Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity: The Key Differences

Guy Walker
. 4 min read
To many people disaster recovery and business continuity are blurred into one. Yet understanding the differences is crucial for ensuring operational continuity, for protecting your employees and for gaining a competitive advantage.
Business continuity and disaster recovery are terms that are often used interchangeably. However few realise that in fact, the terms, while related, are two different things. 
Disaster recovery is a segment of business continuity. It is the plans and actions organisations take after a critical event has occurred. It aims to get an organisation back to normal as soon as possible following a critical event.
Meanwhile, business continuity is the broader plans that organisations have in place to ensure that their operations run smoothly. This includes plans on how the entire business will proceed before, during and after a disaster. 

Timeline

The timings of when disaster recovery and business continuity plans are actioned vary considerably. Disaster recovery plans are set in motion following a critical event. These are then maintained until the situation has returned to normal. An example could include repairing an office after a major flood.
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. They are then continued throughout the crisis and its aftermath. An example could include the COVID-19 pandemic, where organisations suggested employees work from home where possible and take other precautionary measures throughout the crisis.

Breadth

The scope of disaster recovery and business continuity are also different. Disaster recovery is more focused, solely examining the facilities or systems that were impacted by a critical event and what is needed to make them operational.
Meanwhile, business continuity more broadly encompasses all the procedures across an organisation and how to ensure they are maintained.
In a real-world example, business continuity would encompass a strategy to ensure that a company’s operations are still able to continue despite a hurricane being expected to strike an office. In this example, disaster recovery would be the plans to repair and reopen the office again for employees to safely return and restart key functions. 

Procedure

Just as both disaster recovery and business continuity have different breadths and timeframes, they both also require different procedures and plans. 
To build a disaster recovery plan, there are a number of key steps an organisation should take. These could include:
  1. Build a specific disaster team
  2. Identify assets, personnel and functions 
  3. Consider potential risks and their impacts
  4. Build a plan and recovery procedures based on various scenarios
  5. Train staff, test the plans and review after critical events
A business continuity plan would take a different form. Some key steps and organisation could take to build a business continuity plan could include:
  1. Outline the scope of the business continuity plan and create a team
  2. Determine the organisation’s key areas and identify critical functions
  3. Consider dependencies between various organisational areas and functions
  4. Analyse the potential impacts and make a plan to maintain operations
  5. Train staff, regularly test the plan and review it after use

Response

Once the two plans have been made, the actions taken will differ too. 
Disaster recovery plans focus on the aftermath of an event. While these plans will vary depending on the type of incident, some key steps might include:
  1. Contact and offer support to affected employees or customers
  2. Rebuild or repair damaged offices, facilities or equipment
  3. Inviting back employees or customers once safe to do so
  4. Ensure operations are able to return to previous levels of productivity
Meanwhile, business continuity will extend across the entire timeline of a critical event. Some key steps to take could include:
  1. Notifying employees and customers of a critical event
  2. Reminding both employees and customers of emergency plans
  3. Actioning contingency plans to ensure operational continuity where possible
  4. Notifying other stakeholders of possible disruption to services
  5. Regular contact with those affected
  6. Ensure to enact disaster response plans following the event

Teams and those affected

Much like the above factors, disaster recovery and business continuity share much common ground, but differences do exist between the teams and those affected. 
Disaster recovery plans and actions typically affect the specific disaster recovery team, facility managers and certain employees and customers.
Business continuity plans and actions typically involve the specific business continuity planning team, partners, supply chain and continuity managers, and certain employees and customers.

How does disaster recovery planning ensure business continuity?

As outlined in the above key procedure and response steps, an effective disaster recovery plan is pivotal to ensure business continuity. Many critical events are unavoidable. If a hurricane strikes a facility, it is inevitable that damage will be done. 
Having an effective disaster recovery plan ensures that disruption is minimised and that operations are able to become fully operational quickly.

How does disaster recovery planning ensure business continuity?

Both are essential for organisations. By having detailed, well-practised, regularly reviewed disaster recovery and business continuity plans, organisations will see benefits across their organisation. 
Benefits range from ensuring business objectives are met through reduced disruption, to protecting the life safety of staff, to gaining a competitive advantage.

To learn more about WatchKeeper and how it is helping a range of organisations, including Fortune 500 companies, with business continuity and disaster recovery, visit watchkeeper.com or email us at info@watchkeeper.com.
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