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An introduction to Continuity Planning

Small businesses are frequently buffeted by risks and uncertainties as a result of factors that emanate from a range of sources. Without preparation, planning and the taking of appropriate actions in response to the existence of such risks, small firms are vulnerable to significant negative consequences if they materialise.

While small firms cannot anticipate and plan for all the risks they might face, it is prudent to plan for those that are likely to have the most significant impact on an individual enterprise.  

General approach to continuity planning

The scale, scope and nature of any continuity planning will be dictated by the circumstances of the business. Therefore, such planning should begin with an appreciation of the essential qualities and functions of the business as well as the industry context, often referred to as the profile of a business. Constructing the profile starts with capturing basic information such as size, profitability, and industry and then moving onto identify more sophisticated (sometimes less tangible) aspects of a firm’s operational activity such as the complexity of the supply chain and workforce capability and capacity. A SWOT analysis is one way of doing this. It enables the continuity planner to pinpoint the various strengths and weaknesses of an enterprise and the threats and opportunities faced by the firm in their sector and the wider economy.

Diagram 1 below outlines a simple schemata that can help business owners and managers think about the key actions to be taken in developing a continuity plan.


Diagram 1: steps in business continuity planning


Risks: identifying and mitigating them

Identifying categories of risks which a business faces (or is likely to face) is step 2 in the continuity planning process. Diagram 2 below highlights a range of business factors that are common to most commercial enterprises and which are likely to pose a degree of risk to a business, if there are difficulties with them.  In broad terms risks can be:

  • Internal to the enterprise;
  • External to the firm but within the supply chain;
  • External to the firm and supply chain (i.e. emanate from, for example the commercial, technological, economic, legal or social environment).

The importance of any one risk factor to an individual firm will vary depending on the enterprise. Therefore, it is important that the likely effects of the various identified risk factors are prioritised based on their importance to the business.

Diagram 2: categories or risk factors for small firms

Once risks are identified and prioritised, measures can be taken to try and counter the risk and their effects. A good continuity plan, tailored to a business’s individual circumstances is likely to contain a mixture of:  

  • Preventative measures – actions which aim to prevent a risk materialising;
  • Limiting measures – attempts to minimise the impact of a risk once it has materialised;
  • Recovery measures – actions that allow flexibility in the face of the impact and help a business start operating again or scale-back-up its operations after the problem has been neutralised or at least controlled.

 

Structuring continuity plans

Table one below is an example of a simple business continuity plan structure which supports small business owners to:

  • Identify and categorise risks;
  • Prioritise the importance, to commercial operations, of the different risks based upon their ‘essential’, ‘critical’, ‘important’ and ‘non-important’ nature;
  • Develop specific ‘continuity’ measures that deal with the risks that have been identified and prioritised;
  • Place a realistic time frame and cost estimate on continuity measures and their implementation;

Another important aspect of continuity planning is thinking through the circumstances in which the plan (or parts of the plan) should be activated. Consequently, it is prudent to practice implementing ‘continuity’ plans. The details of any continuity planning will reflect the particular circumstances of the business in question. Therefore, for many smaller businesses a relatively simple approach will suffice. A planning matrix like the one illustrated in Table one below, provides a useful starting point for a smaller enterprise to begin continuity planning.

Table one: structuring a basic continuity plan [1]

BCP table 1

[1] This matrix is an adapted version from a planning document produced by AIG Europe. Source: AIG. Building a business continuity plan: guidelines for preparation of your plan. 2013.