Business continuity encompasses planning and preparation to ensure that an organization can continue to operate in case of serious incidents or disasters and is able to recover to an operational state within a reasonably short period. As such, business continuity includes three key elements and they are
- Resilience: critical business functions and the supporting infrastructure must be designed in such a way that they are materially unaffected by relevant disruptions, for example through the use of redundancy and spare capacity;
- Recovery: arrangements have to be made to recover or restore critical and less critical business functions that fail for some reason.
- Contingency: the organization establishes a generalized capability and readiness to cope effectively with whatever major incidents and disasters occur, including those that were not, and perhaps could not have been, foreseen. Contingency preparations constitute a last-resort response if resilience and recovery arrangements should prove inadequate in practice.
As this article is looking mainly at information and communications technology (ICT), business continuity includes staff, equipment, facilities and any other requirments for normal business operation as well.
Typical disasters that business continuity is meant to account for include natural disasters such as fires and floods, accidents by key personnel in the business, server crashes or virus infections, insolvency of key suppliers, negative media campaigns and market upheavals such as stock market crashes. Such disasters may not necessarily have to occur in the place of business to have catastrophic impact in the globalized economy.
The management of business continuity falls largely within the sphere of quality management and risk management, with some cross-over into related fields such as governance, information security and compliance. Risk management is an important tool for business continuity as it provides a structured way to identify the sources of business disruption and assess their probability and harm. It is expected that all business functions, operations, supplies, systems, relationships, etc. that are critically important to achieve the organization's operational objectives are analyzed and included in the business continuity plan. Business Impact Analysis is the generally accepted risk management term for the process of determining the relative importance or criticality of those elements, and in turn drives the priorities, planning, preparations and other business continuity management activities.
One important way to achieve business continuity is the use of international standards, program development, and supporting policies. These standards ensure that proven methods and concepts for business continuity are used. As with many quality management standards though, the primary task of identifying relevant potential disasters, making plans for evacuation, buying spare machines and servers, performing backups and bringing them off-site, assigning responsibility, performing drills, educating employees and being vigilant cannot be replaced by adherence to standards. As such, commitment by management to see business continuity as an important topic and assign people to work on it, remains the most important step in establishing business continuity.
If there is no Business Continuity plan implemented and the organization in question is facing a rather severe threat or disruption that may lead to bankruptcy, the implementation and outcome, if not too late, may strengthen the organization's survival and its continuity of business activities (Gittleman, 2013).
Several business continuity standards have been published by various standards bodies:
ISO - ISO 22301:2012, "Societal security – Business continuity management systems – Requirements", specifies a management system to manage an organization's business continuity arrangements. It is formal in style in order to facilitate compliance auditing and certification. It is supported by ISO 22313:2012, "Societal security – Business continuity management systems – Guidance" which provides more pragmatic advice concerning business continuity management. ISO/IEC 27031:2011, "Information security – Security techniques – Guidelines for information and communication technology [ICT] readiness for business continuity" offers guidance on the ICT aspects of business continuity management.
United Kingdom – British Standard BS 25999 was a two-part business continuity management standard. “BS 25999-1:2006 Business Continuity Management. Code of Practice” offered pragmatic implementation guidance, but was withdrawn in 2012 when ISO 22313 effectively superseded it. “BS 25999-2:2007 Specification for Business Continuity Management” formally specified a set of requirements for a business continuity management system. It too was withdrawn in 2012 when it was (in effect) replaced by ISO 22301.
North America – Published by the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs.
North America - ASIS/BSI BCM.01:2010 published Dec 2010
ANSI/ASIS SPC.1-2009 Organizational Resilience: The ANSI/ASIS SPC.1-2009 Organizational Resilience: Security, Preparedness, and Continuity Management Systems—Requirements with Guidance for Use American National Standard is under consideration for inclusion in the DHS PS-Prep, a voluntary program designed to enhance national resilience in an all hazards environment by improving private sector preparedness.
Australia – Published by Standards Australia HB 292-2006 : A practitioners guide to business continuity management HB 293-2006 : Executive guide to business continuity management In 2010, Standards Australia introduced their Standard AS/NZS 5050 that connects far more closely with traditional risk management practices. This interpretation is designed to be used in conjunction with AS/NZS 31000 covering risk management.
Ongoing management-level process to ensure that necessary steps are regularly taken to identify probable accidents, disasters, emergencies, and/or threats. It also involves (1) assessment of the probable effect of such events, (2) development of recovery strategies and plans, and (3) maintenance of their readiness through personnel training and plan testing. See also business impact analysis
Policies are those things mandated by the management of an organization that will always be performed according to a preset design plan, and supporting all business functions within an organization.
The components of the business continuity methodology required for manifestation into a documented plan include:
Set of documents, instructions, and procedures which enable a business to respond to accidents, disasters, emergencies, and/or threats without any stoppage or hindrance in its key operations. Also called business resumption plan, disaster recovery plan, or recovery plan.
Should also include: purpose, scope, objectives and assumptions that were used to develop the plan. Key accountabilities including authority to invoke, instructions subsequent to invocations, and a detailed communications plan must be included in the plan to ensure efficient resumption of operations.
