Business Resumption Planning for Small Businesses

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1 Business Resumption Planning for Small Businesses Stephen Townsend IS 8300: Disaster Recovery and Contingency Planning Fall /10/2010 ABSTRACT Contingency planning is the act of preparing for, dealing with, and recovering from events that can halt normal business operations. The incident could be a power outage that lasts for a day or a fire that destroys a business s building. Regardless of the severity, it is through proper planning and preparation businesses can survive. However, statistics show that in the current economic climate many small businesses are forgoing such plans. The following is an examination of what most small businesses are doing and why, and what affordable solutions exist to help them implement effective business resumption plans. Categories and Subject Descriptors K.6.5 [Management of Computing and Information Systems]: Security and Protection Insurance General Terms Contingency Planning, Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity, Business Resumption Planning 1. INTRODUCTION Contingency planning is a vital component of any organization, large or small. While many big businesses have extensive plans and a specific staff dedicated to revising and testing them, many small businesses have plans that are not frequently tested or have no such plan at all. Jim Burtles, in his article Beware the Complex Plan, says, Business continuity is not rocket science, indeed, it is better described as structured common sense. [7] And even though contingency planning may not be a terribly difficult concept to grasp, many small businesses are forgoing such plans for a number of reasons, including the current economic climate. However, cost-effective strategies do exist that can be incorporated over a period of time to help make a small business better prepared. This paper will first examine some statistics taken from recent surveys to assess how small businesses are faring when it comes to developing contingency plans. Next it is necessary to go over why small business owners feel the way they do about their decision-making. After an examination of several areas of contingency planning with specific emphasis on conducting it for small businesses, a glimpse will be given of the types of affordable strategies small businesses can implement into new plans or use to bolster existing ones. Having a contingency plan can help a small business mitigate the Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. adverse effects of disasters and incidents such as acts of nature and power outages in an effort to recover more quickly. A Price Waterhouse Coopers survey found 90% of all companies that have no survival plan and experience a disaster go out of business within 18 months. [7] Another survey, which included those companies that do have a business continuity plan, found that 25% to 40% of small businesses that suffer from a disaster do not reopen, and many of those that do often do not survive the next year. [8] American Red Cross data also reports that 40% of small businesses do not reopen after a disaster. [9] Despite the enormous risk associated with conducting business without effective and thorough contingency planning, a large number of small businesses continue to do so. A 2010 Travelers survey, which was conducted at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce s America s Small Business Summit 2010 in Washington D.C., found that 44% of the 101 small business owners surveyed said they are operating without a business continuity plan. [9] In a 2009 Agility survey of 700 small and medium-sized businesses, 17% reported having no business continuity plan in place, even though 81% of those who had experienced an interruption in productivity were forced to shut down for at least a day. [1] It comes as no surprise that big businesses are much more likely to have a business continuity plan and make it a priority. A 2010 AT&T study that interviewed 530 IT executives, all of who have primary responsibilities in business continuity planning for businesses making more than $10 million in revenues, found that three out of four of those interviewed see business continuity planning as a priority. Eight out of ten of them said they have an active business continuity plan. [2] These facts give way to several key points that will be discussed throughout this paper. First, small businesses should keep the development of a business resumption plan simple. Second, they can, and should, keep it affordable. Third, they should do this by folding key business continuity concepts into the everyday routine of the organization and its employees. As Dr. Robert F. Hester, a preparedness consultant for small businesses, puts it, If we do not build the sidewalks where people walk, they are not going to get used. [7] Fourth, while the development of a business resumption plan is key, so is the regular maintenance of such a plan. After all, contingency planning is a process, not simply a singular activity that is completed once and forgotten. Doing so only ensures such a plan will fail when it is needed. 2. MANAGEMENT BUY-IN While this paper focuses on cost-effective contingency strategies for small businesses, it is prudent to discuss management buy-in as it relates to such plans. Without proper management support, even the easiest and cheapest strategies will never be implemented. Since a small business is not likely to have trained 1

