Even as the current global pandemic continues to define a new ‘normal’ for everything from personal health to the economy, the world has to find a way to keep moving forward. This is especially true for small-to-medium sized businesses. Around 75% of these businesses report experiencing negative impacts related to COVID-19 and around two-thirds estimate a 30% loss of revenue over the next six months.

If you own one of these businesses, the risks and anxieties of continuing your operations is nothing new. Can you say the same for business continuity plans? These guides are developed with the sole purpose of being your lifeline when any kind of interruption occurs. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to these plans, describe how to develop your own, and give you tips to maximize its effectiveness while reducing risk to your business.

What is a Business Continuity Plan?

A business continuity plan (BCP) is a comprehensive guide created by a business to outline how operations will adapt and proceed during a disruption. Whether a natural disaster, cyber attack, or power outage, these plans are created to minimize your businesses’ downtime to save your revenue and reputation. 

While BCPs are similar to Disaster Recovery (DR) plans, each has a different focus. BCPs guide the company as a whole, including how to manage assets, processes, human resources functions, and partnerships so things keep running as smoothly as possible. DR plans usually fall under BCPs and are more focused on responsiveness to particular disruptions.

BCPs layout many items including data backup locations, plan administrators, supplies, and emergency contacts. It’s true: creating a solid BCP has become more complex in recent years due to systems being increasingly integrated and distributed across hybrid IT environments. This complexity may seem somewhat daunting, but it will pay dividends in the long run – especially if it’s developed with the right expertise.

If you want to safeguard your business’s data, keep your customers, protect your brand, and generally maintain a functioning business model, you’ll need to develop a BCP. They’ll allow you to run various hypothetical scenarios so you know exactly how to respond if the need ever arises.

Cost of Disruption & Downtime

Every second counts when there’s a system failure so these plans are made to map an efficient solution as well as crucially shorten response times. Since the average cost of an infrastructure failure is $100,000 per hour, and the average cost of a critical application failure ranges from $500,000 to $1 million per hour, it’s no wonder why BCPs are necessary even in the best of times.

Everyone is talking about COVID-19 and while hearing about it is starting to get old, the reality of its effects is still unfolding. Currently, 24% of small businesses in the US report they’ve shut down temporarily, and 43% believe they only have around six months of runway to survive. On the other side of the coin, 57% feel good about their position and ability to weather the current situation. It’s likely these businesses have a BCP to thank for their sense of security.

What Goes into a Business Continuity Plan?

As mentioned earlier, many BCPs are a mix of different guides and checklists depending on the company. Often they include checklists of all data backups, storage locations, and other equipment needed in a crisis. They also can act as directories to denote team leaders, an emergency chain of command, and first responders. Additionally, BCPs may include strategies or scripts for employees to follow in order to alert the proper leaders, communicate with customers, and maintain their productivity during an emergency.

Start with a Planning Committee

Of course, BCP’s don’t create themselves, so you should organize a team to tackle this project. If your business is still relatively small, you might include all of your employees in the plan’s development. At a medium-sized company, gathering managers or picking representatives from various departments may be the way to go.

At the end of the day, your BCP committee should include people with oversight into particular teams and operations so they can contribute a puzzle piece to the larger picture of your organization. For example, your head of engineering may have a great solution, but your marketing executive will need to weigh in on any difficulties communicating said solution to consumers. Without the proper team in place, it will be impossible for each department to know how their emergency responses will influence each other’s work.

Weighing the Risks

Speaking of the ripple effect, each department creates for the organization as a whole, a risk assessment should be the first step for your newly formed BCP committee. We’ve previously mentioned natural disasters and cyber attacks as risks to your business, but this list may also include human error, single point of failure, and policy violations. There are many potential risks to consider, both external and internal, so your planning team will be critical in defining the top priorities for your specific situation. 

Don’t stop at assessing the chances for certain circumstances to occur – a proactive element of your risk assessment should be running diagnostics in every department. Do team leads have a structure for communicating in an emergency? Has IT updated all of your security software? Do your salespeople currently have a crisis script? Knowing where you currently stand will provide the foundations of your plan.

