Lessons Learned from COVID-19: Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning

A global pandemic. Stay-at-home orders. An unprecedented quarantine in which work, school, and life itself were confined within the walls of one’s own home.

For most companies, COVID-19 was a wake-up call. Although disaster recovery and business continuity plans are nothing new, most are written to combat a regional incident, a computer hack, or a natural disaster—nothing as big or all-encompassing as a global pandemic of the magnitude that we're experiencing.

So, where should companies go from here? How can they create a disaster recovery and business continuity plan that truly prepares them for anything? And, just as important, how should they use the lessons learned in 2020 to disaster-proof their company going forward?

  1. Look at the controls you have in place: A good place to start is by looking at what controls your company has in place. These give you very good guidance in putting together a framework for the recovery of your business and IT systems and keeping the organisation running.

  2. Conduct a business impact assessment: Conduct a business impact assessment, a collective exercise across all functional areas that identifies:

    • What operations you need to have in place

    • The minimum number of employees you need to maintain those operations

    • The core systems and service providers that those functions are reliant on

  3. Test your recovery capabilities: Once the Business Impact Assessment is completed, this input goes to the relevant departments, so they know the core systems involved, the data requiring recovery, and the number of people who would have to be operational as per your requirements.

  4. Make sure the right stakeholders are involved: It’s important to note that, although IT plays a significant role, disaster recovery and business continuity programs are not solely an IT effort, it is a CEO issue. There needs to be active involvement and buy-in from all parts of the business.

  5. Map out the scenarios—but prepare to improvise: During scenario planning while you are mapping out different “what ifs” is part of business continuity planning, as COVID-19 has proven, you won’t be able to plan for everything. Our experts advise planning for what you can, but being prepared to adjust that plan for the situation at hand.

  6. Use those scenarios to re-evaluate gaps: Simulating the worst-case scenarios in advance also exposes your technological holes and gaps in your business processes. While some have the processes and technology in place to do this securely, other organisations are starting from square one. Look at the processes—and the supporting technology—that impeded your agility and find ways to streamline or automate what you currently have in place. If something held you back this time, it will hold you back next time—and was probably weighing down your business’ daily operations long before the pandemic took hold.

  7. Don’t wait until a disaster is upon you to start putting the plan in motion: Companies that more successfully responded to COVID-19 were the ones that recognised the potential threat and took action before the pandemic reached its peak. It’s better to have a false start than to wait until you’re in the midst of a crisis to start taking action.

  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate: External and internal communications are critical during a crisis. Mapping out how you’ll direct your employees, and reassure your customers, and who is responsible for executing those communications should all be part of your plan, as well. Just as important, make sure you continually communicate with your employees after the plan is in place to reduce stress and keep them feeling connected. Although no one can predict what the future holds, a well-tested, well-documented disaster recovery and business continuity plan is critical to weathering challenging times and still being there to serve your customers. It’s that combination of technology, process, planning and people that makes all of the difference.

Try this real life example based template to start working on your own business continuity plan today.