Business Continuity Plan Checklist: 7 Steps to Ensure You Survive the Unexpected

No one could have scientifically and accurately predicted that 2020 would be crippled by a global pandemic. Apocalyptic blockbusters are moneymakers in Hollywood, but in the real world, they bring us to our knees and the economy to a screeching halt. And, as evidenced by the year behind us, no company is immune to disaster.

Disruptions of any kind can occur seemingly out of nowhere and have catastrophic consequences for organizations of any size—from a loss of productivity and revenue to damaged reputations and customer relationships—and the impact can be debilitating. But if you’re even marginally prepared, you may be able to mitigate some of the damage and position yourself for recovery far more quickly.

This article focuses on the need for developing a comprehensive business continuity plan (BCP) checklist to ensure business health regardless of what disasters come your way. Planning for disruption is one reliable way to ensure that operations may continue to run with a modicum of efficiency, even if the world is in disarray. Let’s review how a simple checklist can help any company, across any industry, streamline business continuity and disaster recovery (bcdr) planning efforts.

Note: Checklists will vary based on your organization’s structure, systems and environment, along with geographical locations, nature and severity of the disaster. Be sure to customize your plan for your specific needs and consult with outside experts, when necessary, to ensure your plan is compliant with regional and industry-specific standards and regulations.

1. Create a Dedicated BCP Team

Companies are quick to assemble teams for product launches, holiday party planning and even ensuring company culture. Thus, building a team to address disasters and more importantly, disaster preparedness, is downright critical. But where to begin? Start just as you would with any other critical project.

Be sure to choose team members who are knowledgeable and reliable—ideally employees who know the ins and outs of your company extremely well—and assign each a vital role. Most importantly, ensure they know exactly how to act when disaster strikes.

Once you’ve assembled your team, begin by conducting the following exercise:

  1. Define all key processes, roles and resources in your business, and rank them according to priority and importance.
  1. Explore what could happen if these key processes, roles and resources are impacted and what your Plan B looks like (i.e., what steps you can take to minimize damage while critical responsibilities are disrupted or delayed).
  1. Consider how various disasters (e.g., pandemics, natural disasters, human errors, cyber threats) may impact these key business functions, to what degree and in what ways.

For the sake of consistency, your disaster preparedness team should ideally remain static from start to finish. Introducing new team members midway will only confuse stakeholders and muddy the work that’s already been done. Outlining roles and responsibilities clearly at the beginning of the process will ensure alignment and commitment out of the gate.

Once you identify key stakeholders, you’ll want to flesh out details like contact information for each team member, backup contacts, ideal communication systems (a phone tree, group instant messaging, etc.) and a short checklist that each member of the team can turn to for guidance if a disaster creates temporary panic.

Remember that this team will pinpoint the functions that are most critical to everyday business processes, and both formulate and carry out practical recovery strategies for each possible disaster scenario. This is no small feat, so assembling the right team is critical. Pick people you know you can trust to get the job done.

2. Build an Overall Plan

Like all good things, creating a solid business continuity management (BCM) and disaster recovery plan isn’t something that happens overnight. But with thoughtful brainstorming and documentation, your plan should serve as a roadmap for you to anticipate, prevent, prepare for, survive, and recover from disruptive events that may affect daily operations.

It’s hard to plan for the unforeseeable future. It’s like your neighbor who doesn’t install a security system until after their home has been burgled—many of us simply don’t think about planning for doom and gloom. But after the year we’ve had, it’s clearer than ever that organizations must think about all possible worst-case scenarios in order to survive them.

As a business owner, chief information security officer (CISO) or IT administrator, have you considered what would happen if there were yet another catastrophic incident that started today, and you had to shut down certain facilities or areas of operation suddenly? Did the arrangements/plans you put in place for dealing with 2020’s unexpected crisis set you up for future devastation of perhaps a different kind?

Building a plan entails everything from mapping out your key processes and people responsible for ensuring business continuity to documenting a list of interruptions that could bring your business to a sudden halt. Think through recovery strategies, vet them and document them. Most importantly, make sure your organization can execute them efficiently, at every level. After all, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. If all other departments can follow your plan effectively, but there’s a breakdown in your payroll department, for example, things will go off the rails quickly.

