Most businesses are pretty good when it comes to ‘what if?’ planning – the sort of business scenario planning that puts alternative strategies in place to deal with operational changes such as an increase in the cost of supplies, or significant changes to demand.
But what happens when ‘what if?’ becomes ‘Oh my God!’ – when disaster, in one form or another, becomes a business reality?
SME’s are actually the most affected
Unfortunately, business continuity planning, crisis management and disaster recovery have been often been regarded as issues of interest only for blue chip companies and corporations.
However, it’s the small to medium-sized enterprises that could stand to lose most from an unexpected damaging or disruptive event. And the range of risks is increasing – alongside the devastation caused by flooding or fire, and physical criminal damage such as vandalism, theft or riots, businesses have also been affected in recent years by terrorist incidents and, increasingly, cyber attacks.
Even the smallest businesses are now at least partly reliant on electronic communication and digital information, and figures published by business ISP specialists Beaming suggest more than three million British businesses were compromised by cyber attacks last year.
Developing a business continuity plan
So what can you do? One important step is to put in place a business continuity plan, which can be flexible enough to be applied to whatever incident your businesses is experiencing.
Business continuity planning is broader than just disaster recovery; while disaster recovery concentrates on what an organisation does after a damaging event, business continuity also focuses on risk management, and the oversight and crisis management your business needs to stay operational during a disruption.
The bad news is that, according to research by disaster recovery specialists Databarracks, around a third of businesses still fail to adopt any sort of business continuity planning, and of those who do, fewer than half regularly test their plan.
The good news is that not only is the number of businesses actively engaging in continuity planning on the increase, but there are also a variety of resources and templates available to all businesses to get their plans in place.
Business continuity plan templates
As well as commercial specialists, you can also find wealth of free resources online, from organisations such as RISCAuthority (a research scheme backed by UK insurers) which offers a free Business Continuity Template for Small Businesses, to local councils who have a responsibility to raise awareness of business community planning to the local business community.
8 Tips for surviving the worst ‘what if?’ situations
Getting a business continuity plan together using a pre-formatted template can be pretty straightforward, and should include all the elements of crisis management and disaster recovery that will enable your business to survive significant disruption and get back on its feet as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, here are some of the top tips for ensuring your business can survive the worst of the ‘what if?’ scenarios.
- Back up your electronic data regularly and store copies off-site in a secure place. Traditional options include CD writers or DAT tape recorders, but the increasing use of Cloud applications and storage, which alleviate the risk of saving files on premises or using hardware such as PCs and external hard drives, are now more prevalent. You will also need to decide on a wider IT recovery plan – for example, will you simply replace IT equipment lost, or will you need a pre-configured system in place so that you can continue working uninterrupted using information from the back-ups?
- Ensure that important paper documents, such as contracts and employee information, are protected. If you keep hard copies, use fire resistant and waterproof storage containers. Alternatively (or in addition), you can scan the most important paper records and store them electronically.
- Keep a list of contact details (including emergency contacts where possible) for your staff, customers and suppliers off-site so that you can contact them in the event of an incident.
- As well as storing information off-site, keep an on-site emergency pack which will include your business recovery plan, a first aid kit, mobile telephone, and masks to protect against fumes and dust.
- Draw up an inventory of equipment, materials, products and any other assets to give you an overview of the business, and update it on a regular basis (at least annually). This will make it easier to work out losses and identify gaps in core resources after an incident.
- Have arrangements in place to be able to relocate your business-critical activities to a temporary base, and to be able to source essential resources. You may not be able to operate from your existing premises for weeks or even months, depending on the type of disaster.
- Be clear about what is and isn’t covered by your insurance policies, so there are no nasty surprises when you subsequently make a claim, and review your cover regularly to ensure it keeps pace with any changes in the business.
- Assign specific tasks to designated people, test the feasibility of your plan, and review it at least once a year to keep it current.
Remember, business continuity and disaster recovery may seem like a distraction, but in a time of crisis it will set apart those who have prepared well. For more information and for further help, feel free to contact Alan Becker by filling in the form below.
We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.