2 personnel on staff to lead separate disaster recovery and business continuity teams, this role will likely fall to the small business owner. This is why it is important to discuss management buy-in and ensure a small business s management is onboard with the idea of a contingency plan. 2.1 Why Managers are Reluctant Unfortunately, many small business managers are averse to developing and maintaining a disaster recovery and business continuity plan for a number of reasons. Cost is typically at the top of the list. The 2009 Agility survey shows that regardless of company size, employees cite major challenges in getting C-Level buy-in for business continuity plans. [1] This is alarming because small businesses are more vulnerable to disasters than their big business counterparts, and executive-level support is needed for effective plans. Larger companies typically have a risk manager position responsible for such functions. As John P. O Connor, vice president of product and underwriting for Travelers, puts it, Owners of small firms wear lots of hats and get information from a couple different sources. [9] Many small business owners have a very direct line of logic they use when thinking about surviving disasters. Eric Holdemon, EMA director for Seattle s King County, explained in a Time Magazine article titled Why We Don t Prepare for Disasters that: There are (basically) four stages of denial (when it comes to disasters). One is, it won t happen. Two is, if it does happen, it won t happen to me. Three, if it does happen to me, it won t be that bad. And four, if it happens to me and it s bad, there s nothing I can do to stop it anyway. [13] While it can be hard to quantify the probability of a disaster or incident occurring or the damage it may cause, it is also hard to quantify the long-term loss of a business s reputation and customer loyalty in the event of one. Either loss of a building or loss of a customer base is often enough to simply put the organization out of business. 2.2 Getting Management Support Management might be surprised to know big natural disasters, while good for newspaper headlines, are the rarity when it comes to business interruptions. One survey found that nearly 80% of all downtime is a result of hardware failures or other operational errors that are caused by people. In addition, several business schools have conducted case studies that show 90% of business crises are quiet catastrophes, that is, not extremely damaging disasters. [16] Utility outages, employee illnesses, personal emergencies and equipment failures are all potential threats to the normal operation of a business. For example, one study found that power loss was the number one cause of business disruptions in the past year. [9] Nim Traeger, second vice president of casualty services at Travelers Risk Control, notes that the loss of a small business does not have to be significant in order for the business to recognize it as significant. [9] Whether large or small, any disruption to the normal functioning of a small business calls for a business resumption strategy. One reason why these types of incidents often fly under the radar and take a backseat to other issues is because many small business owners are concerned with the day-to-day survival of their company. This includes making payroll, covering rent, paying vendors and suppliers and constantly finding new customers. [8] 2 Figure 1. Data and graphic from Travelers survey [14] Figure 1 shows a list of priorities that business owners ranked on a scale of 1 to 7, with the data expressed as an average score from each response. Marketing and sales, managing cash flow, and attracting financing came out on top, while managing risks, compliance with regulations and protecting the business from lawsuits rounded out the bottom of the list. [14] In the same survey, 55% of small business owners said they spend less than 10 percent of their time on risk management. [9] Despite these facts, only 6 percent of the small business owners surveyed said they are not at all confident that their business is protected. [4] Fifty-three percent feel they are somewhat confident and 41% feel extremely confident their business is protected. [4] O Connor mentions that 10 years ago a small business was able to close for about a week and reopen with the same customer base it had before. In today s world, however, there is an expectation of continuity, and if a business is unable to reopen promptly or contact its customers to reassure them, its consumer base is likely to go to a business s competitors. [9] This expectation is significant because the small business itself is typically the livelihood of a business owner and by relation his or her employees. As has been shown from statistics, businesses with contingency plans are more likely to survive or come back from disasters or incidents. If an owner wishes to foster a business culture where he or she looks out for his or her employees, it would be beneficial to adopt a contingency plan. The successful small business owner is aware that the lack of such a plan reflects poorly on the organization. Customers and/or vendors could view this lack of preparation as indicative of the business as a whole and form negative opinions about the company. [8] Once a small business s management is behind the idea of a contingency plan, they can begin developing it. The following section is an examination of how a small business can go about