A basic plan includes steps to restore hardware, software applications and data quickly in order to recover the critical elements of your business. It identifies all desktops, laptops, wireless devices and servers used, as well as all application systems and most importantly, critical data. While physical items can be replaced easily, your data is unique to your business, and no amount of money can buy it back. Your recovery plan should contain specific details regarding the current backup strategy for safeguarding important information and records that are vital to your growing business.

3. Perform a Business Impact Analysis

Once your team has identified all potential threats to daily operations, they must also analyze the impact of those threats.

A business impact analysis helps identify functions and related resources that are time sensitive. What disaster scenarios could your business survive and for how long? What costs could you not survive? Where do you draw the line of tolerable risk? A business impact analysis aims to reveal the most critical parts of your business’s operations and to what extent a disruption of these areas could cause harm.

Note that a business impact analysis is not a plan of action. Instead, it serves to inform your business continuity plan of what goals the plan must achieve and what areas of your business need the most protection.

It may feel like you’re truly scripting the next Hollywood blockbuster, but thinking through the dangers of floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and even volcanic eruptions is both critical and location dependent. For instance, if your company has offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, earthquakes should be top of mind. They’ve been known to cause landslides, fires, power outages and even floods due to sinkholes and damage to the main water lines. That said, if you live in hurricane country, your primary checklist may include complying with local evacuation plans to ensure employees get out safely.

Even if these disasters are once-in-a-lifetime threats, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Any one of them can result in hardware or system failure, data corruption, cyberattacks or worse, and result in the end of your business altogether.

Your business continuity team and management personnel should understand all the problematic scenarios that may accompany a disaster. They must understand how those situations could affect the organization as a whole—from downtime and what it will cost to remain productive to the longer-term effects on overall business health.

Consider this: IT disruptions have been known to cost organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour. The true financial impact on your business also depends on the industry in which you operate, as well as how dependent your business is on the downed system.

For example, supply chain businesses stand to take the biggest financial hits when database systems fail because the disruption has a domino effect, but ultimately, the more dependent a business is on technology, the more expensive an IT service issue becomes. As many businesses increasingly automate everything from order entry to communication and file management, the costs resulting from technology system malfunctions rise. Know how much you can afford to shell out before your bottom line is irreparably affected.

4. Implement Clear, Thorough Communication Processes

Clear and consistent communication plays a major part in your disaster recovery plan. Organizations must assign a dedicated person, likely a member of the BCP team, to communicate what must happen in an emergency and reinforce disaster protocols so that your workforce can respond accordingly.

Take the time to communicate business continuity and disaster preparedness plans to your organization as well as to any vendors or third parties that have a role in the BCP or would be affected by it. Ongoing communication is vital to ensure all parties are in the know, at all times.

Refer to your documented plan, and communicate to the wider organization about who reports to whom in the case of emergency, what the identified escalation procedures are, what the best communication platforms are to connect with team members and access vital information, and how to communicate with external stakeholders when disaster strikes.

The ability to communicate in a crisis situation is crucial. In addition to a list of emergency contacts, consider drafting sample messages ahead of time to expedite communications to partners and suppliers in crisis scenarios. A detailed communications plan will enable your business continuity team to coordinate their efforts and respond accordingly.

Use a mix of cross-channel communications, e.g., text messages, emails and phone calls, to get the word out in real time. Voice calls with auto-retry are effective for maximum disruption and will deploy until content is acknowledged. Chat apps have begun replacing traditional contact channels and offer escalation to those familiar channels when required.

You should make sure to document which channels will be used as part of your BCP, and let employees know which channel to check first. General emergency messages should come ultimately from your organization’s leadership team (e.g., the CEO or head of HR), while messages related to technology should come from the head of IT or the subject matter expert that is able to provide specific direction/support for accessing key data and systems.

Remember, there’s no such thing as overcommunicating when disaster strikes!

5. Ensure Important Data Is Backed Up and Accessible

Security checklists may vary slightly from one business to the next, but data is a consistent security concern regardless of business size, location or industry. In fact, some data is so important that losing it could put your entire company in jeopardy. Prioritize the data that is most vital to the continuity of your business, whether that includes financial records, login credentials or other mission-critical information, and put it somewhere that is quickly accessible during disaster recovery.

