As a Commercial Relationship Manager, a common question I have been hearing from businesses recently is how to create a business continuity plan. Especially after the pandemic, many businesses have realized the importance of having a plan in place to minimize disruption and maintain operations during a time of crisis or change. Having a business continuity plan can also build customer and employee confidence, mitigate financial risk, and even give you a competitive edge over companies that are less prepared.
To answer this popular question, Bankers Trust’s business continuity expert Christi McWilliams and I have outlined the four most important steps to take and questions to address as you create a business continuity plan.
1. Establish a team dedicated to emergency preparedness and business continuity
The first step to creating a business continuity plan is to establish a team dedicated to emergency preparedness and business continuity. Members should be cross-functional, including subject matter experts from each department of your organization. Be sure to also assign a leader. This person should be trained in business continuity response.
2. Identify essential business functions
Once you have a business continuity team in place, they can begin collaborating to create and maintain a written business continuity plan. One of the first topics to address in the document are all the essential services your business provides. This section should address which services or functions within your organization make up most of your revenue and/or are essential to your customers, as well as which systems, applications, and individuals are needed to provide these services.
Determine how your organization will maintain essential services and functions in the event of an emergency. Here are some of the essential services and functions you may need to have a plan for:
- Inventory management and supply continuity. Establish a system to track and manage inventory and consider ways you can prepare for times of low or no inventory. Are there ways to stock up on essential supplies or operate with other supplies that may be more available? Are there alternative vendors – perhaps in different geographic locations – that may be able to provide supply?
- Do you have a team in place to quickly communicate with employees, customers, and vendors on the state of your business? Determine who and with which platforms you will communicate about a variety of issues, such as low inventory, temporary closures, and change of normal processes. Bankers Trust business continuity expert, Christi McWilliams, urges organizations to not overlook the importance of having a team dedicated to public relations and external communication. “During a crisis, it’s incredibly important you have a role dedicated to communicating with employees, the media and your customers so you can control the messages about your organization,” she says.
- E-commerce platform functionality. If you are an ecommerce business, can your website handle a sudden increase in customers? Will it show out-of-stock messages to prevent purchases of products you don’t have on hand?
- Technology and cybersecurity. Has your business invested in technology that enables you to work from anywhere should something happen to your on-site location? Do you have strong cybersecurity on your internal and external digital tools and websites? Is all your data regularly backed up? What safeguards do you have in place to protect against attempted breaches? Is your anti-virus software up to date? This section of your plan should also include a list of all applications and systems used to run the business and how long applications could be down before it would result in a disruption or loss of data.
3. Perform a business impact analysis (BIA)
The purpose of a BIA is to identify the biggest potential threats to your business and to determine the level of business risk and impact it would have if it were to happen. This requires your subject matter experts to research and thoroughly analyze all potential threats and evaluate their impact on employees, customers, and your organization’s systems, infrastructure and revenue. In this section of your plan, be sure to address the impacts of scenarios such as having to temporarily reduce or eliminate essential services or having your location suddenly become unusable.
4. Share your plan with team members and test it
Once you have a written business continuity plan created, present it other essential team members, business partners and stakeholders, and perform a trial run, such as a tabletop exercise. Running the plan by multiple teams and testing them regularly – Christi suggests at least once a year – will help identify weaknesses or missing aspects. Each time you test the plan, be sure to document its strengths and weaknesses and assign team members to address the areas that need improvement.
This outline provides a basic overview of what a business continuity plan should entail to get you started. We encourage you work with a business continuity expert to fully develop a plan that’s right for your organization.