Business continuity is an unpleasant topic by nature. The only reason to discuss business continuity is that it’s possible that something—some kind of legitimate disaster—could risk the operational capacity of your company.
That’s not a fun thought.
But planning for a potential disaster truly can make a difference when things go sideways. The SMBs that have a plan have a much better chance of surviving. The ones that don’t have to fight tooth and nail to make it . . . and even then, their chances aren’t good.
So let’s consider what it will take to keep you up and running no matter what.
“[Your business continuity] plan should cover how to reestablish office productivity and enterprise software so that key business needs can be met.”– IBM
Why operational capacities matter
“Operational capacity” refers to what you can produce in a given amount of time. Your operational capacity depends on a lot of things—resources, efficiency and staffing are key elements. Even if you’ve never used the term “operational capacity,” you think about it every day.
After all, we’re talking about getting the things done that need to be done to make your business profitable. Clearly, that’s a concept that matters a great deal.
How operational capacities are affected in a disaster
During a disaster, the things your operation capacity depend on are thrown off balance.
You may lose critical resources—anything from technical systems you rely on to physical materials you use to create products. Your staff is affected, both emotionally and pragmatically. Some of them may not even be able to work. And all of that dramatically impacts your efficiency.
Even if you have all the resources and staff you’d normally have, any changes to standard business process as a result of a disaster (like working from an alternate location) can slow production down.
The goal of business continuity is to minimize the negative impact of crippling situations. A strong business continuity plan will enable you to continue to serve your customers, even in the midst of challenging circumstances.
“Surprisingly, more than 1 in 3 businesses admit they don’t have a disaster recovery policy in place, a figure that is even higher amongst smaller businesses where an estimated 3 out of 4 are reported to have no contingency measures at all.”– CIO
Practical steps you can take to maintain minimum operational capacities
Perhaps the most difficult thing about taking operational capacities into account when developing your business continuity plan is this: operational capacities are different for every business. What’s slow for you might be really fast for one of your competitors.
There’s no universal standard, so the practical things you need to do to plan for operational capacities will be unique to your business. For that reason, it can be really helpful to talk to a business continuity expert (possibly your managed IT services provider) to ask for help with these important plans.
With or without the help of a pro, here’s what you need to take into account in your business continuity plan.
Determine your baseline
As we noted above, operational capacity is specific to your business. So first things first—you need to know your baseline. What’s the minimum amount you need to produce to keep the core pieces of your business in good shape?
We’re focused on the minimum because disasters may require you to scale back some operations. Think in terms of customer impact and overall operational health. There are undoubtedly processes you could skip for a short time without lasting damage.
Identify critical processes
Similarly, you need to know what your most critical processes are. These are likely the processes that core parts of the business rely on. They may not seem urgent, but if you don’t attend to these, the wheels come off.
For example, maintaining your website may not seem like the most important thing in the middle of an emergency. But what if that’s the primary way your customers contact you? Now keeping your website online is important. You need a plan for ensuring that it’s live and that your staff can respond to customer inquiries.
Cross-train your employees
Every business has a few employees who are linchpins. Without them, you’d be sunk.
The problem with that is obvious, though. What if one of those people is unable to pitch in during a disaster? Then you’re in real trouble. The solution is simple enough. Cross-train.
Every critical role should have at least one backup person. This ensures there’s someone ready and willing to step in should you need them to.
Finally, document absolutely everything—your baseline, your critical processes, your plan for maintaining critical processes, the critical staffing roles, and the backup person(s) for each critical role.
Keep this documentation with the rest of your business continuity plan, and review it periodically to make sure it’s still relevant, accurate and valid.
Keep reading: Business continuity: A crash course