Making Your Plan & Aligning Your Teams

Writing your business continuity plan should begin by prioritizing the most immediate and costly risks. If your consumer product is malfunctioning, you’ll likely prioritize not only a fix but also a communication strategy to provide support and retain the affected customers. In the event of a data breach, your first focus is likely to investigate and halt access to private information. During a pandemic (like the one we’re currently experiencing), your focus probably shifted to moving your business’s operations online.

Once the guidelines are set by the committee, your next priority should be training and implementation. This training is essential even beyond equipping your employees with the tools to continue business functions through a crisis. Approximately 95% of hiring managers list training as a great tool for employee retention, not to mention morale. Keeping employees informed and motivated will clear the way for your BCP to actually work.

While prioritizing high-risk scenarios and training your teams are important, there’s also one more critical aspect to consider for your BCP. How do you plan to protect your company’s and your customers’ private data?

Keep Your Backups Up-Front

When it comes to managing a data breach, software malfunction, or damaged hardware, a great starting point for your BCP is the strategy you use for planned outages. While backing up your data should be at least a daily task, you likely have a process in place to make sure your information is saved and accessible during downtime for scheduled maintenance and backups. 

Adapting this process so it can account for an unscheduled crisis means you already have a solid idea of how your employees can access data backups to keep things running (a.k.a. the ‘continuity’ part of the BCP) while the root issue is being handled.

On a similar note – and hopefully, this isn’t a surprising recommendation – these backups work best when distributed across multiple locations. By having secure copies of your data stored separately from one another, one server facing a natural disaster or cyberattack won’t do as much damage if others are unaffected. The general message here is: always have backups, and begin your BCP by making sure the right people always have access to those backups. One of the best ways to make sure your data is safely stored and accessible is by using a cloud storage solution.

Why Cloud Storage is the Best Backup

So far, we’ve discussed why maintaining a secure backup system for your company’s data is essential – but why would we specifically recommend cloud storage? There are a myriad of reasons but some of our top picks include a cloud’s ability to encrypt data, conduct timely autosaves, enable admin and strict data sharing permissions, and allow IT oversight. 

Note: these features are available in a professional-grade system. If your business is operating on a consumer-grade file sharing platform like Google or DropBox, you might consider upgrading.

The Benefits of SmartFile

In particular, you might consider upgrading to a SmartFile cloud platform. SmartFile is a professional-grade file transfer protocol (FTP) product that makes it easy to manage and share large file structures inside and outside of your business with a perfect blend of simplicity for users and control for IT. When you invest in a SmartFile system, your business benefits from data protection, secure file transfers, and branded web portals all featuring an easy user experience.

SmartFile’s cloud solutions combine the data access your business’s stakeholders need, the management desired by IT, and the compliance required for regulated industries. Our file sharing platform’s ability to allow admin controls means your teams can work the way they want in a low-risk system. The system’s data encryption and auto-backups make this more than just a file-sharing service – it’s a better way to work.

Our system tracks and records file and user activity to ensure compliance, along with email notifications for instant alerts. SmartFile features granular permissions and access rights to ensure only authorized users can see certain files. A simple interface lets users securely access files onsite and offsite while maintaining security to reduce the risk of data breaches, theft, or user error. Basically, these features exist to take worries off your plate so you can focus on your BCP.

If you’d like to store files on-premises, our FileHub platform stands apart by allowing you to do so (even across multiple locations) and is built to scale up and out with your growing business. 

Some of the other features boasted by SmartFile’s solutions and FileHub include:

  • Secure access to network files off-site
  • Sharing and exchanging files via HTTPS, SFTP, FTPS
  • Connecting to users via branded, responsive portals
  • Exporting data (Syslog)
  • Authentication via AD/LDAP
  • Automating the complete file lifecycle
  • Managing other cloud storage

Going into 2020, few people could have predicted our current situation. Even though it’s far from ideal, developing and enacting a BCP will help safeguard your small-to-medium sized business from the uncertain road ahead. 

Pandemic aside, it’s always a good idea to prepare for the next potential threat, especially when it comes to protecting your company’s data. We’re here to help you weather the storm and safeguard your entrepreneurial dreams for the future.

Add a professional-grade cloud file sharing platform to your BCP. Give SmartFile a try for free today — no credit card required!

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Related Topics & Tags: Back Up & Storage Cybersecurity

About John Hurley

I am the CEO and Co-Founder of SmartFile. My role is to find the right people and give them the right tools and resources needed to grow both professionally and personally.

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