Security Operations, Business resilience

The demand for effective business continuity and disaster recovery plans has skyrocketed over the past few years as the number of risks, crises and disruptions continue to grow exponentially. Protecting organizations against such incidents is harder than before. 

Ensuring they can maintain operations in the face of such events is even more difficult—but not impossible. Not when you know the difference between business continuity and disaster recovery. 

Here we take a look at what each term means and the different actions to take to achieve their goals.

Defining business continuity and disaster recovery

Business continuity and disaster recovery are inextricably linked as disaster recovery is a segment of business continuity. Business continuity is defined as an organization’s ability to maintain critical business functions during and after a critical event or disruption has occurred. It requires a business continuity plan that clearly outlines how an organization, in its entirety, will proceed before, during and after such events and disruptions. 

Meanwhile, the goal of disaster recovery is to get the organization back up and running in the aftermath of a crisis or major disruption—and to do so as soon as possible to minimize potential ramifications, e.g., revenue loss, reputational damage. 

As such, disaster recovery plans are only enacted following a critical event and then carried out until the risk has been mitigated. While the ultimate objective is to return to business as usual, in many instances disaster recovery is a success if the organization is able to maintain business operations with limited resources or resume operations quickly and efficiently.

5 IT Disaster Scenarios to Prepare For

While organizations should test for various types of disaster scenarios, IT scenarios should rise to the top of the list given how essential IT systems and processes are to business operations.

  • Failed IT backups: Restoring lost data can be costly and nearly impossible to do
  • Natural disasters: Can cause damage to both physical and digital assets and shutdown physical locations for long periods of time.
  • Ransomware attacks: Are very likely with significant effects that are often long-lasting and costly
  • Network interruptions: Frequently occur and are more urgent than ever as more IT systems become SaaS based
  • Hardware failures: Mitigation is easy enough, but is complex and expensive

By contrast, business continuity plans are deployed either before a critical event or as soon as one occurs, depending on the predictability of the event. As with disaster recovery plans, the steps and actions outlined in business continuity plans continue throughout a crisis or disruption and the aftermath. 

For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, organizations pivoted from in-office work to having employees work remotely. Many implemented other precautionary measures to protect the health and well-being of personnel and customers, while ensuring business as usual.

When Business Continuity Fails

If an organization fails to maintain business continuity, it risks reputational damage, lost revenue, and eroded customer trust. Take for instance, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) hours-long system outage that occurred in January 2023.

The outage was responsible for delaying thousands of flights across the U.S. and was attributed to a corrupt file that affected the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions system (NOTAM); both the primary and the backup failed. The FAA said the file was corrupted by two contractors who failed to follow U.S. government procedures.

Building plans to maintain continuity of business

The scope of disaster recovery and business continuity are also different. Disaster recovery focuses solely on examining the facilities or systems that were affected by a critical incident or major disruption and what is needed to make them operational. Whereas business continuity encompasses all procedures throughout an organization and how to maintain them. 

As you might expect, this means the two also have different processes and plans. 

Disaster recovery plans

  • Contacting and offering support to affected employees or customers
  • Rebuilding or repairing damaged offices, facilities or equipment
  • Inviting employees or customers back to offices and locations once safe to do so
  • Ensuring operations can return to previous levels of productivity

Involvement and impact: The disaster recovery team, facility managers and certain employees and customers.

Business continuity plans

Given that business continuity spans the entire timeline of a critical event, these plans will include key steps such as:

  • Notifying employees and customers of a critical event
  • Reminding both employees and customers of emergency plans
  • Actioning contingency plans to ensure operational continuity where possible
  • Notifying other stakeholders of possible disruption to services
  • Maintaining regular contact with those affected

Involvement and impact: The business continuity planning team, partners, supply chain and continuity managers, and certain employees and customers.

Ensuring business resilience

Business continuity and disaster recovery are critical for all organizations. The ability to effectively maintain business operations, while simultaneously initiating emergency responses, allows organizations to remain resilient

In fact, a new role has emerged that makes the link between business continuity, disaster recovery and resilience (BCDR) abundantly clear: Chief resilience officer. This is because, “Organizations recognize the importance of adapting business operations to survive disruptive incidents more effectively,” according to TechTarget. This senior-level executive role is still evolving, which is to be expected given that disruptive incidents are increasing in frequency and becoming more and more varied—from fast-moving geopolitical events to extreme weather.

By understanding the differences and similarities between business continuity and disaster recovery, organizations will be able to achieve the ultimate goal: business resilience.

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February 12, 2024
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Dataminr Pulse for Corporate Security

Organizations can ensure business continuity during critical events and major disruptions. 

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