If the worst were to happen to your business IT system, could you carry on working? Careful continuity planning and a reliable backup system will ensure you can keep operating with minimal disruption.
Business continuity planning explained
Business continuity planning involves anticipating problems which could disrupt your company's ability to operate properly. For business IT, these problems typically fall into two categories:
- Physical threats, like fire, flooding or theft or failure of key equipment.
- Software threats, like viruses, Trojans and hackers.
It's important your disaster planning measures ensure fast business recovery for key systems.
Disaster planning: it might never happen, but…
Good continuity planning involves methodically examining the threats to your business:
- Assess the threats. Consider what could damage your IT systems. For instance, a fire on your premises, a virus infection or the failure of your internet connection.
- Determine the likelihood of each threat. Some threats are much more probable than others. Get expert help to assess risk levels. Your IT supplier may be able to help.
- Work out the potential damage. For instance, would the threat take your main customer database offline? Or would the impact be relatively minor?
Your continuity planning should prioritise threats with the highest likelihood of happening and the potential to cause most damage.
Identify and eliminate single points of failure. For instance, a power cut could take your server offline. Or, if your customer database is held in a cloud computer service, losing your internet connection could leave you unable to check customer details.
In both cases, you might consider adding backup systems. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can keep your server running, and a cheap broadband service can provide a secondary internet connection.
Your business recovery plan
As well as taking steps to reduce the likelihood of the scenarios you identify occurring, your business recovery plan should describe how your organisation will react in the event of a problem.
- Establish procedures to follow if something goes wrong. Have clear lines of communication to notify key people quickly.
- Plan how to get up and running. For instance, could you share offices with another company if your premises were out of action?
- Think about short term contingency. If it will take time to fix your systems, how will you cope in the meantime? Can you work manually, from another location or using cloud services?
Once you've put a business recovery plan together, test it. See how your communications work in practice, and how long it takes you to get working again.
You may wish to consider your business recovery plan when negotiating with IT suppliers. For example, you might want to pay your support company for a faster response time in the event of important systems failing.
Your backup system
Your continuity planning should include a backup system, so you have a safe copy of key data. A number of factors will influence your choice of backup system:
- How much data you need to backup. Some backup options – like DVD backups – can copy large amounts of data quite quickly.
- How often you need to back up. It's a good idea to choose an automatic backup system if you have to take a new backup every day.
- How long will you need to keep your backups. Do you need to keep data for several weeks, months, or longer? Are there any legal requirements on how long you need to keep certain data? For example, your financial accounts.
- Where your data is stored. It's easier to backup a central file store than files stored on lots of different computers.
- Facilities and equipment. You also need a way to access your backups. Make sure contingency systems are compatible with your files.
Whichever backup system you choose, it's important to keep backups in a different place to the main copy of the data. Test your backups regularly – many businesses neglect this step, only to discover their backups are useless when they have a real emergency.
It's increasingly common for companies to use cloud backup, rather than creating backup copies of their data locally. This sees your business pay a fee each month for a service that backs your data up over the internet.