Create copies of anything that can’t be replaced (e.g., employee and customer records, business email and even sensitive data stored on mobile devices), and install an effective backup strategy. IT security strategies focus largely on electronic data for obvious reasons. But if your company still has physical documents to maintain, ranging from contracts and tax documents to employee files, consider digitizing what you can.

Prepare for the worst by securing your most critical information in the cloud, and protect it with near-impenetrable technology. Think through what makes the most sense for your business, and then ensure that the right people have access to this vital content. During a disaster, your workforce will likely be distributed, so it is essential to extend permission-based access to your key stakeholders who may be working from home or a remote location for safety purposes.

Next, think about your workforce and their ability to securely access the information they need to perform their jobs. Is their home internet speed fast enough to continue business as usual? What measures need to be taken to get it there? Do your employees have a personal hotspot on their smartphone to use if needed? Do your employees need monitors, headsets, phones, laptops, etc.? How will your organization ensure staff has the essential equipment to keep business afloat? When you start thinking through these logistics, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) bubbles up as a clear path for optimal business continuity.

For those unfamiliar with the term, VDI is a technological solution where virtual desktops and applications are hosted in a central location, such as a datacenter or a public cloud, and then delivered remotely to endpoint devices such as laptops, PCs, smartphones, tablets, thin clients and Chromebooks. Because of its centralized architecture, VDI greatly simplifies various IT processes crucial to supporting mobile workforce environments. These include enforcing security policies, patching, deploying desktops and applications, troubleshooting OSes and applications, and more.

6. Implement Employee Education and Training

Remember in school when we were instructed to stop, drop and roll in the event of fire? Teachers drilled this into our heads so many times that there was no way we could forget it. The same must happen with disasters at the workplace today. Make disaster protocols as simple and easy to remember as possible, and practice crisis communication often with your employees as well as your customers.

It’s your job to train employees on the importance of business continuity planning. In order to do that, you must be prepared to share valuable resources to ensure that they know what to do in an emergency.

Establish a process for locating all necessary company resources and communicating with employees after a catastrophe strikes. Emergency managers typically categorize disasters as recurring events with four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Training staff in advance can, quite simply, mean the difference between life and death. Instead of being thrown in the deep end in a real-life emergency, your employees will be prepared to handle the situation and help ensure things run smoothly.

Employers have a responsibility to keep employees safe in the workplace, even when an unexpected disaster occurs. When it comes to training your staff in emergency preparedness, you should cover the:

7. Employ Continuous Testing

Your business continuity plan may look great on paper, but the real test is whether it will hold up in action. Simulating a real emergency is a good way to see if your plan holds water. That way, you won’t (literally) sink when disaster does strike. If there are holes, testing will help identify them early so you can update your BCP.

You should test and measure every aspect of your business continuity plan. The purpose of testing is to run simulations that enable you to evaluate your team’s level of preparedness. Those test results can be used to tweak and solidify your plan over time.

Now that you have an idea of what needs to be done, you can make sure your organization is ready for anything. For starters, follow these simple rules as a guide:

Protect Your Organization, and Ensure Business Continuity with Parallels RAS

Looking at what we covered in this article, you’ll see a pattern. The true measure of withstanding disaster is your ability to be prepared for anything. This means securing your important assets and making sure that your employees (arguably your most important asset) have access to them.

You may be presented with yet another instance of a distributed workforce in the face of our next disaster, and much like the COVID-19 pandemic, you might have limited access to any physical infrastructure you’ve put in place, so be sure to invest in digital solutions where possible. To that end, consider investing in technologies that support a distributed workforce, a cloud infrastructure and stringent security.

Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS) is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution that enables the secure delivery of applications and desktops to any device. It facilitates access to vital programs and data that your staff will need when they’re distributed and cannot open familiar files or applications from their physical workstation.

With Parallels RAS, your data never leaves the security of your network perimeters, safeguarding corporate assets from disaster. Highly granular permission policies, secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption and federal information processing standards (FIPS) 140-2 encryption enable your IT team to enforce policies based on a specific user, active directory group or even the end user’s device to secure corporate data.
There’s no predicting the future and the steps we’ve outlined in this article are certainly not an exhaustive list of everything a business can do to plan for disasters. But by following these steps, you can help control the risks of losing your key data and assets during disasters, so your business can continue to run with minimum disruption.
See how Parallels RAS can help bolster your business continuity plan. Watch the live demo today.