3 creating a business resumption plan in such a way that will not interrupt normal business functions. No specific price tags are associated with these strategies, but most are simple, affordable ways of tackling the challenges of contingency planning inherent in small businesses. 3. CONTINGENCY PLANNING Many steps exist in the process of creating a cohesive contingency plan. Forming contingency planning teams, creating a business impact analysis and delegating roles and responsibilities to employees are just a few of the critical steps involved. Rather than provide an overview of how to conduct contingency planning, which is better left to instructional guides and primers on the subject, this section will detail some of the challenges small businesses may face in a few of these areas and how to overcome them. 3.1 Building the Team Almost all big businesses have separate plans that together form a company-wide contingency plan. They are typically divided into the incident response plan, disaster recovery plan, and business continuity plan. Occasionally a business will combine the disaster recovery and business continuity plans into a single plan known as the business resumption plan. Since the disaster recovery and business continuity plans are typically executed together, this approach allows organizations with fewer resources to conduct both plans simultaneously. This approach is recommended here for small businesses because it allows them to form a basic plan that suits the disaster recovery and business continuity needs of the business without having to spend extra time or human resources. While the two may be combined in a single plan or document, it is important to note that disaster recovery and business continuity are two very different approaches and must be considered as such. As previously mentioned, staffing is an area small businesses typically have a difficult time with in regards to business resumption planning. Many larger organizations have employees who are often from the IT department serve on teams for each separate type of contingency plan. Thus it may have a group of ten people in charge of incident response, another group for disaster recovery, and another for business continuity. In small businesses this strategy could be more difficult to successfully implement because of high employee turnover and their smaller number of total employees, including the lack of a dedicated IT staff. Therefore a small business should make sure preparedness is everybody s responsibility. Unlike large companies where the aforementioned dedicated groups may be responsible during a disaster or incident, any individual employed by a small business may be required to respond to an unexpected event. Ensuring everyone is trained and aware helps with this process. For this to happen it is essential for employees to view business resumption planning as extra value added, and not extra work added. [3] Reminding employees that their continued diligence and awareness of such a plan is for their own well-being will allow everyone to see the benefits. 3.2 A Modular Approach One way a small business can more easily implement business resumption concepts is by folding them into already existing functions of everyday business. [3] For example, a business owner can look at the way his or her business currently operates and then identify ways to improve upon those functions. Specific examples are detailed later and include communication systems, data backup, steps taken during an incident, and plans for practicing what to do during an incident or disaster. It is much less expensive and time-consuming to incorporate business resumption plans into what the company is already doing than it is to try and retrofit such measures later. [3] When considering how to implement such concepts, it may be appropriate to consider using a modular approach. Larger businesses can employ the Critical System Recovery Procedures (CSRP) model, which focuses on recovering the most critical application in an IT environment in the event of a disaster. [16] However, smaller businesses can take the same basic idea and use it to continually develop a business resumption plan. In short, the CSRP modular approach has a company consistently working on the development of the critical components of a contingency plan, with the goal of combining them at some point into a uniform business resumption plan. [16] This effectively narrows the scope of an entire business resumption plan and allows the business to focus on one section at a time. For example, a small business may cover what to do in the event of a fire during January and document their findings and draft a plan. In February that business may cover power outages or communication failures and document it as well. With proper semiannual review and the consistent awareness of topics covered on a monthly basis, a small business can more effectively develop plans without the need to sacrifice large amounts of staff-hours developing a comprehensive plan that includes every possibility. A small business taking this approach will use the following criteria when considering which systems or areas of improvement are most important: Is this system revenue impacting? Will revenues suffer? Is this system customer facing? Will our reputation suffer? Are there legal ramifications to losing access to this data? [16] Another important factor to take into consideration is that when writing the policies that will govern the disparate areas of a business resumption plan, it is essential to keep all concepts simple. All documentation should be written under the assumption that the audience will be non-technical. Any steps that are written should be easy to read. The policy should focus on what is critical to the safety of people, the security of the organization s assets, and the plan for the continued operation of the business. [3] 3.3 Getting Others Involved In the 2009 Agility survey, 34% of the 700 business owners surveyed said they went to outside firms to help in the development of their contingency plan. Of those who didn t, 35% said cost was a factor and 25% said they could do it all by themselves. [1] It s important to note that business resumption planning is a multi-disciplinary process and as such it requires input from other parties, not just attorneys. [11] Including insurance companies in the planning stages of a business resumption plan can greatly benefit small businesses. Insurance agents typically have access to risk management resources and can be knowledgeable about the various products and solutions that 3

