When it comes to recovering from a “data disaster,” such as cyberattacks or equipment failure due to natural disasters, two concepts come to mind: business continuity and disaster recovery.
People often use these two terms interchangeably. But while they do intersect on some points — causing the confusion — they describe different business approaches IT managers and C-level officers can use to recover from a disaster.
Misunderstanding these terms could increase a business’ risk for inadequate planning since one approach looks at the broader aspect of data recovery while the other is focused on the IT aspect only.
So, how do you distinguish the difference between the two, and how do you determine which approach would work better for your situation?
Business Continuity: Restoring ALL Operations
Business continuity (BC) refers to proactive maintenance or immediate resumption of business functions in the event of a significant disruption, such as a malicious cybercrime, a fire, or a flood in the office. BC management plans outline recovery procedures for the following:
- Business processes (e.g., manufacturing, logistics, and sales)
- Business partners
- Human resources
- Staff and facilities
As its name suggests, business continuity is a business-centric process, not a data-centric one. It ensures that when system failures occur, critical business data is still accessible with little to no downtime.
It is also a combination of software and hardware technologies that keep data in two different places at the same time. For example, if your production server in one building fails, your team should move all data and apps to another system. If your mail application fails on the first server, you should have another copy on the second server so people can still retrieve their data.
Continuity Covers a Broader Scope
Business continuity represents a broader scope of maintenance than just the recovery of the equipment and data. Most businesses conduct practical analyses of their recovery period. Time is a crucial factor; the sooner they can resume business operations as usual, the better.
The subject of recovery time introduces the following continuity questions:
What should we recover first to stay in business?
How can we assure our customers of our stability in spite of the disruption in our operations?
What do our clients and business partners need to continue fulfillment and delivery?
The BC plan’s focus on the process reveals what you should do and could do without immediately. It encourages you to articulate costs versus benefits. At the end of the analysis, you’d have a priority list.
What Does a BC Plan Look Like?
Do you have a way to get customer support, manufacturing, and HR to function smoothly right after a disaster? For example, if a flood damages the building that houses customer support, how can they still handle customer calls? Will you move them to a new location or have your employees work from home temporarily? A BC plan addresses these concerns.
Typical BC plans are written documents that list down the business’ essential functions. It should also have the following sections:
- Plan objectives. What is your plan’s overall objective? What should it accomplish, and which critical areas should the focus be directed?
- Contact information. Contact details of employees or partners who developed the plan, as well as each department’s point persons.
- Risk assessment. A thorough analysis of potential disaster scenarios: how they could disrupt operations and their impact.
- Impact analysis. Each disaster scenario has a different outcome. How can they affect your business? How much would hardware damage, recovery costs, and lack of manpower potentially cost your company?
- Contingencies. These are secondary protocols and backup assets, such as backup equipment, a second location, and more.
- Communication. How can the team stay in touch with recovery personnel? This list should include company extranet, text alert systems, and calling trees.
Developing an Effective Business Continuity Plan
If your company doesn’t have a business continuity plan in place, start working on one by assessing your current operations. Spot vulnerable areas and determine potential losses should your processes go down for a day or a week.
The next steps involved in plan development include:
- Identifying the scope of the plan
- Identifying critical functions and key business areas
- Determining the acceptable downtime for each business function
- Planning for maintenance operations
Your BC plan should also serve as a multifaceted document for managing all ends of disaster preparedness. Address the following factors:
- Prevention. How can you prevent data loss or disasters from happening in the first place?
- Mitigation. What processes can help you limit the impact of disruptions in case they occur?All business continuity plans should focus on the supply chain and your customers. Customers must be confident with the filing of their orders and suppliers should know that their payment invoices are still in the pipeline.
Finally, a good BC plan should include processes to recover and replace your IT systems. Data is the heart of your operations; how can you recover them without interrupting your business’ operations? Is your network designed for data recovery and backup?
A more specific part of the business continuity plan can answer this.
Disaster Recovery: Restoring Data and Information Systems
Disaster recovery (DR) is a smaller and more specific part of the total business continuity plan. It focuses on saving data and getting your information systems up and running after a disaster. Unlike business continuity, which covers a larger scope of the business’ operations, DR plans focus on restoring and recovering IT data without experiencing downtime, if possible.
Downtime is one of the biggest IT expenses businesses can face. An hour of downtime can cost small businesses as much as $8000 and around $700,000 for larger companies. Extended loss of productivity can result in lost orders, missed delivery dates, late invoicing, and so on.
By having a disaster plan in place, your business reduces the risk of data loss and out of budget expenses, as well as protect your credibility.
