – both table top and live simulations – need to be done. When simulations are done, one can find weaknesses in the plan and make adjustments to it. Policies and procedures can be adjusted to prevent disruption in the first place. A team that is well drilled will perform better when needed. Crucial to this is taking their suggestions and encouraging involvement. Remember also that for compliance purposes regular simulation is a must for business continuity plans.
- Create a detailed yet simple business continuity plan.
A well thought out and detailed plan is vital. Imagine missing a crucial step from a plan, e.g. ‘Pull the safety pin out of the fire extinguisher before using it’. This could be more than embarrassing but could also cost a life. Provide as much detail as possible in a clear, well-structured way. Include documents and manuals, pictures and even video clips. This can be important in a live disruptive event.
- Ensure reliable, effective and real-time communication.
During a live event, communication is vital. The plan manager must be able to communicate with his team members timeously and effectively. Technology like chat, SMS, email and push notifications make communication easier and mobile. Changes midstream can be communicated and accepted. Vital data and information can be relayed to relevant team members.Use software and technology to make this possible.
While there is much more to business continuity planning, the five elements mentioned above are key to effective business continuity planning. One has to also have effective leadership and support and an adequate budget. Most of all, use a simple yet effective approach.