A Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is a roadmap to enable a business to continue operations under adverse conditions, such as an unforeseen disaster or other unplanned interruption to the business. This includes:
Natural Disasters, such as: bad weather, flooding, earthquake, disease, etc.
Man-made business interruptions, such as: labor strikes, power outages, arson, theft, terrorism, trade embargo, etc.
Any other identified risk to the business, such as: critical supplier closes their doors unexpectedly.
Business continuity planning is a process of identifying the potential risks to your business and then evaluating how to prepare for these so that if they do happen, your business can continue to be viable. This means that you are still able to operate at some level needed to meet customer needs and to be able to resume normal operations at a defined point in the future. Lack of adequate BCP means that a disaster could put you out of business permanently.
This is not the same thing as IT disaster recovery. IT disaster recovery involves making sure your IT systems can continue to function and your data is still available in the event that your primary systems go down; if a fire wipes out your server room for example or a massive blackout disables your primary network routers. Typically your IT service provider will provide you with options for backup hosting at other sites as part of Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP). Large companies with big IT departments in different locations can manage DRP internally by having backup servers at different sites.
DRP is an important part of BCP, but BCP goes beyond just IT systems and looks at the entire business structure. It is critical that the IT system continue to function after a disaster, but if there is no one available or able to use these systems then how will the business continue to operate? BCP seeks to answer the big-picture questions such as:
In the event of a disaster where will your people work from?
If downed trees and power lines cut off major roadways needed for distributing your product what will you do?
If a swine flu outbreak keeps 3/4 of your staff at home can your business still function?
This is what BCP looks at; being prepared for the unplanned interruptions. Making advanced preparations just in case of disaster is good business, but it does involve some cost, which can be significant. This is where cost-conscious organizations and businesses with limited budgets have major concerns. The result can be avoidance or undue risk-taking; hoping for the best because it just costs too much to be adequately prepared. This need not be the case. Spending a lot of money to set up a BCP does not make it more value added nor better for your business. Taking a logical approach that makes sense for your business and understanding the risks does make a BCP more value-added.
To be effective and value-added the level of preparation needs to be evaluated against the potential risk. This is what a good BCP plan will evaluate. The plan needs to be created after carefully looking at each critical business operation and identifying the associated level of risk should this operation go down. In addition, there needs to be a thorough evaluation of the options for maintaining business operations in the event of a disaster; i.e. backup or contingency plans. Based on this evaluation (typically know as a Business Impact Analysis or BIA), an effective and realistic BCP can be created which will effectively help the business to survive and operate during an unforeseen interruption or disaster.
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