Disaster recovery plans can also handle the non-IT related protocols. For example, a disaster plan can include steps on how to restore communication between emergency staff and the C-suite executives in case lines of communication are unavailable. It could also offer instructions on moving data to another business location to resume critical operations.
What Does a DR Plan Look Like?
Disaster recovery plans serve as the “Response” component of your BC plans. It deals with technologies, procedures, and goals necessary to complete a quick recovery after a disruption. This recovery could pertain to network outages, loss of data, damaged hardware, or any point of failure across your business processes.
Before you plan your DR, identify the following factors first:
- Recovery Time Objective (RTO). RTO refers to the desired period for completing recovery before the situation becomes worse. It can be applied to individual layers of IT, like data recovery, or the business as a whole. For example, an RTO of 20 minutes means you should restore or recover all data within 20 minutes after the original loss of data.
- Recovery Point Objective (RPO). This is the age of files that must be restored from the backup storage for operations to resume if a network, computer, or system experiences failure due to hardware or communication problems. For instance, if your RPO is five hours, your last backup should never be more than five hours. Take note: longer RPOs increase your risk for data loss.
- Recovery technologies. All apps or systems currently implemented to support the restoration process. This can be a disaster recovery or data backup system that enables you or your DR team to recover ransomware-infected datasets or missing critical files.
- Vendors, suppliers, and other third parties. This group can include telecommunications companies, IT providers, or other third-party providers needed to support the recovery process. In case of an Internet outage, for example, your disaster recovery plan should include your Internet provider’s contact details.
- Recovery protocols. Who is your point person for a certain role in a disaster situation? In the case of data recovery, who should oversee it, and how would they do it? Spell out your protocols to ensure the recovery team will know what to do.
- Recovery testing. Mock disaster scenarios and regular tests confirm if your recovery systems are efficient. Test your data recovery plans to determine if your backups are available and can be restored without integrity issues.
The information in your disaster recovery plan should be dictated by a thorough analysis, such as impact analysis and risk assessments from your overall business continuity planning.
Developing an Effective Disaster Recovery Plan
To ensure your data, systems, and personnel is protected and your business can resume operations in the event of an emergency, keep the following DR guidelines in mind:
Include an inventory of software and hardware. Your DR plan should have a complete inventory of business applications and hardware in priority order. Include technical support information and contact details so you can restore IT systems ASAP.
Identify point persons and backup personnel. Disaster recovery plans should define the parties involved in the event of a disaster, as well as their responsibilities. All appointed parties must be aware of their roles to ensure the DR plan will be enacted smoothly.
Determine your tolerance for data and downtime. If you’re an electrician, you can still be in business without technology for a little longer. But if you’re an e-commerce platform, you can’t be down for more than a second. Evaluate what an acceptable recovery time objective and recovery point objective is. Identifying these two metrics can help you prioritize and avoid miscalculating what you can recover during a disaster.
Ultimately, your disaster recovery plan’s reliability will depend on everything you’ve included in the plan: the infrastructure, planning, and testing.
Disaster Recovery Overlaps with Business Continuity
A comprehensive business continuity plan always has a disaster plan built into it. Business continuity serves as the master document that encompasses all aspects of your business’ disaster prevention plan. Disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity and supports BC plans from a technical perspective.
Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are also interdependent. They both identify many of the same aspects, such as their need for a temporary backup location, communication factors, and security features. Both plans should work in tandem to ensure your business would still function in the face of a disaster.
Similar to marketing and business plans, DR and BC plans require regular reviews. Although these plans don’t require quarterly or monthly reviews, you need to review them annually to check their consistency. Your business will undergo changes and expansions; your plans should adjust accordingly to them.
“But what if I don’t have time for all of these?” you might ask.
Growing your business is no easy feat, but it pays to have a disaster recovery and business continuity plan ready in case of a disaster. How can you strike a balance between the two?
By getting help from a professional.
Outsource Your Disaster Recovery Solutions
When you hire a professional, you don’t have to install and manage systems for your DR plan on your own. All you need is a stable Internet connection to access your organization’s recovered data and systems. Apart from recovering data crucial to your operations, you’ll also lower your maintenance costs.
IT service providers like NetStandard put your worries to rest. Our disaster recovery and backup solutions are designed for small- to medium-sized businesses, particularly for those who don’t have the workforce or infrastructure to execute immediate data recovery efforts. With our services, you can recover critical data in a matter of hours and still run your business — almost as if disaster didn’t strike in the first place.
Our outsourced solutions promote business continuity with a plan designed to reduce downtime. Our plans start with communicating your issue immediately to vendors, customers, and vendors.
Business continuity and disaster recovery plans ensure no disaster stop your operations. Creating and implementing BC and DR plans need not consume your time when you entrust the technical part to us. Prepare for data disasters with NetStandard by sending us a message today.