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IT Business Continuity Plans

Disaster can strike a business at any time. Whether it’s a flooded server room or a data breach, managed services providers (MSPs) need to be ready to continue critical operations without interruption. When a business depends on continuity to service customers, disruptions put the company at risk. That’s why it’s important for MSPs to make sure they—and their customers—have strong business continuity plans (BCPs) in place before disaster strikes.

What is the purpose of a business continuity plan?

A BCP ensures the critical processes of a business continue running effectively during a disaster or a time of emergency. With a BCP in place, business leaders can react quickly and effectively to a crisis without risking a loss in brand reputation, profitability, or customer confidence.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of BCPs. No matter the size of your business, a BCP can help to protect you from financial losses and (in worst-case scenarios) from going out of business entirely. While some business leaders may believe they are fully protected by insurance in the event of a disaster, the reality is much more complicated. Insurance may cover some of your financial losses, but it won’t prevent your customers from leaving your business in favor of a competitor. These are the types of consequences MSPs should consider when thinking about preparing a BCP.

IT business continuity plans serve a different purpose from regular IT continuity plans (sometimes called disaster recovery plans). Regular IT continuity plans focus on recovering the IT systems after a crisis—BCPs focus on making sure the business’s critical services are continuously available in the face of a crisis.

With a well-crafted and well-tested BCP, critical operations are far less likely to cease functioning—meaning your business can rapidly recover from a disaster, hopefully without any significant long-term negative effects. In fact, if a business handles an unexpected event well, they may see a positive impact on their customer confidence and their market value.

What are the key components of a business continuity plan?

The internet is full of overwhelming suggestions and best practices for developing your BCP—which makes the process seem far more difficult than it is. While there is no denying developing a BCP takes work, the key components of the development process are straightforward and logical. First, determine the essential tasks that keep your business running. From there, decide the best way to accomplish those tasks in the event of a disaster.

The key steps of creating a business continuity plan are:

  1. Consider and analyze potential threats to your business, including threats that seem unlikely—for example, a natural disaster that destroys your corporate headquarters building.
  2. Run a business impact analysis (BIA) to determine how losing different functions and processes during a crisis would impact the business. The BIA forces the business to examine the financial impact of losing individual functions, then helps determine which operations are the most critical to protect or restore.
  3. Set up protocols for business continuity. Once you’ve identified the most critical operations to keep running, you need to implement procedures that will help ensure those processes continue functioning in case of a crisis. This includes everything from backing up your computers and client data to establishing remote work policies in case your office space becomes unsafe. See the below steps for what to include in your procedures.
  4. Organize a continuity team. A BCP is only useful if it’s well-designed and if there are people ready to carry it out at a moment’s notice. A continuity team makes sure to execute the BCP in the event of a disaster and ensures your employees are aware of the plan.
  5. Train and test the BCP and the continuity team. It’s critical to identify any weaknesses in the plan before an actual crisis occurs. The most effective way to discover these weaknesses is to test the plan in hypothetical disaster scenarios, see how the BCP processes, and how the continuity team manages various situations. You can correct weaknesses before the BCP is used in a real disaster. Along with frequent testing, it’s also important to keep the BCP up-to-date with new developments in your business.
  6. Make sure everyone is aware of the BCP. The plan only works if your employees know it exists.

What does a business continuity plan typically include?

A BCP typically includes guidelines to maintain all critical functions of the business in the event of a crisis. Unlike other forms of disaster plans that focus solely on technical operations like hardware or software issues, BCPs also take personnel into account when considering business continuity.

A BCP should also ensure your business’s data is backed up to a source outside the location where the original versions are stored. This means having your files (and your customers’ files) backed up to offsite hard drives or the cloud. For a streamlined and manageable storage option, a simple tool like SolarWinds® Backup can help you backup all your important data to your own private cloud storage so you don’t lose anything in a disaster.

Other elements of a BCP relate to continued operations. For example, a checklist of information that will help your employees keep in touch during a crisis. The checklist typically includes emergency contact information for the management team, a list of resources the continuity team might need, and information on the location of backup data storage.

In general, a BCP should include contingency plans for every aspect of the business that might be affected in a crisis. You should create them proactively, test them in advance, and record them in writing to provide clear directives for disaster scenarios.

Who is responsible for a business continuity plan? 

Typically, a continuity team is responsible for a BCP. While the people who make up the team can vary based on the business and its size, it’s important the burden of creating a BCP not fall entirely on one employee. If a single employee were to design the entire BCP on their own, it’s unlikely the plan could effectively protect the business during a disaster.

The key players in a BCP committee usually include an Executive Sponsor, BCP Coordinator, Security Officer, Chief Information Officer, and Business Unit Representatives (who provide information about the critical operations in their individual units). These people should work together to make sure the protocols developed ensure business continuity across the entire organization. If a crisis occurs, the continuity team will oversee putting the BCP into action, which is why prior training for these team members is important.

For more information on business continuity best practices read through our related blog articles.

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