There are any number of things that could happen to disrupt operations, and being able to keep critical tasks on track can have a significant impact on an organization and those who rely on it. That’s why business continuity planning is just as critical to risk management as having effective security measures in place is. The best practices for implementing a business continuity plan for your organization all revolve around remaining ready for both the expected and the unexpected.
Why Is Business Continuity Planning so Important?
There are several events—some obvious, some less so—that could disrupt an organization’s ability to remain fully operational. Technology fails, weather can cause widespread outages, and global pandemics can force organizations to completely change how they work. Failing to plan for and implement a business continuity program could impact customer service, put critical data and systems at risk, lead to financial loss, and ultimately damage your reputation.
ISO 22301 outlines requirements for developing and implementing a business continuity program suitable for the unique nature and structure of individual organizations. By following ISO’s recommended Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle, your organization can use a structured approach to continuity business preparedness.
Best Practice #1: Planning and Establishing Your BCP
The first step to developing a suitable business continuity plan is to clarify the needs of the organization (and all stakeholders impacted by continuity) and the expectations of the plan.
Perform internal research and discovery to answer the following questions:
- Who are the stakeholders and parties that need to be considered?
- What critical role does the organization play?
- What services does the organization provide?
- What legal and regulatory requirements need to be considered?
- What types of disruptions are primary concerns?
- What departments need special consideration?
- What data, systems, and networks are most critical to operations and objectives?
- What is the timeframe within which a disruption must be recovered from?
Use the answers to these and other relevant questions to define policies, objectives, and procedures that will form the foundation of the business continuity plan. Objectives should be:
- Consistent with the developed policy and internal requirements
- Measurable and kept up-to-date
- Communicated to the appropriate parties
- Monitored consistently
Identify leadership to oversee the program, other roles, and responsibilities that need to be assigned, and be prepared to make changes to the plan as needed later on.
Best Practice #2: Implementing and Operating Your BCP
The business continuity plan, as implemented, should address the risks and ensure the organization’s ability to withstand disruptions. Employ solutions that do the following:
- Reduce the chances or duration of a disruption
- Mitigate the impact of a disruption
- Support the continued availability of resources
- Meet or exceed the requirements for timely continuation and recovery of activities or services in the case of a disruption
- Are appropriate for the nature and severity of risks to the organization
- Have an acceptable benefit-cost ratio
It’s also essential to identify what resources are necessary to successfully implement and maintain business continuity. These may include but are not limited to the following:
- Digital infrastructure, technology, and data
- Physical infrastructure, equipment, and materials
- Transportation and logistics
- Personnel, service providers, and partners
- Monetary budget
Finally, successfully implemented procedures should:
- Include clear, specific steps to follow during a disruption, but be flexible enough to adapt to changing needs
- Be focused on the impact of incidents that could cause disruption and minimizing that impact
- Detail a structured approach to responding to disruptions, including the responsibilities of response teams
- Include steps for issuing warnings and notifying parties as appropriate
- Restoring operations to normal following disruption
These solutions and resources will contribute to the successful execution of procedures necessary to support the goals of the business continuity plan.
Best Practice #3: Monitoring and Evaluating Your BCP
Monitoring and evaluation are critical best practices to ensure that a business continuity program is effective at mitigating disruptions and providing optimal response and recovery.
Planning for monitoring should include:
- Determining what needs to be monitored and evaluated
- How monitoring and evaluation should be carried out
- Who will be responsible for performing and overseeing monitoring and evaluation tasks
- An auditing schedule and record retention guidelines
The results of audits and other monitoring and evaluation activities should be presented to management for review to determine efficacy, issues, and the need for changes or corrections.
Feedback on evaluation and audit results inform continuous improvement of the program.
Best Practice #4: Continuously Improve Your BCP
The quantitative and qualitative results of audits, feedback from reviews, and documentation related to the performance of the business continuity program should all be used to contribute to ongoing improvement. Things to take into consideration when making improvements include:
- Nonconformities that need to be corrected
- Changing needs and priorities
- Opportunities for improved solutions
- Redundant or ineffective procedures
Importantly, this ongoing improvement is not a final step, but a cyclical one; it should feed back into any new planning, implementation, and monitoring undertaken in the future.
What Is Considered a Disruption to Business?
The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) defines disruption as: “an incident, whether anticipated or unanticipated, that causes an unplanned, negative deviation from the expected delivery of products and services according to an organization’s objectives.”
Possible disruptions include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Technical – Network outages, the failure of internal systems, and the disruption of external services that the organization relies on could impact operations or services that the organization provides.
- Natural disasters – Disasters could impact both physical and digital infrastructure, prevent access to facilities, and could disrupt or halt operations.
- Personnel shortages – If personnel with essential skills cannot be identified, or existing personnel become unable to complete tasks, it could impact critical teams, departments, or operations organization-wide.
Critically, this list is far from exhaustive. It omits one of the biggest factors that can contribute to downtime—cyberattacks. Any effective continuity program needs to account for security, as well.
The Benefits of Business Continuity Planning
The primary goal of a business continuity program is to prepare your organization to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disruptions. It keeps all your operations on track and can also:
- Contribute to achieving the organization’s strategic goals
- Ensure those who rely on the organization have access to what they need
- Support the organization’s reputation
- Mitigate financial, legal, and security risks
Simply put, business continuity planning protect the interests of all stakeholders.
Build Upon Existing Frameworks for a Robust BCP
The ISO 22301 document provides detailed guidance for planning and maintaining an effective business continuity program, but it’s not the only option. Objective 12 of the HITRUST CSF also details business continuity management best practices, with controls that map directly to NIST standards. There is no one-size-fits-all plan that’s perfect for every organization, but RSI Security will help your organization develop an effective, appropriate plan.
Prepare for Unexpected Disruptions
Given the prevalence of security threats, natural disasters, outages, and other challenges, business continuity planning is a critical aspect of risk management. An effective program requires planning, implementation, evaluation, and ongoing improvement. Following the best practices to establish an effective program will help protect your organization’s reputation and assets in addition to preventing the prolonged disruption of operations. RSI Security will help you manage your organization’s continuity program so you can stay focused on your mission.
Contact RSI Security today to chart business continuity plan steps that set you up for success.