By Wesley Bard
Senior Director, IT Risk & Compliance at Web.com Group
I’m a planner and organizer in almost every way. As a computer engineer who once designed fighter jets, I had to pay attention to every minute detail – after all, lives depended on it. I bring that same sense of preparation and order to my current position as the Senior Director of IT Risk and Compliance at Web.com. But as we’ve recently experienced during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the wellbeing of even the most organized businesses can be unexpectedly and negatively affected by unforeseen events.
Dealing with the pandemic was an eye-opener for almost every business and one of my immediate responsibilities was ensuring that a suddenly remote workforce was able to quickly get up and running and had everything necessary to accomplish their tasks. Thankfully, I wasn’t on my own to make these decisions and had good guidance because of security incident response planning.
Whether you are facing a pandemic or a natural disaster like a hurricane or tornado, a business continuity plan (BCP) includes a set of repeatable steps or procedures that enables your business to recover and get back on its feet in the face of an unexpected disaster or event. Being prepared for virtually anything will bring you peace of mind and a solid plan will help you be ready and well-rehearsed during adversity.
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us a lot about the need to be prepared for going weeks or even months without physical resources or other items you might normally have uninterrupted access to. Simply put, you have to be ready for anything. That’s why a proper response plan is invaluable to a small business like yours.
A business continuity plan will provide detailed guidance on the necessary steps for quickly helping a business recover in a time of crisis. It is designed to protect the interests and assets of your business, employees and customers. Creating a plan is easier than you may think and you will rest easy knowing that if a challenging event occurs, you will be ready.
The best time to plan for unforeseen events in your business’s future is right now. You can create an effective response plan in five easy steps. Here’s how.
1. Be Ready for Anything
You never know what challenges your business may face. Here in Florida, hurricanes and tropical storms could mean we have to deal with water-damaged servers and compromised networks. As we’ve seen with the coronavirus, you may suddenly have to adapt to remote working conditions. Create a plan that takes into account various scenarios and obstacles so you always have a roadmap to safety.
2. Identify Your Critical Business Activities and Resources
The most important step in a successful response plan is to determine the critical business activities you need to keep your business operating effectively and the resources you need to support them. Clearly define and document the necessary steps to bring these critical business activities back online if they become suspended. Assessing your ongoing needs is a key starting point and the foundation of your plan.
3. Consider What You Will Need First in an Emergency
When an emergency situation occurs, you will have little time to assess the first resources you need to keep your business running. This can be accomplished in advance with a business impact analysis (BIA). A BIA will help you determine the things you need to at least “get by” until you have time to get back on your feet. Is it a backup for your phone system? Your point-of-sale system? A replacement for your online storefront? Whatever it is, have these items ready so you and your team can take action.
4. Clearly Assign Responsibilities
Use your business impact analysis to develop your business continuity plan. Make sure everyone understands their roles and is ready to assume their responsibilities in a crisis situation. Be sure that all of this is included in your written plan. Review and update your chain of command often as you may have changes and turnover within your workforce. When everyone knows what you expect of them, the recovery and restoration process will take place much more quickly and efficiently.
5. Practice Your Plan
Practice your business continuity plan for different scenarios. Imagine what you would do in case of a hurricane or the loss of your physical office. Run through your plan. How long would it take you to get your small business back online? If the timeline isn’t acceptable, keep practicing and look for things to improve upon. We often call this “tabletop” planning – a way to ensure our business continuity plan is as detailed as possible.
Let’s say you’re a coastal real estate owner whose business is suddenly shut down by a hurricane. Your first move should be to assess damages and determine what resources are essential for getting you and your employees back up and running as soon as possible. Evaluate the state of your servers as accessing and protecting your business and customer data is critical. If your servers are not housed by a third-party, move them to the safest possible location. Review your office equipment to determine if it has incurred water damage and salvage anything possible.
Your best approach in this situation is to probably have your company employees work from home. Have an IT professional implement Virtual Private Network (VPN) protocols to ensure your team works in a protected, remote environment when accessing the internet. Also make sure your Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates are up to date to ensure all customer data is safeguarded on your website. Finally, conduct virtual team meetings regularly using Zoom or a similar platform to review the responsibilities for each employee in your business continuity plan. Update your website and contact your customers to explain your situation.
The goal is to always have a business continuity plan in place so when a major obstacle occurs, you are always ready to take immediate and well-rehearsed action.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned during this pandemic is the need for clear communication. Whether it is with customers or employees, a constant and open dialogue is critical to managing your business and your relationships through any change in your business pattern and especially during the pandemic.
Security is also a critical factor that has come to light. In regard to a remote workforce, are your networks and systems set up to run from a location outside of your physical location? If they are, that’s great but how secure is your plan? We are seeing an increase in cyberattacks during the pandemic, and learning to take measures to defend against cybersecurity incidents will help you be better prepared for the future. Note that overcoming cybersecurity challenges is often the specific focus of a security incident response plan – a variation of a business continuity plan that serves the same purpose.
The coronavirus has been an extreme test for most businesses. Learning from this seemingly unprecedented situation will allow you to have an even better response plan for future obstacles and unexpected events.
Web.com is well equipped to help small businesses be prepared for risks now and in the future. All of our website packages include website hosting on redundant cloud servers. If one server fails for any reason, your site data will be quickly shifted to another server so there is little to no website downtime.
Our website plans also include a secure connection and guaranteed privacy protection to safeguard your personal data. Most importantly, your website files will be backed up every day, meaning that your website can be quickly and efficiently restored in the event of any unforeseen cyberattacks or obstacles.
No one knows what the future holds, but the good news is that you can plan for it. A business continuity plan is one of the most important investments you can make in your business. I encourage you to take the steps now to create a plan and hope you find this information helpful in getting started. I wish you all the best and hope you stay safe as we continue to move forward towards brighter days ahead.