Business Continuity: What, why and how.

What is Business Continuity?

Business continuity management has been around for ages. Think of Noah’s ark. Although many definitions exist, in essence it is about trying to avoid bad things happening to your business but having a plan if they do.

This can cover a lot of things such as taking out business insurance, adding extra security measures or even changing the way you do things. It can reveal the need to create a specific plan e.g. how to work elsewhere in case your premises are out of action.

Since you cannot plan for every possible threat or spend a fortune on stuff you might never need, some tips and techniques have been developed to help you prioritise the planning aspect;

  • Identify the really important things you do and what things you need to do them e.g. you decide customer deliveries is more critical than marketing, training etc. You only have one delivery lorry. You get it serviced regularly and have arrangements to borrow a friend’s lorry at very short notice.

  • Plan for the effects of disruptions and don’t get too bogged down in the causes e.g. your plan is in place to borrow another lorry at short notice. So it doesn’t matter if it breaks down, gets clamped, stolen or damaged.

In the past business continuity management used to focus on threats to IT equipment and computer data. Nowadays it is recognised that you must consider all your crucial resources such as people, information, supply chains and reputation etc.

Why do Business Continuity?

Modern business is tough and new threats are joining the old ones; computer viruses, theft, vandalism, severe weather, IT failure and floods. Terrorism and tornadoes make the news but quiet disasters happen more often, such as the leak that sprung over the weekend or the road works that have cut your phone line.

New ways of doing business put greater pressure on your ability to deliver. Everything depends on computers, supply chains are stretched across different countries and many functions have been outsourced. There seems to be less staff and more regulations. Journalists and lawyers are quick to pounce on every mistake. Customers can compare prices and switch suppliers at the click of a mouse.

Reasons to do some business continuity management are:

  • Ensure the business survives disasters
  • Reduce the costs of disruptions and emergencies
  • Gain advantage over competitors by marketing your reliability to customers

A lot customers now want to see evidence of business continuity planning. Sainsburys supermarket has starting vetting its small suppliers. The recent Civil Contingencies Act requires health authorities, emergency services and councils to start assessing the business continuity plans of their many thousands of suppliers.

How to do Business Continuity?

Ensuring the things your business needs (people, equipment, premises etc) are resilient is not an overnight task. It requires some deep analysis of your business to begin with and then a programme of testing and re-appraisal to ensure you are keeping up with change. Eg. New equipment, new products, new competition, new laws, your friends sells his lorry!

Large companies can employ staff dedicated to risk management and business continuity planning. Medium sized companies can kickstart their planning using consultants. (The Business Continuity Institute can provide a list.) One or two day training courses also exist.

Business continuity management is even more important for small businesses because their margins and budgets cannot withstand heavy knocks. There is some free information available on the internet inlcuding templates and guidance documents.

About the author – Stephen Belshaw works at providers of the Continuity Check; an affordable online tool to check your own disaster planning arrangements and those of your key suppliers.

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