All business continuity analysis should be risk based, and risk prioritised to deal with the important business risks first. This means that any risks to your business need to be identified, examined and dealt with.
There are 4 options for dealing with each risk:
1. Reduce the risk. Reducing the risk falls into 2 categories reducing the likelihood of the problem occurring and reducing the impact of the problem if it does happen. A simple example is that by having a fire alarm you are reducing the likelihood of a fire spreading unseen and by installing a sprinkler system you are reducing the impact of fire.
Reducing the risk is often referred to as mitigation. For example, data backups are a form of mitigation. They reduce the impact if a problem occurs which affects the primary data source. Any mitigating actions require testing to provide assurance they work when required.
2. Transfer the risk. This is an interesting option which may be seen as a get-out, but which is a perfectly valid thing to do. By transferring a risk it becomes someone elses problem and you therefore have the risk covered. We are not talking about blaming someone else, or even transferring the risk to someone else in the company.
For example, there could be a risk that office space will not be available in the case of a disaster in the main location. Therefore the risk can be transferred to a third party company which organises office space for disaster recovery and keeps offices available for companies who need such a recovery service.
3. Accept the risk. By accepting the risk of a potential problem you are at least aware of its existence and can plan for it happening. If it is a risk that would have no impact for an acceptable period of time it should still be noted but you may decide to take no action until it occurs.
Almost by definition, accepting a risk is also reducing the impact of the risk as you are aware of the potential problem and can write it into your business continuity plan.
4. Ignore the risk. This option should never be selected. There is never a reason for ignoring a risk once it has been identified. A risk can be accepted (acknowledged) but must never be ignored.
Once the actions for each risk have been identified, then anything put in place to help cope with a risk needs testing. However, many companies either test nothing at all or try testing every facet of a business continuity plan. Both methods are doomed to failure. The answer is to adopt a risk based testing approach from two perspectives: the business continuity plan is fit for purpose and it will work when invoked.
A health check (testing the plan is fit for purpose) needs to be performed by someone other than the authors of the business continuity plan. Ideally its performed by an independent third party that specialises in testing business continuity plans, but it could be a disinterested party from another part of the company. Independence is essential here for an objective assessment.
Testing the plan will work when invoked, must be viewed in a business context and the elements of the plan prioritised so that the risks with the most business impact and likelihood are tested first. This approach and the techniques for testing performance and business continuity in a cost effective manner are the subject of other articles.