What is a business continuity plan?

A business continuity plan refers to an organization’s system of procedures to restore critical business functions in the event of an unplanned disaster. These disasters could include natural disasters, cyberattacks, service outages, or other potential threats. Business continuity planning (BCP) enables organizations to resume business operations with minimal downtime.

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What is the purpose of a business continuity plan?

An optimized business continuity plan encompasses three main components.

First, a company needs to be resilient. That means key business functions are designed within the context of potential disasters. The business continuity team runs a risk assessment against each function for weaknesses and susceptibilities, then establishes protections against them. This supports ongoing risk management policies.

Second, stakeholders prioritize functions and determine which need to be brought online first. Disaster recovery is a key factor, and the faster functions can return to an operational state, the less likely the organization is to sustain lasting damage. IT stakeholders set disaster recovery time goals and develop an actionable disaster recovery plan. After mission-critical functions return to working order, team members work down the list of priority functions, utilizing third-party support to implement recovery strategies as needed.

Third, organizations require a contingency plan with branching paths that describe chains of command, stakeholder responsibilities, and any necessary technical knowledge necessary for emergency management within established disaster scenarios. Finally, an optimized business continuity plan includes a recovery time objective (RTO) to establish the speed at which business operations must be recovered, and a business impact analysis (BIA) to determine how successful recovery efforts were. Likewise, a disaster report shows stakeholders how the disaster recovery planning process can improve in the future.

With these three elements, an organization can weather crises, assess damage quickly, and recover as soon as possible. It's also important to understand that a business continuity plan is a living document that must be updated regularly as the organization adopts new technologies and processes. As organizations grow to scale, they adopt new solutions and infrastructures; these must be accounted for in the plan, or disaster recovery challenges could become augmented by unexpected bottlenecks.

Five elements of a successful business continuity plan

Although each business disruption is unique and many decisions will have to be made as situations unfold, a business continuity plan provides a framework and preparation to guide these decisions, as well as a clear indication of who will make them. A successful business continuity plan includes the following elements.

1. Define a team structure

  • Develop a clear decision-making hierarchy, so that in an emergency, people don’t wonder who has the responsibility or authority to make a given decision
  • Create a core business continuity team with personnel from throughout the organization, including executive leaders, information technology, facilities, and real estate, as well as physical security, communications, human resources, finance, and other service departments
  • Create supporting teams devoted to related functions such as emergency response, communications, campus response, and business readiness

2. Establish a plan

  • Identify potential disruptions to your business process that can affect any of your organization’s locations, such as power outages, epidemics, and fires•
  • Base your plan on worst-case scenarios rather than multiple graduated versions of each incident, to keep the number of scenarios manageable
  • Prioritize the most essential operations as well as who will perform them and how work will be redirected if key people are unavailable
  • Determine how employees will work from home in the event of a prolonged outage
  • Update your plan annually to reflect changes in the criticality and dependency of applications, business priorities, risk management, business locations, operations, and other considerations

3. Test your plan

  • Conduct full emergency simulations annually, including crisis communications, safety drills, and workplace recovery processes
  • Measure your test results and strive for continuous improvements, whether they’re application availability goals or personnel safety assurances

4. Create a crisis communications strategy

  • Establish emergency notification procedures, incorporating both push and pull systems to communicate quickly
  • Identify all stakeholders for emergency communications, including employees, contractors, clients, vendors, media, and executive management—and collect all contact information
  • Prepare scripted communications that can be easily updated and ready to transmit immediately

5. Educate people on safety procedures

  • Train your workforce so they’re aware of the processes they should follow in the event of an emergency and so they know where to find resources for help
  • Consult with local and federal agencies for emergency response training and other guidance for your program
  • Conduct employee drills to help personnel become familiar with procedures, such as finding emergency exits

Citrix solutions for business continuity planning

If people can’t access the applications, data, and files they depend on, business stays down—and risks losing money, customers, productivity, reputation, and opportunities every moment it takes to get them back to work. Citrix keeps your business running during unplanned downtimes to ensure continuity of operations.

  • Provide people with secure offsite access to a virtual applications and desktops, from any location and device
  • Simplify business continuity management by leveraging everyday infrastructure, eliminating the need for separate tools, devices, and recovery units
  • Ensure IT availability through rapid, automated datacenter failover, load balancing, and network capacity management as well as cloud-based deployment choices

Explore the benefits of business continuity planning with Citrix DaaS