Kezia Farnham Image
Kezia Farnham
Senior Manager

Disaster recovery plan vs. business continuity plan: Is there a difference?

February 23, 2021
0 min read
Person evaluating the difference between a disaster recovery plan and business continuity plan

Disaster recovery and business continuity are two terms often used interchangeably ' but doing so risks missing some of the key differences between the two strategies.

To debunk the disaster recovery plan vs. business continuity plan debate, we look at:

  • What each means
  • Where the two are similar
  • How they differ
  • Why they are often confused
  • Whether your organization needs both

What is Business Continuity?

Definitions of a business continuity plan vary, as you'd expect; as with any corporate strategy term, there are different interpretations. But while definitions may diverge slightly, the general understanding is that a business continuity plan (BCP) is designed to ensure that your business can maintain its operations in the event of a disaster, whatever form that might take.

On the other hand, a disaster recovery plan focuses on how your organization will recover and rebuild following any crisis. IT firm Phoenix NAP believes that 'Disaster Recovery (DR) versus Business Continuity (BC) are two entirely different strategies, each of which plays a significant aspect in safeguarding business operations.' Best practice business continuity plans follow a set pattern with some standard features. A comprehensive BCP will:

  • Identify the potential risks your business faces
  • Allocate responsibility, putting in place the teams you need to continue operations
  • Be built on best practice subsidiary and entity data
  • Make back-up arrangements for power, systems and communications
  • Prepare for recovery, identifying your disaster recovery team and the steps you will take to build back

This last point is where the potential 'grey area' between business continuity and disaster recovery starts to become apparent. Disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity planning and a vital element of a BCP.

As well as planning for an immediate crisis-driven response, a business continuity plan should consider 'what happens next.' It's not just about how you deal with the immediate aftermath of a crisis, whether that's a cyber-attack, fire, flood, terrorist attack or any other human-made or natural disaster. It's about what you do next to restore operations on a more permanent footing. This is where the disaster recovery element of your planning comes in.

What is Disaster Recovery?

The disaster recovery plan and business continuity are very closely interlinked. Disaster recovery is the process of ' as you might imagine ' recovering after any business interruption or crisis. As InvenioIT puts it, 'A disaster recovery plan ...aims to answer the question: 'How do we recover from a disaster?''

What does a disaster recovery plan entail? It is typically a formal document, with details of steps needed to ensure you can recover rapidly from any disruption. IBM believes that a DR plan is more focused than a business continuity plan; as we said above, a subset of the BCP that focuses on how you recover your IT and systems to ensure operations return to normal as soon as possible. These formalized plans came into being in the 1970s. Businesses switched from being paper-based operations to ones dependent on systems and computer-based operations, technologies that require rapid response and clear action plans for contingency and recovery.

Minimizing downtime by having recovery plans for your IT infrastructure and other operations means businesses can reduce the length and impact of any unexpected disruption.

Disaster Recovery Plan vs. Business Continuity Plan: How Do BCP and DR Plans Differ?

What is the difference between a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan? Given that you need to consider both business continuity and disaster recovery, it's worth exploring the two differences. Partly, as we mentioned above, the difference is about scope. The BCP is broad, while a DR plan will be more focused, looking specifically at how to get systems up and running in the aftermath of a disaster. An IT disaster can take many forms, from a localized hardware failure to a company-wide data breach ' and can have huge ramifications, with some 93% of businesses suffering an IT disaster going on to file for bankruptcy within a year.

Another difference is in timing; the BCP should kick in as soon as a disruption is identified. Potentially, this means moving to back-up servers, power generators, remote working. On the other hand, the recovery plan tends to follow once the initial emergency response is in place, looking further ahead to determine how the business will rebuild and return to more normal operations. In either case, a written plan is vital, including a detailed business impact analysis that should be updated regularly. We've written before about the importance of keeping your business continuity plan up-to-date ' a lack of accurate data on your systems can significantly impact your ability to maintain operations and recover longer-term.

Central to this is the need to maintain accurate information on all your entities and subsidiaries. Doing so enables you to methodically record the systems and technologies that will be impacted by an outage across the entirety of your organization. Once you're confident that you have captured all the applications and hardware you need to consider, your disaster recovery plan should include:

  • Detailed plans for restoring each of these critical applications and pieces of infrastructure
  • The timeframe for doing so
  • The people who need to be involved ' along with emergency contact details to ensure they can be contacted in the event of any communications interruption

The ramifications of a disaster can be significant for an organization, including lost income, reputational damage, regulatory breaches and associated penalties, financial or otherwise, and missed opportunities for business growth while recovery is prioritized.

The 'disaster recovery plan vs. business continuity plan' debate, then, is slightly spurious ' because you clearly need both. Having defined plans, both to respond in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, and to recover following the initial crisis period, is essential.

To help organizations with their planning, both for business continuity and disaster recovery, Diligent has long-standing expertise and a suite of solutions. The software supports businesses that manage entities, compliance and organizational documents, enabling companies to minimize and mitigate the risks posed by any disruption. You can find out more by getting in touch to request a demo.


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