According to Mercer, 51 percent of businesses globally do not have a business continuity plan for emergencies or disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic. This is rather unsettling news, considering crises such as pandemics, hurricanes, wildfires, cyberattacks and active shooters are likely to become more prevalent in coming years. Organizations need to be able to adapt to rapidly shifting realities, and perhaps the best way to increase agility is to form an effective business continuity plan. A business continuity plan can help any organization, big or small, maintain resiliency in the face of crisis.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan is a strategy that outlines how an organization will continue operating during a crisis or any sort of disruption. The plan should include contingencies for all essential business functions, such as manufacturing and supply chains, IT, finance, human resources and public relations.
How does a business continuity plan create resiliency?
Resiliency is the ability to recover quickly from difficulty or disaster, which is precisely what a business continuity plan is built to do. With an effective plan, your organization should be able to weather any type of crisis and quickly return to business as usual.
For example, organizations that had planned for a pandemic scenario prior to COVID-19 were likely better prepared to adjust supply chains, shift to remote work or modify their business models, depending on the industry. Continuity planning involves considering a variety of scenarios and forming strategies for how your organization will continue functioning in each situation.
If your team can no longer work out of the office, does your organization have the systems and technology in place to enable employees to work from home without risking cybersecurity or network delays? If a pandemic causes a change in demand for your product, do you have the risk intelligence capabilities in place to quickly modify your business plan and shift production quantities or facilities? And if you need to get urgent public health information to all employees and stakeholders, do you have a critical communications platform in place that allows you to alert and update everyone? These are all important considerations if you want to increase the resiliency of your organization.
How can a continuity plan help small businesses?
Small businesses are arguably more vulnerable than large businesses when crisis hits, because they often don’t have as many resources to fall back on. They need to be able to support their small teams and quickly get back to business if they are to stay in business.
Small businesses have certainly been struggling during the current pandemic, with many shuttering under the pressure. According to Yelp, 55 percent of the businesses that have closed since March have closed permanently.
And although there’s little that businesses can do about forced shutdowns and new public health regulations, companies that planned for a pandemic scenario have likely been more agile and resilient, regardless of restrictions. Perhaps they revamped their website, streamlined their online ordering capabilities or expanded their outdoor seating in preparation. And even small businesses can benefit from an effective communication system that allows them to make sure employees are safe and healthy and find someone to fill in at work if someone falls ill.
How can a continuity plan help large businesses and enterprises?
Large businesses typically have more stakeholders than small businesses do, meaning they have more people to answer to. They need a way to weather any potential crises, such as cyberattacks, natural disasters, pandemics or active shooters. Without an effective business continuity plan, large businesses risk lost lives and livelihoods and a damaged reputation.
Large enterprises may have more resources than small companies do, but if they botch their response to a pandemic or other crisis, risking the health of employees and customers or failing to maintain business operations, they could have a second crisis on their hands.
Large businesses that had a continuity plan in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic likely had the technology to shift to remote work or a list of backup suppliers to ensure essential functions could continue operating. And for organizations with personnel and stakeholders located around the world, an emergency mass notification system is critical to ensuring everyone has the necessary information and enabling leadership to form a plan of action.
How can you improve your current plan?
If you already have a business continuity plan in place, you’re off to a great start. But if you’re looking to improve upon that plan, there are several steps you can take.
First, reconsider the potential threats to your organization. Perhaps critical events such as a pandemic or cybersecurity breach weren’t on your radar when you developed your original plan, but they’re certainly concerns now. Conduct scenario planning and consider both likely threats and cascading events and less likely scenarios. Think about how every aspect of your organization could be impacted and develop strategies for each situation.
If you don’t already have one, now is a good time to implement a critical event management platform that includes AI-powered risk intelligence, industry leading critical communications capabilities and mobile incident management. The ability to rapidly detect critical events relevant to your organization and alert employees and stakeholders about crises enables them to respond accordingly, ensuring their safety and allowing the organization to maintain essential functions. A critical communications solution with two-way notification capabilities allows stakeholders to mark themselves as safe, request assistance or pick up an available shift.
Another way to improve your current plan is to test it and pinpoint any vulnerabilities or areas for improvement. Have your team simulate a critical event to make sure everyone knows their role, and send out test communications via your critical communications solution to ensure everyone is receiving the alerts. Both your business continuity and disaster recovery plans should be tested at least once a year to make sure everything is working when a real crisis hits.