10 Steps for Incident Management and Business Continuity

Sep 20, 2022
Danya Strait

The pandemic epitomized what an unforeseen circumstance means and highlighted the importance of incident management and business continuity. It was elusive. Its arrival wreaked more havoc that not even the experts could have forecasted. It took and continues to take a toll on individuals of all ages. It has disrupted families. Many businesses have taken a massive financial hit as a result of it.

Businesses with a robust business continuity plan would have avoided some of the pandemic's adverse effects. No doubt, the pandemic tested your business emergency management protocols and continues to.

Unfortunately, 51% of businesses worldwide did not have a business continuity plan. Did your plan pass the test? 

You may not be able to undo any damage that has already occurred but you can ensure that you learn from this incident. This article covers some basic business continuity measures you can put in place right now.

What Is Business Continuity?

Business continuity is an organization's ability to continue its operations throughout and after a significant disaster has occurred.

Major disasters that can affect businesses include:

  • Natural disasters
  • A fire or anything that causes extensive physical damage to infrastructure
  • Any cybersecurity threat
  • Server failure or utility outage
  • Incidents that disrupt the day-to-day operations of a business

The aim is to have essential business functions up and running with minimal downtime. Doing so ensures that your business can continue to serve customers and facilitate providers with the least amount of disruption.

It is important for all businesses but can be better sustained by larger enterprises. This is dependent on the extent and duration of the incident or emergency.

Despite this, all companies should have measures in place to ensure the continuity of their operations. You should include the details of these measures in a business continuity plan.

What Is a Business Continuity Plan?

A business continuity plan is a detailed outline of the steps to ensure business operations continuation during an emergency or natural disaster. It should also encompass plans to deal with cybersecurity threats. These can include data breaches, loss of access, ransomware attacks, or malicious insider incidents.

Business continuity plans reduce any adverse effects from the emergency or disaster. A BCP aims to reduce financial losses, maintain supplier relationships and other business partnerships, and service customers. 

Continuous updating and maintenance are important elements of a continuity plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states that one in five companies does not spend time maintaining their continuity plan. In contrast, 20% of larger businesses spend over ten days every month on their plans.

Continuity plans should also consider widespread disasters that can affect employees' accessibility to the physical business location, as has been the case during the pandemic.

The plan should differentiate between critical and non-critical business functions. Critical business functions are activities or processes that must be restored to protect your business's assets, meet regulations, and the organization's needs. The unavailability of critical business functions can affect business operations, which, in turn, impacts the business's ability to serve its customers and other stakeholders. 

The plan outlines the recovery requirements for each critical function. It includes the timeframe for the resumption of the operation and the business and technical requirements for recovery.

Characteristics of a Business Continuity Plan

Four noteworthy characteristics should guide the design of your business continuity plan. The business continuity plan should be:

1. Comprehensive

Try to plan for every possible incident or disruption. Review and rework your business continuity plan several times. Backup plans are essential. They should not stop at Plan B or C. Even though there may be many, consider every factor that could play a role. Cater for things that may go wrong.

2. Adaptable

Despite catering to every possible scenario, leave room for quick adaptation of the plan because circumstances will change. In extreme cases, changes can be minute by minute. It is one of the main reasons that the plan must be reviewed continuously and maintained.

However, once the plan provides a good foundation or starting point, the rest should be easily adaptable. Many organizations can help you support and maintain your plan. 

3. Realistic

Ensure easy implementation of your plan when a disaster does strike. Make it realistic and include many contingency plans where possible.

4. Efficient

Your business continuity plan should enable efficient execution with your current resources. Having it laid out can reduce stress levels during an incident. This can make the tasks that need to be executed a little easier to achieve despite the anxiety and additional pressure. 

Taking these four elements into consideration while planning for your business's continuity will help ensure your plan is as effective as possible.

The Importance of Emergency Management

If you hadn't put much thought into emergency management before, the last few years should have made you realize just how important it is. It is an essential element to help you effectively manage your business.

Unfortunately, disruptions are costly, but they can sometimes lead to a business's closure, especially for smaller companies. Ninety percent of smaller businesses fail within a year after a disaster unless they resume operations within five days.

Businesses that don't have an emergency response plan often lose customers, suffering financial losses that can harm their brand reputation.

Here are a few other reasons why emergency management or continuity planning is essential to all businesses. A continuity plan can help to:

1. Continue Business Operations

It supports the continuation of your business operations during a crisis and helps reduce financial losses. It lets stakeholders, including employees and customers, know your company is stable.

Communication throughout the organization is vital to keep all employees informed and on the same page. This can be a challenge for organizations with many employees who work remotely or with offices spread worldwide. These organizations must invest in a solution that facilitates real-time, effortless communication. 

2. Improve Customer and Stakeholder Confidence

Investing in effective incident management processes and policies helps improve customer and stakeholder confidence and resilience. 

3. Maintain Your Brand and Reputation

The city of Atlanta sustained a cyberattack that locked down the city systems for a week.

Managing the crisis effectively and preparing your company for any possibility will augur well for your brand. It preserves confidence in your brand and bolsters your reputation when your company manages the situation with grace, strength, and consistency.

