In business, contracts and their supporting documentation govern all relationships. From employment relationships to those involving premises management; from suppliers and third parties, to customers and clients – contracts set out the detail of every interaction that your business conducts. This means that your contracts must be central to any plan for business continuity because, without them, there simply is no business.
At first glance, and as the name suggests, the overall purpose of a business continuity plan is to ensure that business continues. This is the goal, the objective, and the reason the plan must be formulated. But business continuity planning is not simply about making decisions for the worst case scenario. Rather, it is a vital component of daily risk management, and should therefore be a core principle in the internal governance processes of your organisation.
What should a business continuity plan include?
Your business continuity plan is essentially a detailed guide to the restoration of normal operations, after a disruptive event. To be effective, it needs to take all potential threats and risks into account, and it needs to be regularly reviewed, updated, and distributed. Areas to consider while formulating your business continuity plan include:
- Threat analysis – While the types of threats that businesses face are in some ways universal, the way in which the impact of such threats is felt is unique to each individual business operation, so it is vital that every potential threat be analysed in relation to the way in which your specific organisation works. Potential threats can include:
- Flooding – The impact of this will be dictated by business location, as well as the infrastructure of the building itself. Flooding is not always caused by the weather, and nor does it always come from outside the premises. How old are the water pipes in your building? What is the layout of the water supply to your offices?
- Fire – Elements impacting the potential effect of fire include building layout, location, and infrastructure, as well as the nature of the business itself. Are flammable materials commonly used?
- Extreme weather – As the effects of climate change increase, so does the threat of extreme weather. Like the threat of flooding, the impact of events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, storms and lightning, heavy snowfall, and extreme temperatures can depend upon the business location, and the fabric of the building and infrastructure. Your business continuity plan must consider the particular vulnerabilities of your operation in these terms.
- Cyber crime – Every business operation has specific vulnerabilities to cyber attack, and these must be accounted for in your business continuity plan. Even those organisations that use the most basic of information technology systems can be disrupted by cyberterrorism, and those with complex networks that include assembly lines or scientific equipment and manufacturing are especially vulnerable. The impact of a cyber attack will be very different to physical damage to your operation, and can include issues that are not immediately obvious, such as theft of data, or digital sabotage.
- Terrorism – Physical violence, such as bombings, shootings, or stabbings, will impact heavily upon your personnel, and requires very specific measures within your business continuity planning. While some types of violence may require the relocation of operations due to damage to the fabric of the building or equipment, the impact on employees will need long-term planning – including healthcare, and measures to account for understaffed periods.
- Power cuts – A loss of electrical supply can be highly disruptive to business operations in any industry, as this can not only impact the use of equipment, but also the conditions in which staff are working.
- Disease – The way in which your business responds to the incidence of disease requires meticulous planning, for both localised outbreaks of illness and national or global pandemics. You need to account for periods of lower staffing levels, as well as the event of premises closure.
- Assignment of responsibilities – In any situation that causes disruption to your business operations, it is vital to have a clear chain of command, and areas of assigned responsibility. This ensures that there is immediate clarity, enabling immediate action. However, the assignment of responsibilities must also take into account the potential for loss of personnel, so each responsible party should have a designated alternate.
- Designation of Recovery Teams – Different types of recovery team should be designated for different phases of the continuity plan. The immediate situation – that is, while the disruptive incident is happening – should be handled by a Disaster Recovery Team, trained to deal with emergency situations, liaise with and manage personnel, and liaise with the necessary external agencies. The aftermath of the disruptive incident – that is, the steps required to restore normal operations – should be handled by a Business Recovery Team.
- Back-ups – Any business continuity plan should include details of back-ups, including:
- Files and data – These back-ups should ideally be off-site, including the business continuity plan itself.
- Electrical power – This part of the plan should detail the specific circumstances in which back-up power arrangements should be utilised. Does your business have access to a generator for situations causing a power outage of significant duration?
- Communications – If your telephone and/or internet communications are disrupted, do you have a means to continue communicating with the outside world – with emergency services and outside agencies? Do you have means to communicate with personnel across your site, or in other locations? Is your IT system operated through internal servers and, if so, do personnel have alternative email addresses, known to the business, that can be used?
- Location – You need to consider an alternative site for your business operation, in the event that your original location is rendered unusable, either temporarily, or permanently. For businesses with multiple locations, this may involve the merging of two sites for a limited period of time.
- Equipment – Your business continuity plan should detail the process of recovering undamaged equipment, and replacing or repairing damaged items as necessary. This can involve transportation – either to an alternative site, or to a repair office.
- Overall recovery – In the aftermath of a disruptive incident, your Business Recovery Team is responsible for the full restoration of business operations. This will involve liaising with external agencies including insurance providers, as well as coordinating the efforts of all departments within the business.
In formulating your business continuity plan this way, the importance of contract documentation is clear. In addition to the basic maintenance of consumer and supplier relationships, details may be needed about insurance agreements, equipment leases, premises hire, and business loans – both during and after a disruptive incident has taken place. Regardless of the nature of the disruptive incident, your contract collection will always be central to the continuity of your business operations, and the speed at which your organisation is able to recover.
How Contract Management Software supports business continuity
The implementation of Contract Management Software, such as Symfact, helps to simplify your business continuity planning by automating a significant proportion of Contract Management tasks in a cloud-based solution. This means that your contract system functions securely, and entirely off-site, with many processes unaffected by disruptive events experienced at the business location. Features that specifically support business continuity planning include:
- Browser-based platform
The advantage of the browser-based platform lies in its use of cloud technology. This ensures that your entire Contract Repository is stored securely in one place, off-site. During a disruptive event, and throughout the recovery period, your contract data and information remains accessible to authorised personnel, from any web-connected location, on any internet-connected device. This access is unaffected by premises change, or a move to remote working for staff and management. Moreover, its permission-based access feature ensures that comprehensive audit trails are maintained, even as other areas of your business are dealing with the incident in question.
- Multi-territory capability
In addition to maintaining permission-based access, the cloud technology aspect of Contract Management Software allows for multi-territory capability to be established and maintained during a disruptive incident. Even as crisis occurs, your business will be able to continue operations across worldwide locations, in numerous languages, and with a variety of currencies supported.
- Editable templates
Cloud-based Contract Management Software features editable template capability, which provides for the inclusion of standardised contract templates as part of a centralised Contract Library. This means that your personnel can create new contracts while working remotely – a feature that is crucial to business continuity.
- Automated workflows
During a disruptive event, backlogs and delays can be incurred, causing significant ongoing damage to business, and prolonging the recovery period. The automated workflows feature of Contract Management Software ensures that progress can continue on projects, with a minimum of input from personnel impacted by the crisis. Documentation is automatically delivered, digitally, to the right person at the right time, with notifications and alerts detailing the tasks required.
- Customisable reporting
The ability to run customised reports is vital to the recovery of your business after a disruptive incident, because they provide accurate, actionable data through automated processes. While these reports are always a boost to productivity and efficiency measures within any business, during crisis recovery, they can provide valuable insight into the recovery process. New workflow bottlenecks and delays can be spotted and addressed early, and the full scale of the impact on individual contracts can be analysed, with remedial action taken as necessary. This proactive approach can speed the recovery process and help ensure business continuity.
Contract Management Software can provide the vital functions needed for business continuity planning, as part of your risk management strategy. Contact Symfact today for your free demonstration.