What Is a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) & What Goes into One?
- Human Resources
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 04/27/2023
Table of Contents
A Business Continuity Plan (BCP) can help protect your business in the event of a natural disaster, cyberattack, or some other event that disrupts business functions. While it resembles a disaster recovery plan in some respects, a BCP document is more all-encompassing. It details how a business makes sure key assets and processes can continue to function, regardless of the nature of the emergency.
In other words, a business continuity plan is essential for every business, large and small, already up and functioning or in the startup phase.
Any possible large-scale disruption can translate into a drop in revenue and unanticipated higher costs. But there are many ways in which a natural disaster (or even a smaller scale accident) can affect employees, customers, third-party providers, and other key stakeholders.
That's why a business continuity strategy is so vital to the future of your company.
What Goes Into Business Continuity Planning
No one can predict how future events and conditions might upend your business operations. The best strategy, therefore, is designing a comprehensive document that covers as many potential risks as possible—those unique to your industry as well as other local, national, or international situations that might also disrupt the smooth running of a business.
This type of contingency planning seeks to evaluate how specific threats might affect business functions and find the right risk management approach. It also aims to set safeguards in place to lessen the effects of those potential risks, and—when possible—to put those safeguards to the test in a "mock disaster" event.
Generally speaking, a comprehensive BCP should outline:
- A range of possible risk/threat scenarios
- Which business functions should take the highest priority
- Who will make key operational decisions in the event of an emergency
- Who will handle internal and external communications
- The makeup of a core "continuity team," including people across various departments (IT, facilities, the executive staff, HR, finance, etc.)
With an established plan, businesses can feel more confident in their ability to continue serving customers even in the midst of a crisis. The goal is to keep those customers, rather than lose them to competing organizations, and to minimize the amount of downtime a business undergoes. To help accomplish this, a BCP should detail every action a business must take—prior to a disaster, during the crisis itself, and in the all-important aftermath.
The Importance and Benefits of a BCP
A well-crafted BCP acknowledges that unforeseen events can affect your business, and that it's necessary to plan viable contingencies to offset potential harm. It also demonstrates an understanding of the complex web of systems, technological and otherwise, that demand close attention, even when things are running smoothly.
In our digital age, the rise of cyberattacks on businesses is reason enough to put together a solid continuity plan. Nearly all businesses retain a degree of sensitive customer data (personal information, credit card numbers, etc.). Cyberthieves are constantly devising strategies to breach data security.
When these bad actors succeed, your business can undergo immediate negative consequences and further damage down the road—all the more reason to actively pursue a viable BCP. These negative consequences can include:
Loss of revenue. Downtime for a compromised business website can hinder sales or prompt website visitors to fulfill their business needs elsewhere. Making matters worse, many companies are falling prey to ransomware attacks, where they must pay a hefty sum to either recover data or to prevent the publication of sensitive information.
Damage to a reputation. You work hard to maintain high brand awareness and a reputation for quality in your products or services. When a cyberattack occurs, there's always the potential for negative publicity for a business, which—while perhaps not strictly quantifiable in terms of dollars and cents—can do serious damage to a brand in the future.
Expenses. In addition to any funds spent in response to the event itself, a significant data breach can result in fines under various state and federal laws governing customer privacy.
Lost customers. News of a successful cyberattack can dissuade customers from continuing to use a business in the future and generate more difficulty in new customer acquisition efforts.
Given these scenarios, it should be clear there are benefits to business continuity planning and that the time to create a plan is now, not at some future date. Risk management is strengthened as a result, and potential damage is lessened in terms of network downtime or other disruptions to a company's technology systems.
Business Continuity Planning and Impact Analysis
In connection with a BCP, it's very useful to undertake a business impact analysis. This type of close study helps pinpoint the impact of a halt to business operations and helps planners create responses and determine a hierarchy of priorities in the event of a disaster.
Companies that perform a business impact analysis are generally better prepared for unforeseen events that loom on the horizon.
Creating a Business Continuity Plan Checklist
Necessary elements of a good business continuity plan checklist may differ somewhat from company to company. But certain action steps figure into any such plan. A comprehensive checklist can include:
- Precise knowledge of where resources and equipment are stored
- Ongoing data backups
- Training and education on disaster planning
- Naming individuals who will lead an emergency response team
- Planning for power outages, both temporary and long-term
- Managing interruptions to data networks, servers, and mobile devices
- Ideas for re-energizing workplace productivity following a disaster
- Preparing information to disseminate among customers, vendors, local authorities, etc.
Knowing what goes into a continuity plan can ease the process of putting such a plan in place as soon as possible.
How To Create a Business Continuity Plan
What steps can a business take in creating an effective business continuity plan? In addition to a business impact analysis, it's vital to:
- Categorize key business functions and design steps to recover those functions
- Establish a team with the authority and experience to handle business disruptions
- Train those individuals on appropriate policies and best practices in event of a disruption (and test them on their newly acquired skills)
- Compile relevant contact information
- Identify where backup data is stored
- Determine who will take charge of communications
Generally, there is no need for extensive documentation or a long, overly detailed BCP. The key is putting together sufficient information so everyone knows what resources are available for responding to a disaster, who is named to participate in that response, and the possible expenditures involved.
Business Continuity Plan vs Disaster Recovery Plan
A disaster recovery plan, while similar in many respects to a BCP, is typically more focused on specific functions such as information technology. In many cases, key individuals are tasked with addressing the challenges that arise from a disaster, natural or otherwise.
Disaster plans are designed for a more efficient reaction to disruptions, while a BCP is a document created and implemented before the fact.
Protect Your Business by Planning Ahead
Businesses must defend themselves against unforeseen disruptions in systems and processes, such as customer service and employee payroll. Putting together a BCP has the advantage of planning ahead of time, rather than in the middle of a crisis. A strong BCP addresses a wide range of concerns while also identifying those within the organization with the best knowledge and training to assume responsibility in such an event.
A strong BCP enables businesses to keep functioning even during a potentially cataclysmic event. It helps mitigate potential losses in funds, resources, and the all-important customer base. Just as importantly, it can help safeguard a company's reputation for being present when customers and others need them the most.
We all hope that disasters and other disruptions happen as infrequently as possible. But when they do occur, businesses that plan ahead will likely emerge stronger in the long run.