How to choose the best business continuity planning tool

CrisisRecoveryDeveloping a business continuity plan is not a one-and-done event; it’s an ongoing process.

Which means at some point—possibly after you’ve pulled out most of your hair—you’ll ask yourself the question that many business continuity professionals before you have asked… “Isn’t there some kind of tool for this?”

The short answer is yes. There are many planning and documentation tools on the market, and just as many that will help you manage your plan and keep it up to date. Finally, there are also a raft of tools to help you work your plan during an incident.

Which is right for you? Well, unfortunately this time the answer’s not so short.

Determining what’s right for you

The biggest challenge in choosing a BC tool is in assessing the needs—not the wants—of your organization, and determining which tools will work best over the long term. Doing so requires a complete understanding (some might say an honest reckoning) of your organization and its culture.

You need to carefully, thoroughly and objectively evaluate your needs and wants against your corporate culture before you can decide what tools will be best.

A wealth of choices

Once you’ve got a better idea of what you need (and what you can get away with), you’ll find there are many BC tools to choose from.

Preparatory or planning tools

These kinds of tools are used to strategize, develop and document your BC/DR plan, and will help you manage it on an ongoing basis.

These may include planning templates, BIA tools, or various planning applications to help with

  • Managing ongoing documentation
  • Pandemic planning
  • Crisis management
  • Emergency management
  • Event testing
  • Auditing, and more.

Event management tools

These are the tools that you’ll use in the event you actually have to manage a crisis. Think incident management tools, command-center management tools, notification software like MIR3’s Intelligent Notification, crisis management tools, communication software and others.

Bringing a tool into your company

How you’ll actually use these tools in the organization is important—especially to your IT department. Even if you’ve found the “perfect” tool, you can expect pushback if, for example, it would violate your company’s information security policies. (You may have to steel yourself: in a software argument, IT usually wins.)

Installation options

Will your tool be installed on your company’s servers, or will it live on the Web? Will you need to manage it through your intranet via single sign-on, or is a discrete login acceptable?

Here are your options:

  • Ad hoc using existing software. Many BC/DR professionals start out using Word and Excel to cobble together their plans. These can be comfortingly familiar, but they have their limitations. (Storage, version control and document distribution among them.)
  • Hosted/Software as a Service (SaaS). With a hosted solution, you do all your work on the Web—there’s nothing for you to install or manage, and upgrades happen automatically with no action on your part. The downside: your data is also out of your hands. You’ll want to know that it is secure and that you can reclaim it if necessary.
  • Installed in-house. You and your organization will have more control over a solution on your own servers, but costs here will be high, as you’ll need to manage servers, a firewall, antivirus protection, software licenses, and more. You’ll need dedicated staff to see that the system is always available, should also explore redundancies… After all, if your network’s down because of an incident, you’ll lose access to a self-hosted tool.
  • Hybrid/one-size-fits-all. Some vendors sell combined planning and event-management tools, bundled together, as an all-in-one solution. What you gain in convenience, however, you may lose in flexibility. With a single vendor, you often have to accept their payment, usage and other terms or you won’t get access to the software.

Time to make a choice?

You’ve got a lot of decisions to make, and it may be hard to make them objectively and independently. Whatever you end up choosing, you’ll need to gain the support of the team and work around any corporate culture roadblocks you encounter.

Interested in finding the best mass notification system? Download the Automated Notification System RFP Template. Learn more about emergency notification with 10 Tips to Improve Notification Response Rates.