How to Develop a Business Continuity Plan

Today’s world is plagued with natural disasters, power outages and civil unrest that can interrupt or shut down your business. Are you prepared?

By Paul Hyman

When Hurricane Sandy took a $65 billion toll on New York and New Jersey last October, flooding streets, knocking out power, and demolishing infrastructure, it’s impossible to know how many businesses were prepared for the devastation.

But disasters like Sandy are exactly what comprehensive business continuity (BC) plans are designed to protect against. And it is very likely there are an awful lot of companies out there that are now considering how they might deal with the very next disaster– natural or human-made.

The number one reason to develop a BC plan, if your company doesn’t already have one, is to keep the critical services up and running in the event of an outage or interruption, say experts, making sure the plan is in place, that it’s regularly tested, and that it’s up-to-date. It’s like having a spare tire in your car, they say, or a Plan B.

The goal is to protect seven resources that are the key to your business: facilities, staff, technology, machinery, transportation, critical records and supply chain.

Before any planning is started, the leadership team, which should include the CIO, must determine what are the critical processes that need to be protected, says Michael Emerson, senior director of infrastructure at Citrix in Fort Lauderdale. The plan can’t be all encompassing.

The next step, Emerson says, is to make sure you have buy-in from the executive leadership team and that the plan, which takes considerable time and effort, is a priority for the company. And then start building your team. Make sure they understand that their level of commitment to the program needs to be strong to make it successful. Having people plan for something that might never happen is extremely difficult when people have deliverables due daily, he says. Getting the commitment from the executive leadership team sends the right message, sets the tone and helps prioritize BC efforts.

John Linse, an advisory solutions principal for EMC’s Assured Availability Services Group within EMC Global Services, who blogs about business continuity, recalls working with a Midwest company that didn’t have a BC plan. The company had two offices, which housed about 2,600 employees, located on both sides of an expressway with a walk bridge connecting the two buildings. One morning, a power outage knocked out electricity in one of the buildings. Because no BC plan was in place, a security guard made the decision that, due to the lack of power and air conditioning, he would send home the building’s 1,300 employees.

“That decision--made by an $8.75-an-hour security guard--cost the company about $1.2 million in expenses,” says Linse. “If there had been a plan in place, employees might have been prioritized by who needs to be at work and who doesn’t, work space could have been set up on a temporary basis in the second building’s conference rooms, and a back-to-work plan could have kept the business going that day. When we talked to the CIO and COO afterwards, you can be sure they were ready to begin creating a plan, knowing what can happen in the absence of one.”

This article was originally published on 01-25-2013
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