4 are designed to help a small business mitigate risk. [14] They can also help relay any standardized policies or benefits they extend to small businesses. Such individuals are especially beneficial to small businesses because most lack the chief risk officer position and thus stand to benefit from the advice and services an insurance agent can provide. [9] However, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the 101 small business owners in the Travelers survey have never spoken to their insurance agents about contingency planning. [9] Figure 2 shows whom most small business owners rely on for outside advice. Many public domain guides also exist that can help a small business owner increase awareness. Such guides are affordable and readily available for anyone. An example is a Data Security Document and Disaster Recovery Plan template that costs about 50 dollars and is available from the IT Infrastructure Library s Survival section. [17] Ready.gov, a website originally launched in 2003 as the Department of Homeland Security s readiness website, now also offers several business continuity guides for small and medium-sized business. [10] Along with the hiring of a consultant during the planning stages, such templates and guides can give a small business a great starting point. 4. CONTINGENCY STRATEGIES The following are some contingency strategies a small business can use before, during, or after an incident or disaster. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but provides some areas a small business can either save money or implement new features for a low cost. Communications plays the predominant role in this section, with other concepts such as meeting locations and regularly scheduled maintenance also being discussed. 4.1 Communications Restoring communications in the event of an incident or disaster is perhaps the most important function a small business should consider. Communications is primarily how most small businesses keep in touch with employees, suppliers and customers. [5] If customers are unable to contact a place of business because of bad communication they may lose confidence in the company and go to its competitors. [17] A number of new technologies and services can aid a small business in making sure employees can answer inbound calls during or after a disaster or incident. Figure 2. Data and graphic from Travelers survey [14] Many small businesses have much smaller budgets and less staff on hand that specialize in business resumption compared to big businesses, and hiring a consultant in the early stages of developing a plan can help immensely. While the ongoing services of a consultant can become expensive very quickly, simply including a consultant in the introductory stages of a plan and during the review portion of a finished plan can help catch problem areas or introduce new ideas the owner or employees of a business did not consider. In addition to using the expertise of outside parties, it is important for a small business to understand exactly what their policy covers. For example, services such as SERVPRO and BMS Catastrophe can help small businesses deal with fire and water damage in the event of natural disasters. [17] These options can be cost-effective if they are part of a small business s insurance policy, which is another reason why communication with insurance companies is important Remote Access to Call Forwarding Remote Access to Call Forwarding (RACF) is one such feature small businesses should consider if it is available from their telephone service provider. For about $1.50 a month per line, a small business receives a special RACF telephone number. If an incident or disaster occurs and a small business owner or employee needs to take calls being made to the business, it can call the special number and use a designated PIN to access the line. From there it is a simple matter of entering the number you want to forward calls from, the *72 code, and the number of where you want the calls to ring. [17] Voice over IP Voice over IP is another affordable option that can go hand-inhand with the wireless Internet service providers mentioned next. VoIP services such as nationwide Vonage and other local VoIP providers offer special business packages. Whichvoip.com is a website that lists many such providers, with most business plans starting at around $24.95 for unlimited calls. [15] The benefit of VoIP services is that it allows a small business to continue operations as soon as they relocate anywhere with a high-speed Internet connection. 4.2 Wireless Internet Using a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) can be a good option for small to medium-sized businesses because they help protect against incidents such as cable cuts and can better provide 4

