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Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery – what’s the difference?

Difference between Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity. A business person stops the collapse of domainoes by preventing one from falling.
  • Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) are often used synonymously, but they are different
  • BC is about keeping the business open after a disruption, DR is about restoring what you had just before the disruption
  • We present a detailed examination of the differences

Some readers may be using the terms “Business Continuity” and “Disaster Recovery” synonymously. But although these concepts are very similar, they have noticeable distinctions that every business owner should know about.

Misinterpretation of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery could see important preparations for an emergency situation missed and have serious consequences for your organisation. To help you get things right and better safeguard your business from disruption, we will examine each term below and explain how they are similar and different.

What Is Business Continuity?

Business Continuity (BC) is the broader concept of the two. A Business Continuity plan aims to prepare an organisation for disruptive events and outlines how it can continue operating at a minimum acceptable level during and following an incident.

In broad terms, a good Business Continuity plan contains the following steps:

  1. Risk assessment. This step involves the identification of vulnerabilities and the assessment of possible disaster scenarios.
  2. Impact analysis & prioritisation. The organisation evaluates the potential impact of existing threats and performs their prioritisation based on their likelihood and the magnitude of their effect on business operations.
  3. Prevention. The organisation outlines procedures to prevent each of the determined threats. As a few examples, prevention may involve keeping antimalware software up-to-date to repulse ransomware attacks or replacing faulty equipment to prevent fires.
  4. Response. Finally, a Business Continuity plan must outline how the organisation should react to a disaster to keep its most critical operations active.

On a more fine-grained level, Business Continuity plans may define communication protocols, determine backup assets or locations for continued operations, or propose improvement routes for identified weaknesses.

Business Continuity plans may encompass the entire organisation, including but not limited to the HR, marketing, or financial departments as well as IT.

On the bottom line, BC is about improving flexibility in situations where your team may, for example, need to work from home, a backup office, or another location where they most likely don’t have access to their regular toolsets.

What Is Disaster Recovery?

A subset of Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery (DR) is concerned with the restoration of normal operations after a serious business disruption.

Unlike BC plans, a Disaster Recovery plan is typically more IT-centric and specifically aims to recover the data and information systems within the organisation. More precisely, a DR plan serves as a guide as to how hardware appliances, software applications, and files should be protected, stored, and recovered after an incident.

With that said, some DR plans may cover non-IT procedures, such as fire drills or relocation to a backup office.

At the bare minimum, Disaster Recovery plans should contain the following components:

  • Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs). RTOs define the maximum downtime duration that is acceptable to your organisation.
  • Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs). RPOs show how much data loss is tolerable for your business operations. Measured in time, an RPO sets the maximum desired age of the last backup made before the incident.
  • Recovery protocols. DR plans need to formulate the steps that a company’s IT team (and staff with related duties) need to carry out to restore operations.
  • Periodic testing. Among other things, your DR plan should outline testing procedures for your recovery protocols.

What’s the Difference Between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery?

We’ve briefly touched upon the differences between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery earlier. Now, let’s examine them in a more itemised fashion.

The main differences between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans are as follows:

  • Immediate goals. The immediate goal of a Business Continuity plan is to keep critical operations up and running in emergency situations. In contrast, a Disaster Recovery plan is designed to do what its name suggests – recover impacted business processes and bring them back to pre-disaster condition. As backup & recovery solution vendor Veeam puts it, DR is about bringing things back, while BC is focused on putting users back to work and keeping mission-critical services alive.
  • Scope. BC plans are designed with the entire organisation in mind, whereas DR plans are typically focused on IT-related disruptions – more specifically, on data accessibility and system operation.
  • Investment. Business Continuity plans generally require more investment to implement and follow because of their far larger-scale coverage.
  • Position within the risk management hierarchy. Disaster Recovery can be considered a part of Business Continuity – both pursue the same long-term goals, but DR is concerned with a narrower, more specific set of issues. Business Continuity itself is a subset of risk management – an even broader set of protocols and tools focused on minimising and controlling undesirable events.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery are thus not mutually exclusive concepts. You don’t have to select only one of the two. Instead, to guarantee more comprehensive coverage and protection of your organisation, you should ideally implement both.

What are the Similarities between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans?

Although markedly different, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans are more alike than unalike.

Most importantly, in the long run, they both aim to ensure uninterrupted operation. Although the focuses, methods, and scopes of these plans are very distinct, they pursue the same ultimate goal – make sure that your business stays afloat no matter what.

Aside from that, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery are preemptive in nature in that they imply that their procedures should be designed well before a disaster rather than determined on-the-go.

Every Organisation should have both Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery aren’t competing concepts – rather, they complement each other, allowing you to define a more complete set of strategies and procedures to protect your organisation from disasters.

As far as business growth and continuity are concerned, both Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans are necessary pieces of the puzzle. Alone, one or the other would be able to defend merely some fraction of your organisation. For comprehensive protection, you should employ both.

The final word

The specification of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans can be a challenging task, especially for enterprises with large, complex systems and a broad attack surface. If this seems intimidating, consider outsourcing the planning of Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity to a company like Computer One.


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