4 Steps for Building an Effective Business Continuity Plan
Your own, low-cost form of insurance against threats to your business
By Kevin Fitzgerald
A business continuity plan (BCP) is a comprehensive plan with contingencies for business processes, assets, human resources, and business partners in case of an emergency. It defines steps that can be taken to re-establish productivity, secure key assets, and continue operations despite the disruptions.
BCPs build confidence, cultivate resilience, and provide valuable business data to safeguard the business during challenging times. Here’s how you can start building a BCP for your organization.
What is an effective business continuity plan?
A good BCP is one that’s effective at addressing the situation it’s designed for. One thing to keep in mind is to keep it simple. What matters is that it actually functions.
Why are BCPs important? Threats to businesses are, on the whole, increasing. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, 46% of executives in APAC are actively looking for ways to streamline business functions through cost reductions and operational efficiency.
Risk management is especially important for any business. Disasters can be hard to predict. When developing a BCP, it’s good to follow a guide to ensure you’ve covered all your bases.
Here are 4 steps you can take to build an effective business continuity plan.
1. Explain why the plan exists and what the objectives are
Anyone reading your BCP should be able to quickly grasp why it is being carried out. Why is the plan necessary, and what is it designed to accomplish? A plan that fails to clearly outline the ideal results cannot guide you to safety.
Explain that BCP is a risk management strategy in the event of an issue or crisis, and make sure that everyone in your team understands why every step is being taken. This will help you act swiftly and avoid staff resistance due to misunderstandings.
For example, the Hong Kong Government announced a special working arrangement for civil servants on March 21, encouraging companies to work from home amid the recent health pandemic. However, giving employees the option to work remotely regardless of the health crisis not only increases staff morale and retention, but also prepares your company for situations like this one, which demand mass work from home arrangements.
On the other hand, failing to convey the objective of your BCP clearly to all employees can lead to stunted, laggy implementation or objections from team members.
2. Determine who will enact the plan, and who will be affected
A plan cannot be carried out successfully if you don’t know who is in charge. You should also identify key departments and people who will be responsible for each step. Nominate a champion or **champions who can lead the way for other employees.
Keep in mind that some issues or crises may result in leadership falling ill or becoming unavailable. That means every BCP should have a plan for the continuity of leadership in the absence of key decision-makers and managers. The team should know their responsibilities and understand which decisions are theirs to make.
Analyze and determine the critical functions that you need to protect in the case of an emergency. Then, define who can carry out those functions—the essential employees or team members who must be prioritized.
3. Explain what steps your company needs to take
This aspect of your BCP should address what needs to be done to mitigate risks. Be prepared for worst-case scenarios and lay out steps to follow when disaster or crisis hits.
A BCP has to be tailored to each company’s needs based on the services they offer, their business/team model, company size, and more. In your company, you may have staff working at the clients’ premises in addition to those in your office. This means this part of your workforce is already segregated. You can then put in place split team arrangements for the rest of your team based on their roles. Staff in non-client-facing roles can be asked to work from home.
During a health-related crisis, if an employee is sick, the company should already have back-up plans in place should the office need to shut down. It is important that the team is notified of work arrangements, tools that are available for use when working from home, and their questions about company policies answered on a timely basis.
4. Build a solid cloud-based foundation and maintain back-ups
To reduce the risk of physical contact during health emergencies, it is important to establish a strong cloud-based technology foundation, including software and storage. When setting up BCPs, consider in advance the financial and HR costs, and your company’s requirements for technology infrastructure and access to sensitive data.
Plan to familiarize your staff with these tools if they are not being fully utilized yet. Ideally, companies should already be using cloud tools and a virtual communications platform to ensure that employees can flexibly and smoothly transition from offline to online processes.
In the case of a health emergency, companies might shut down physical offices that are near outbreak epicenters. To ensure continuity of operations for employees based in these locations, they could enable employees to come to work virtually.
For example, in Hong Kong, the usage of cloud tools such as online communication platforms like Zoom, has surged rapidly. For some organizations, cloud-based applications are used to maintain financial records as well. Therefore, in case of a health emergency, financially managing business operations would not be disrupted.
That said, there is a risk of cybersecurity breaches when relying on cloud software–and the occurrence of such events has already spiked since the inception of the COVID-19 crisis. Consider these things: Where are your sensitive documents kept? Where is user information stored? How can you continue communicating with your clients and share documents that contain private financial information with them? Identify the most important virtual locations long before the actual catastrophe happens, so that in the case of a breach, all you need to do is follow the process.
In addition, although cloud solutions seem infallible, you must also think about data backups–how they will be maintained, and who can access them.
The intention behind building a BCP for the company is not just to maintain business operations during emergencies, but also to take your employees’ needs into consideration. By treating staff with kindness, they’ll feel psychologically empowered and motivated to continue doing good work, even when apart. Take time to explain to your team that these measures are in place to ensure the safety of the team and the broader community, and remember to always be prepared.
About the Author
Kevin is Managing Director, Asia at Xero, where he leads the growth and performance of the Asian business, spending his time between the Singapore and Hong Kong offices. Kevin and his team help small businesses and their advisors across Asia embrace cloud technology to run productive, more profitable businesses.
Header image courtesy of JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.