5 emergency communications. Unlike wireless networking, which only links the internal hardware of a company, wireless Internet provides employees the ability to connect from anywhere, which can facilitate communication in the event of an incident or disaster. Many local plans exist and are affordable. TheISPGuide.com is a website directory that catalogs various WISPs for cities nationwide. As an example, for Atlanta it lists seven WISPs with prices ranging from $29.95 to $99.00 and startup fees from free to $199. [12] The speeds offered by these services are typically acceptable for small business functions. 4.3 Data Backup Data backup is an easy and affordable way of ensuring a small business s important information is kept safe and readily available. Data from the Agility survey suggests most businesses are good at backing up data, with 94% of business owners surveyed saying they had a formal data backup plan. [14] Data backup software such as Norton s Ghost Backup Software, EMC Retrospect, 2BrightSparks SyncBackSE, and a multitude of others are available for anywhere from $40 to $100, easy to set up, and automatically backup any critical data on a business s machines. With USB flash drives priced at about $20 to $30 for 16GB of space, a small business could also choose to buy several and incorporate a simple-to-use rotation such as a Grandfather-Father- Son model without the need for additional hardware or backup tapes. In this common model, son backups are rotated on a daily basis with one being promoted to father status every week. The father backups are rotated weekly with one becoming a grandfather backup each month for disaster recovery purposes. No real technical knowledge is required to carry out such backup procedures, and small business owners could keep the flash drives at their home. Utilizing offsite backup storage such as this is important for protecting important information that could be compromised during an incident or disaster. 4.4 Hot versus Cold sites Hot, cold, and warm sites are locations where a business can choose to relocate in the event of a disaster. Hot sites are locations that closely resemble the regular working environment and allow a company to continue operations quickly. They are also the most expensive. Cold sites can be looked at as simply a space which to move business operations. They do not have hardware or other needs that employees may require in order to do their jobs. In between the two is what is known as warm sites. These locations have some of the features of hot sites, such as electrical power and maybe some basic hardware and networking configurations. For a small business, maintaining a hot site is highly unlikely and not very cost-effective. Even warm sites can require a substantial amount in terms of upkeep costs. Depending on the size of the organization, a small business can, instead of choosing a cold site location in the event of a disaster, simply choose a meeting location. [11] The location could be as simple as a parking lot or perhaps the business owner s home. What is important is that the employees and management are able to meet at a pre-determined location to discuss the incident and ensure everyone understands how the business will choose to move forward. For example, a lawn care company that has its offices separate from where its lawn mowers and other equipment are stored can likely continue to function even if the offices caught on fire provided they have good backup and a means of communication with their customers. 4.5 Maintenance, Practice and Review While it is important for a small business owner to consider all of these affordable contingency strategy options, none of them will do much good if they are not reviewed or practiced periodically. According to the 2009 Agility survey, 90% of small companies spend less than one day per month preparing or maintaining their continuity plans. This is in stark contrast to larger companies, of which 20% spend 10 or more days per month changing continuity plans. One in five (22%) of the business owners surveyed said they spend no time maintaining their plans. In addition, 58% of respondents from small businesses said they have made minimal, if any, updates to their continuity plans in the last year. [14] While it is not necessary for a small business to spend 10 days per month maintaining a contingency plan, it is important for a small business owner to ensure his or her employees are aware of business resumption procedures and what to do in the event of an incident or disaster that halts business activities. Practice sessions for events such as power outages could be carried out after normal business hours in a short amount of time and give employees and the owner a better sense of what they would have to do in the event of such an incident. A flyer detailing what needs to be done in case of a fire, such as escape routes, whether to salvage equipment, or whether to escort customers out first, is another cost-effective example of what can be done to increase awareness. 5. LEGAL IMPLICATIONS The contingency plans discussed in this paper are not only for continuing business and restoring operations. They can also outline safety measures to take in the event of such an incident. As such, responsible small business managers should take into consideration the legal implications of not being prepared for disasters. Not only must they comply with OSHA, they also need to protect themselves from liability if an employee or customer is injured because of the lack of standardized safety procedures in the form of a contingency plan. [8] In addition, there are many organizations that are classified as small businesses that offer important services needed on a daily basis. Businesses that offer vital services such as law offices and doctors offices need to know how to handle not being able to serve their clients. [17] For example, a restaurant shutting down is not likely to have large adverse effects on any customers, but if a community loses access to its only local physician or other such important service, the consequences and legal implications are much greater. Therefore owners of these types of businesses should take more responsibility in safeguarding themselves from incidents and disasters. Simply sitting down with an attorney to discuss these implications is an affordable way to ensure the business has reasonably done everything it can to protect individuals from incidents or disasters. 