Business continuity

What is business continuity?

Business continuity is about identifying what aspects of an organisation’s activities and resources are essential and planning how key services will be maintained in the event of an emergency. The council has a number of business continuity plans and procedures in place and is further developing plans to cover all major areas of activity. Additionally, the council helps promote the concept of business continuity management to businesses and voluntary agencies so that they can plan to continue their operations in the event of disruption.

Why should businesses prepare for emergencies?

Because it makes real business sense. Every year many businesses suffer major disruption and many never recover. The Chartered Management Institute's Business Continuity Management Survey 2008 indicated that up to 43 per cent of businesses surveyed suffered disruptive events in the previous 12 months. Past experience from major incidents in the UK shows that organisations that have business continuity arrangements in place are more likely to stay in business and recover more quickly than those that don't. In short, unplanned disruptive incidents such as fire, terrorism a disease pandemic or severe weather can cause serious interruption to business operations. This is bad for employees, shareholders, customers and the local community.

If you want to stay in business after disaster strikes you need to undertake some careful pre-planning. You will find that it is quick, easy and inexpensive to create a business continuity plan. You can also use it as a selling point - a proven resilience and business continuity programme will distinguish you from your competitors.

Stage 1 - Analyse your business

The first step of a business continuity plan is to think about the parts of your business that are crucial in keeping it going.

  • Identify your core business requirements. What do customers expect from you? What do you need to be able to provide and how quickly?
  • Identify the interactions that take place within your organisation and between its customers and suppliers Identify areas where you are vulnerable.
  • What are the most likely and greatest risks to your business? How likely are they to happen? What effect will they have on your business? Write down your own examples of incidents and lists ways of how to cope with them.

Stage 2 - Develop your strategy

Having analysed your business and assessed the risks involved, you now know which areas to focus your plan on, be it on customer care during an emergency or on having remote access to your phone system. You will also know which type of potential incident would hit your business worst and how to minimise the damage that it could cause.

You should now know whether you need to be fully operational to survive, or whether it will be enough to operate at 50%. Do you know your break-even point? If not, it is very important to work it out.

Establish what is important to the survival of your business and what the risks are. Whatever your business, there are a number of options open in response to the risks you identify:

  • Accept the risk – do nothing and manage the consequences of an incident if and when it occurs.
  • Accept the risk but put some contingency arrangements in place to provide you with help to continue your business after an incident Attempt to reduce the likelihood and impact of the risk to an acceptable level.
  • Attempt to reduce the risk and put contingency arrangements in place to provide help to ensure your business can be maintained.
  • Reduce the risk to the point where outside help won’t be required.

Stage 3 - Develop your plan

Once you have decided on your strategy, the next stage is to develop your plan. Be sure to use non-technical language, making it accessible and easy to understand by everyone. The plan should enable you to restore your business to an acceptable level of activity, keeping your critical activities going until such time as you can return to normal business.

It is important to update your plan regularly: you do not want to be in a crisis with an out of date plan. Remember, it will need to be updated when key personnel change, when you move to a different location or when your key clients or suppliers change. You might wish to expand it and add local information, or fresh ideas to make it even more useful.

  • Identify who is responsible for doing what.
  • Use easy to follow checklists.
  • Provide a clear list of what needs to be dealt with first and what can be left until later.
  • Agree a method of ensuring that your plan is kept up to date and contains details of current personnel and risks.
  • Plan for worst case scenarios.

Stage 4 - Build a business continuity culture

Success in creating and embedding business continuity management is dependent upon it becoming an integral part on managing the business of your organisation. A key element will be awareness raising, training, participation and ownership of the plan by all employees.

Stage 5 - Rehearse and maintain your plan

Once the plan has been developed, it needs to be tested. How will you know whether you have omitted something if you don't test your plan? It is also vital to test the plan with all your staff so that each employee is fully aware of their responsibilities.

  • Read through your plan as a group. Ask at each point whether you are recommending the correct action in the right order.
  • Check your telephone cascade works. Are the right people on the right numbers? Does everybody know whom he or she should contact? What would you do if the phones weren't working?
  • Carry out a full rehearsal. Make sure all elements of the plan work together.

The Merseyside Business Continuity Leaflet is available to download on the right along with a business checklist for Pandemic Influenza

The websites listed on the right may also help you prepare your business continuity plan.