Task of identifying, developing, acquiring, documenting, and testing procedures and resources that will ensure continuity of a firm's key operations in the event of an accident, disaster, emergency, and/or threat. It involves (1) risk mitigation planning (reducing possibility of the occurrence of adverse events), and (2) business recovery planning (ensuring continued operation in the aftermath of a disaster).
Guidelines are those things which are recommended to be performed according to a preset design plan. However depending upon the needs and requirements of the target business function, these items may or may not be performed, or may be altered during implementation.
British Standard 25999-2 and other standards identified above provide a specification for implementing a business continuity management system within an organization.
Business impact analysis (BIA)
The entire concept of business continuity is based on the identification of all business functions within an organization, and then assigning a level of importance to each business function. A business impact analysis is the primary tool for gathering this information and assigning criticality, recovery point objectives, and recovery time objectives, and is therefore part of the basic foundation of business continuity.
The BIA can be used to identify extent and timescale of the impact on different levels of an organization. For instance it can examine the effect of disruption on operational, functional and strategic activities of an organization. Not only the current activities but the effect of disruption on major business changes, introducing new product or services for example, can be determined by BIA.
Most standards require that a business impact analysis should be reviewed at defined intervals appropriate for each organization and whenever any of the following occur:
- Significant changes in the internal business process, location or technology
- Significant changes in the external business environment – such as market or regulatory change
In today's global business environment, security must be the top priority in managing Information Technology. For most organizations, security is mandated by law Citation? The only security law is HIPAA, and conformance to those mandates is investigated regularly in the form of auditsCitation? The only mandate that's supposedly audited yearly is PCI-DSS and PCI-DSS is self reporting. There's no enforcement.. Failure to pass security audits can have financial and management changing impacts upon an organization.
In large information technology environments, personnel turnover is inevitable and must be planned as part of business continuity. The solution to the problems associated with turnover, is complete and up-to- date documentation. This ensures that new personnel will have the information they need to quickly become knowledgeable and productive with respect to the business functions they are tasked to support. This also implies that business function related documentation is largely generated (rather than written) from existing systems and managed in an automated manner.
Regulations require that changes to business functions be documented and tracked for auditing purposes and is designated as "change control". This brings a level of stability to the business functions by requiring the support personnel to document and coordinate proposed changes to the underlying systems. As this process becomes more and more automated, the emphasis will be less upon personnel control, and more upon regulatory compliance..
One of the most costly and time-consuming aspects of information technology management is dealing with auditors. One of the goals of business continuity is data center automation, which includes audit management. All modern business functions should be designed with the concept of automatically generating the requisite audit compliance information and documentation as part of conducting day-to-day business. This dramatically reduces the time and cost associated with manually producing this information.
Automation is often associated with the idea of centralized management - in area of data storage and data management. Solutions based on storage consolidation can ensure data safety, efficiency, high availability, reliability and convenience.
Service level agreements (SLA)
The interface between management and information technology is the Service level agreement (SLA). This provides a written contract stipulating the expectations of management with regard to the availability of a necessary business function, and the deliverables that information technology provides in support of that business function.
Another component of business continuity is communications in times of duress. Members of the disaster recovery team must be able to communicate effectively among themselves as well as with managers, directors, customers, partners, and even with the media. In order to avoid some of the potential problems associated with disrupted communication channels, the business continuity plan should include a lead manager who will be in charge of all communications in that area, the cooperation of executives and public relations people, and scheduled exercises to put the plan into practice.
Disaster recovery planning occurs as a subset of defining the business continuity procedures.
The following is a list of physical and logical entities within an information technology environment which require the application of a business continuity methodology. Applying the methodology should include the definition of things such as policies, guidelines, standards, procedures, etc., for each item in the list:
- Frames and Managed Systems
- Firmware and Microcode
- Internal and external disk storage
- Frame or Managed System Names
- Partition Names
- Node Names
- Host Names
- DNS Aliases
- Hardware Management Consoles and Console Access
- Networking Design
- TCP/IP Subnets
- Resource or Service Groups
- Workload Management
- Volume Groups
- Logical Volumes / Disk Partitions
- Journaling Filesystems Log
- Filesystem mount points
- User names and UID numbers
- Group names and GID numbers
- High Availability
- System Installation
- Application Installation
- Database Installation
- System Monitoring
- Application Monitoring
- Database Monitoring
- Patch Management
Planning, prevention, and preparation are a key part of any business continuity management system and have direct read across from civil contingencies planning. The activity begins with understanding the business to identify potential risks and threats to critical business activities both internally and from the external environment. It is also advisable to examine the resilience of suppliers.
- BCI Good Practice Guidelines 2007
- Open-E, Solutions. "Centralized data storage management - the must-have solution" 19 September 2011.
- "Building Communications Into Business Continuity". Dell.com. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
- National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-34: Contingency Planning Guide for Information Technology Systems
- Gittleman, Stuart (2013) U.S. regulators urge firms to improve business continuity and disaster recovery plans [online]. Reuters. Available from: http://blogs.reuters.com/financial-regulatory-forum/2013/08/21/u-s-regulators-urge-firms-to-improve-business-continuity-and-disaster-recovery-plans/ [Accessed 4 November 2013].