6. CONCLUSION Contingency planning is an important process every business needs to consider. However, many small business owners choose not to pursue the adoption of a business resumption plan. Of those who do, many do not consider it a priority, instead favoring areas such as marketing and sales and attracting new customers. Even 5

6 though statistics show that disasters and even short-term incidents can have profound effects on small businesses, many owners cite cost and time as factors for not developing an extensive plan. However, a small business can take certain steps during the planning stages of creating a plan and implement cost-effective strategies that are regularly maintained to ensure at least a basic plan is in place. Communication during the planning and implementation stages is important. Employees at small businesses should know their roles during certain incidents or disasters. They should also know where they can meet if the normal location of the business is unusable. During an incident or disaster, a small business owner should do all he or she can to ensure they stay in touch with employees and, if necessary, customers and vendors. Various phone and Internet services such as remote access call forwarding, VoIP, and wireless Internet service providers are all affordable, practical solutions small businesses can consider. While resources spent on contingency planning are not optimal at present, things are looking up for the future thanks to improved methods for identifying risks, measuring probabilities, and quantifying impact. In a 2010 survey from Forrester Research, 2,803 IT decision makers worldwide were polled about making business continuity and disaster recovery efforts a priority. Small business owners surveyed said spending on the two areas was set to increase about 5 percent. [6] In addition, business continuity and disaster recovery are looking to become top priorities for businesses of all types around the globe in [6] For small businesses the implementation of a business resumption plan ultimately comes down to determining one area at a time what the organization can do better. As certain areas are improved and incorporated into an overall contingency plan, the organization becomes incrementally more efficient and effective at dealing with disasters and other incidents. If small business owners adopt such an approach they will find that contingency planning is not a lengthy, expensive endeavor but a gradual and reasonable one that can have lasting effects on their business s vitality. 7. REFERENCES [1] Agility survey Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity Survey. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from s_2009_complete.pdf. [2] AT&T study AT&T Business Continuity Study. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from uity/businesscontinuity_2010_summary.pdf. [3] Burtles, Jim. Beware The Complex Plan. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from Continuity Central: [4] Continuity Central. US small businesses ignoring business continuity. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from [5] Defabritus, Rich. SME Business Continuity. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from Avaya Connected: [6] Goodchild, Joan. Survey: BC/DR a top IT priority in Retrieved October 22, 2010 from CSO Online: [7] Krupa, Andy. Oversight of Physical Security and Contingency Planning. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from SANS Reading Room: rsight-physical-security-contingency-planning_557. [8] Lupo, Mark. Disaster Protection: The Need for Small Business Continuity. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from Business Know-How: [9] National Underwriter. Travelers Survey Finds Small Firms Lack Disaster Planning. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from casualty.com/news/2010/6/pages/travelers-survey-finds- Small-Firms-Lack-Disaster-Planning.aspx. [10] Ready.gov. Plan To Stay In Business. Retrieved October 31, 2010 from Department of Homeland Security Website: [11] Singh, K. What is Business Resumption Planning? Retrieved October 22, 2010 from 0.aspx. [12] The ISP Guide. Atlanta Wireless ISP Directory. Retrieved October 31, 2010 from The ISP Guide Website: c/state.ga/findwireless.html. [13] Time Magazine. Why We Don't Prepare for Disaster. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from Time Magazine Online: [14] Travelers survey. Risk Management on Main Street. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from [15] WhichVOIP. Business VoIP Services. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from WhichVOIP Website: [16] Widup, Suzanne. Business Continuity Planning in Difficult Economic Times. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from SANS Reading Room: iness-continuity-planning-difficult-economic-times_1114. [17] Wrobel, Leo. Business Resumption Planning in Small and Medium-Sized Offices. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from 6

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