Improving the effectiveness of business continuity plans (BCPs) should be an ongoing event. From technological advancements to best practices implementation, continually evolving planning programs can improve recovery time and minimize unexpected impacts of recovery efforts.
Below are eight tips to consider in the continual effort to improve business continuity programs:
1. Data Availability and Accuracy: Establishing readily available, accurate, and up-to-date response information has been proven to limit the duration of the emergency. The faster continuity processes can be accessed and assessed, the sooner business continuity procedures can be implemented, critical business functions can be restored, and “business as usual” operations can be reestablished. Technology advancements and web-based formats enable companies to simplify plan administration efforts and expand availability options.
Site-specific information regarding company operations, critical business units, on-site equipment, and employees are continuously changing. If critical plan information is missing or out-of-date, the recovery will be hindered. Accurate details of personnel or operational modifications, expansions, and adjustments must be incorporated into a business continuity program.
2. Training: Business continuity training programs that include crucial personnel, experienced leadership, best practice guidelines, and proper documentation ensures established processes will be implemented as planned. While peripheral collaboration and partnerships in business continuity efforts can be markedly beneficial, companies should not solely rely on external assistance or government agencies to restore ideal working environments. Company training should be designed to minimize impacts on personnel and the operational infrastructure, while ensuring adequate business continuity responses.
Companies need to perform cyclical internal training program audits to create corporate assurance, add business continuity program value, improve operational productivity, and ideally prevent harmful incidents from dismantling operations. Objective internal auditing that begins with a business impact analysis (BIA) emphasizes corporate responsibility to employees. BIAs, in conjunction with training, can often reveal inadequacies and mitigation opportunities. Training audits can bring a systematic, self-sufficient, and disciplined approach to evaluating and improving the effectiveness of business continuity efforts and corporate governance processes.
3. Exercises: Exercises provide a setting for BCP procedures to be tested. Real world exercise scenarios can often highlight potential deficiencies in the BCP processes and procedures, comprehension of individual roles and responsibilities, and partnership coordination. Identifying BCP deficiencies can lead to unrecognized mitigation and training opportunities.
In preparation for these exercises, companies should develop exercise-planning documents, including participant and controller’s packages that contain exercise objectives, scenarios, ground rules, and simulation scripts. These guidelines, at a minimum, should be provided to all participants prior to the exercise to allow for a thorough examination of exercise expectations.
4. Accessibility: Web-based BCPs offer a secured accessibility option for stakeholders, auditors, and employees. With web-based technology and an Internet connection, enterprise-wide BCP programs embedded with database driven software can be immediately and securely available without the “version confusion” typically found in other formats.
Companies should establish BCP backup and download procedures that ensure the latest version of the plan is always accessible in the event Internet communication is lost. However, a web-based format enables secured access from any location, magnifying accessibility opportunities far from the site of impact. Both paper-based plans and those housed on a company intranet are often out of date with multiple versions in various locations or inaccessible in an emergency scenario.
5. Collaboration: Business continuity program effectiveness can be optimized through efficient interoperability and partnerships. When diverse organizations work together for a greater good, response expertise can dramatically broaden and recovery time minimized. Limiting the timeline of potentially escalating incidents and maximize business continuity efforts can accelerate recovery time and operational restoration. Coordinating planning, training, drills, exercises, and resource availability with local agencies, contractors, and site leadership is an important aspect of business continuity programs.
Local agencies may provide additional knowledge based on particular research, experiences, or occupational training in a particular area of study. Company or facility emergency managers and business continuity leaders should continually meet with government agencies, community organizations, and utility companies throughout the entire planning cycle to discuss likely emergencies and the available resources to minimize the effects on operations.
6. Auditing: Business continuity audits, whether conducted by in-house professionals or experienced consultants, can often reveal the planning inadequacies and mitigation opportunities. Regrettably, most companies address business continuity gaps only after an incident has occurred. With an objective eye, a BIA and plan audit can bolster a business continuity program and minimize the chance of incidents resulting in crippling revenue, operations, and company viability.
7. Mitigation: Adverse conditions, inept processes, or ineffective procedures pose risks to employees, infrastructures, and critical business units. By eliminating or mitigating risks, companies can reduce the potential for business continuity situations. A risk assessment and BIAs can be used to identify situations that may lead to incidents and prolonged response.
While all risks cannot be averted, a company can become better prepared for continuity if the procedural risk mitigation measures are implemented. Mitigation measures may include a variety of tactics including, but not limited to training for employees, updating processes and procedures, or purchasing updated equipment.
8. Best Practices Implementation: Applying “best practices” to a business continuity program enables managers to leverage past experiences as a means to improve planning efforts for future impacting scenarios. By analyzing past incidents and responses, executing enhancements, and reinforcing lessons learned, companies will be better prepared than their historical counterparts.
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