Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery: What's the Difference?

in October 15th, 2020
Vector graphic of business men choosing between divergent paths

This post is part of our 8-part series exploring the role of data in business recovery and planning in the era of COVID-19. Read the rest of the articles here.

Almost every business in every industry we know is facing its most challenging time. Most have faced difficult times or short-lived disasters before, but a year-long global pandemic with no end in sight is a first of its kind. At times like this, understanding concepts like business continuity and disaster recovery are more important than ever before. 

We examine both these concepts and perform a comparison to understand what are business continuity and disaster recovery and their key differences. We will also look at how data analytics plays a role in creating effective business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

What is Business Continuity?

Business continuity is the advance planning and preparation undertaken by an organization to ensure that critical business functions continue to operate in case of an emergency or any adverse event. Business continuity management ensures that vital operations and functions continue both during and after a disaster has occurred. Business continuity planning (BCP) is never the sole responsibility of a single department or individual. It is an overall framework and interdepartmental process that is generally led by IT and data to implement tactics that restore normal business within a predefined period. 

A business continuity plan involves all the stakeholders of a business and includes key information and guidelines such as contact information, identifying mission-critical functions, target recovery time, and recovery objectives. The plan specifies how to communicate the issues to customers, employees, investors and also assigns specific emergency tasks to various employees. 

It is also crucial to know in which kind of situations a BCP comes into play. A plan is required when either natural or local disasters occur. Some instances could be network disruptions, a cybersecurity threat, or even outages or emergencies caused due to human error. 

A business continuity plan is extremely important because “mission-critical data has no time for downtime.” In an increasingly competitive landscape, downtime is an indication that you will be outpaced. A BCP helps businesses maintain resilience by responding quickly to interruptions and, in turn, helps to save time and money and protect business reputation. Lastly, it helps companies to identify their weaknesses to protect themselves from potential threats.

What is Disaster Recovery?

Disaster recovery is a subset of business recovery. Disaster recovery is the process of resuming normal operations by restoring data, hardware, software, networking equipment, power, and connectivity. It’s primarily an IT function as it deals with regaining access to all the vital IT infrastructure that an organization depends on for its operations. Since IT systems lie at the core of most organizations in the world today, disaster recovery is one of the main pillars of business continuity. 

IT systems are governed with the help of data and analysis, and this same data helps to create an effective disaster recovery plan. The bedrock of disaster recovery lies in the process of replicating data and computer processing in an off-premises location that is not affected by the disaster. Having an effective and efficient disaster recovery plan in place is important for a few reasons– it reduces downtime, saves costs, and keeps employees productive. 

There are various types of disaster recovery plans that an organization can implement individually or combine, based on their industry and business type; 

  • Back-up –This is the simple act of storing data off-site or on a removable drive.
  • Cold Site – In this type of DR, an organization sets up basic infrastructure in a second, rarely-used location where employees can continue working after a disaster like a fire. But this method needs to be combined with a data backup.
  • Hot Site – A hot site maintains, up-to-date copies of all data at all times, it is a costly but highly efficient method.
  • DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) – In the event of a disaster, a DRaaS provider will take responsibility for moving a business’s computer processing to its own cloud so that the business can continue their work seamlessly. DRaaS providers are available both on a pay per use basis and subscription model.
  • Virtualization – The act of backing up a part of the entire organizational data and IT operations to an off-site virtual machine is called virtualization. Though slightly heavier on the pocket, the speed of recovery via this method is much faster than non-digital backups. 

Let’s consider the similarities and differences between business continuity and disaster recovery

Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery

The key difference lies in the timing of both the plans. The business continuity plan comes into effect both during and immediately after the incident while disaster recovery focuses on the post-incident response to return to normalcy. 

As we saw in the previous section, disaster recovery is just one of the four subsets of a business continuity plan, which is a master document of an entire organization’s disaster preparedness. These subsets are program administration, crisis management, business recovery, and disaster recovery, which focuses on a company's IT. Disaster recovery is therefore a core component of a sounds business continuity plan.

Lastly, there are three additional key differences to highlight:

  1. A BCP keeps an inventory and plans for all critical assets such as staff, suppliers, vehicles, buildings, etc. While a DRP only keeps an inventory of the IT assets such as network equipment, servers, endpoints, etc.
  2. A BCP includes a macro-level business impact analysis of all threats that could affect business operations as compared to the DRP, which only assesses threats to the IT infrastructure.
  3. A BCP is a proactive plan whose objective is to both prevent and prepare for disaster, while a DRP is a reactive plan that contains measures and steps that come into effect after a disaster has taken place.

The Role of Data and Analytics in Business Continuity

Data plays a key role in effectively implementing business continuity and disaster recovery planning. 

Large data sets help to analyze and get in-depth information on everything from employee productivity, customer service, and engagement, and company systems. Only once a business leader has these datasets in place can he/she create effective BCPs and, in turn, DRPs. 

To create a comprehensive business continuity and disaster recovery plan, an organization should ideally consider the following types of data:

  • Compliance data
  • Threat and risk data
  • Residual risk data
  • Business impact analysis (BIA) data
  • Site maps
  • Building information
  • Supplier information
  • Past events reporting
  • Employee population data.

In the case of larger organizations, data analytics provides the organization with hindsight (i.e., to understand what’s happening now, based on what’s happened in the past), insight (i.e., studies patterns and relationships in data to determine causes of any issues), and foresight (i.e., which assists in predicting future events) to identify when failures occurred and why in turn create a more robust business recovery plan.

Finally, after all this data has been gathered and analyzed to recognize the vulnerabilities, it can be used to test and develop the best methods to restore systems quickly. It enables the analysis of the effectiveness of current recovery processes, and finally identifies the best methods and timing to backup your system. 

Business continuity and disaster recovery are universal concepts that are essential for businesses of all sizes across industries, and cannot be neglected. It's like creating your own insurance plan without having to pay the premium. So in case disaster strikes, you have a contingency plan in place to not only help you stay afloat but can also give you an edge over your competitors during the darkest of times. 

For more information about implementing a data-driven business continuity plan for your organization, reach out to our team here

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