Business continuity in a post-pandemic world
The pandemic showed that assumptions about the way the world works can change almost overnight.
But if there’s a silver lining to those two years of disruption, it’s the spotlight the crisis has shone on the need for business continuity planning.
After Covid, businesses know they have to be prepared for threats to their ability to perform core operations. That’s crucial, because the pandemic isn’t over. In addition, the crisis in Eastern Europe threatens global economic stability. And the most disruptive consequences of climate change are still to come.
What is business continuity planning?
So what is business continuity planning? Fundamentally, it’s the acceptance that bad things happen and that businesses need a strategy in place to mitigate negative outcomes and ensure they can continue to trade.
The circumstances that create a need for such planning are many and varied but might include:
- Extreme weather that disrupts core operations, by stalling supply chains, stopping employees from working normally or damaging premises.
- Geopolitical volatility that cuts supply chains or creates uncertainty in core markets. The current situation in Ukraine is a case in point.
- Theft, vandalism and arson can all lead to business continuity challenges.
- Ransomware can lock you out of your files and systems, making business all-but impossible.
- A global health pandemic.
But while continuity planning is generally a response to extreme events, it can also be useful for more everyday challenges.
For example, an especially cold winter (or hot summer), or a virulent flu season, can disrupt day-to-day operations, even if they don’t threaten the ultimate viability of your business. Some of the steps you might implement as part of a business continuity plan could be helpful in these situations, too.
Lessons from the pandemic
Business continuity planning was often ignored before the pandemic, especially among SMEs. It was the last priority on a very long list. Many leaders just didn’t get round to it.
Lockdown shocked them into action. Most obviously, businesses that could easily transition to a remote working model found the early weeks and months of Covid easier than those who were locked into an office-based mentality.
Many businesses quickly closed the gap by investing in cloud-based communications and collaboration technology. But while Teams and hosted voice services are excellent tools in any company’s armoury, business continuity planning involves much more than being able to collaborate remotely. A comprehensive strategy should consider the following:
- Working from home. Zoom is great, but can your employees work effectively and productively away from the office? That means having access to a full suite of office tools, data and systems. Your business continuity may depend on it.
- Disaster recovery. If your network went down, what would you do? Trusted IT support, in-house or otherwise, is crucial here.
- Off-site data storage. Business continuity planning must include the ability to spin up new versions of your applications and data in seconds. Cloud vendors should ensure your information is mirrored in more than one geographical location.
- Third party back office support. If staff are unavailable or tied up with other tasks, can you bring in temporary help? For that matter, can you set up office in a different building?
- Sourcing and procurement. What would you do if a key link in your supply chain was taken out? Alternative supply chain solutions need to be part of any continuity plan for relevant businesses.
Would you be ready?
All of which begs the questions: would you be ready if the pandemic struck again tomorrow?
That’s the benchmark by which your business continuity strategy should be judged. Covid came out of the blue. But businesses cannot depend on generous government support or the boundless forbearance of customers the next time round.
Instead, forward thinking SMEs will use the pandemic experience to put holistic business continuity plans in place.
The digital nature of modern business means much of that planning – though not all – will involve technology. Zoom and Teams are just the start. Cloud-based solutions for core operations are obvious next steps. Data and systems should be saved off-site, in more than one location.
Connectivity is the foundation of any business continuity strategy. As a general rule, the more fibre your internet service contains, the more resilient it will be. Fast and reliable connectivity can also help your businesses transition quickly to new ways of working.
The pandemic showed that business continuity planning is not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s essential. Your survival as a business might depend on it. Ask yourself if you are prepared for the next crisis, in whatever form it might take.