Back in 2018, the city of Atlanta sustained a cyberattack that locked down the city systems for a week. Workers had to complete all documentation by hand. The City of Atlanta was not prepared and taken by surprise, with out-of-date software and a number of other IT vulnerabilities.

4. Get a Competitive Advantage

Use your response to not only build confidence in your brand with current customers but let it show potential customers you should be their brand of choice too. Your reaction during a crisis will speak volumes about your company and your brand. Make it tell a positive story. This is an opportunity to gain an advantage over your competitors by reacting quickly and decisively during a crisis.

5. Reduce Financial Risk

Quick and decisive actions during a crisis will also reduce the downtime for your business. More extended downtimes can mean greater financial losses. Minimize your losses by restoring functionality as quickly as possible.

6. Protect Your Supply Chain

Remember, natural disasters will affect your suppliers as well. Ensure your plan caters to supply chain resilience by spreading your risk across several suppliers. This will give you options. Your organization will be minimally affected due to a lack of supplies or raw materials.

10 Steps to Creating Your Business Continuity Plan

Now that you know the characteristics of a business continuity plan and its benefits, here are 10 steps you can follow to create your plan.

1. Create an Incident Response Team

The incident response (or crisis) team should include some cross-functional managerial roles or any other person you believe will be valuable to the team. Designate a leader who will be able to make decisions and ensure steady progress.

Each team member should receive specialist training and expertise across technical and non-technical areas, including forensic investigation. Recruit external resources specializing in incident management. 

2. Identify the Plan's Objectives and Goals

Your business continuity's main objective is to ensure there is minimal disruption to critical business functions. This includes vital business functions across the organization - operations, human resources, public relations, etc.

However, every business will have different objectives and goals that are important to the business's running. It will vary based on the type and size of the company, among other things.

Once you identify the plan's goals and objectives, map out a strategy for the plan. Ensure the objectives are clearly understood and that the goals align with the objectives. Take the opportunity to identify the key people and processes that will keep it operational. 

The draft should also include a list of all possible disruptions that can affect business operations. Identify the critical functions in day-to-day business processes and create recovery strategies for each scenario.

3. Conduct a Risk Assessment and Business Impact Analysis (BIA)

A BIA will identify significant threats to your organization. After identification:

  • Research and analyze.
  • Include the team in discussions about incidents that may reduce, modify, or eliminate critical services or functions.
  • Document all of the issues and what their business impact might be.
4. Identify Critical and Non-Critical Business Functions

Before determining how your organization will maintain critical business functions, it is crucial to identify which processes are essential during an emergency.

Consider some of these essential functions:

  • Maintaining customer service.
  • Supply continuity and inventory management.
  • Order fulfillment and shipping deadlines.
  • Ecommerce platforms, if used.
  • Other applications used in business operations.
5. Identify and Isolate Sensitive Information

Identify critical data, such as financial records or other mission-critical information, including login credentials. Store them where they can be quickly recovered. Storage should also be according to priority based on how important the data is to the business.

6. Conduct Data Backup

Create copies of all irreplaceable data. Include customer data, employee records, files, business emails, etc. This should also be easily accessible so that the business can recover quickly from any disaster that occurs.

7. Protect Hard Copy Data

Even though businesses store large amounts of electronic data, they still use many physical documents daily. These can include contracts, tax documents, and employee files.

Where possible, convert hard copies into digital files to minimize the loss of physical documents.

8. Find a Designated Recovery Site

This secondary site will be a backup for your company's primary location. Equip the site with tools and systems that will allow recovery of any affected systems. Doing so will ensure the continuation of business operations within the shortest period.

9. Develop a Communication Strategy

Crisis communication is crucial during a disaster. Your company should implement a strategy that ensures effective communication to both internal and external stakeholders. Pre-drafted sample messages will expedite communications to suppliers, partners, and employees during the crisis.

A detailed communication strategy can help incident response teams efficiently coordinate their efforts.

10. Test, Measure, Review, and Update the Plan

A business continuity plan is cyclical. It should be continuously tested, measured, reviewed, and updated, proving its effectiveness. Testing should include simulations that can determine the team's level of preparedness during an incident. Use the results to modify the plan and then test it again.

These steps should allow you to formulate a comprehensive business continuity plan. It includes constant analysis, design, implementation, testing, and maintenance.

Potential Risks for Businesses Without a Plan

Business continuity planning can seem exhaustive, especially for smaller businesses with limited resources. 

Whether you choose to use internal or external resources, your company must implement a plan as the potential risks of not having one can adversely affect your company.

Some of the risks of not having a business continuity plan include:

  • Financial losses
  • Increased costs 
  • Repeated exposure to the risk 
  • Regulatory and legal penalties (Marriott was fined £18.4m for a data breach that didn't meet General Data Protection Regulation standards and affected millions)

Being Prepared

There are many options to ensure your organization's emergency management is effective. A detailed business continuity plan that is continuously updated and reviewed can save your business.

Doing research and reviewing examples of well-implemented continuity plans will help prepare you if your company faces a similar incident.

Agility Recovery provides business continuity solutions. Contact us to find the solution that is best for your organization.