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

A business continuity plan vs. disaster recovery plan – is there a difference?

In today’s uncertain times, business continuity and disaster recovery have become top-of-mind for many organizations. During the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, businesses around the world realized the critical importance of contingency planning and emergency preparedness.

However, there are a number of interrelated terms within the field of business continuity, many of which have overlapping definitions. 

To successfully prepare for disruptions and disasters, it is necessary to first of all have a clear understanding of these concepts, their similarities, and their differences.

In this article, we’ll look at business continuity, disaster recovery, and related concepts in detail.

A Business Continuity Plan vs. Disaster Recovery Plan

Business continuity management is a business discipline dedicated to protecting key business functions during a disruption, restoring lost business activities, and ultimately reducing losses and damage. 

Business continuity plans will typically:

  • Delegate the plan’s implementation and management to a continuity team
  • Create training and exercises to ensure those teams can execute the plan successfully
  • Implement a series of actions to protect critical business functions
  • Initiate restoration and recovery options 

Disaster recovery is a closely related concept, which specifically focuses on the recovery of business functions and assets in the event of a disaster.

Business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans are closely related and sometimes used interchangeably, though the circumstances will often dictate the exact meaning of the term. For instance, “disaster recovery software” often brings up backup software and other digital tools designed to restore IT services in the event of an IT-related disaster.

Technically speaking, the two terms are clearly different, though it is important to recognize that there is some overlap and the two terms are often conflated, even by professionals in the industry.

Rather than focusing on the meaning of each individual term, however, business professionals should focus more on the intended results of both: improving an organization’s ability to successfully manage and mitigate business disruptions. 

To that end, it is useful to examine other relevant strategies and plans, such as those covered below.

Emergency Response Plans vs. Business Continuity Plans

An emergency response plan is implemented immediately after a disaster or emergency occurs. These plans are designed to protect human life first and foremost, followed by business activities and assets. 

They are built to address potential emergencies that could pose a danger to human safety, such as:

  • Severe weather events
  • Fires
  • Chemical spills
  • Workplace accidents

An emergency response plan is distinct from a disaster recovery or business continuity plan, which will typically be implemented after an emergency response has been completed. 

All of these plans are interdependent, however, and they should form part of a coordinated strategy for mitigating and responding to business disruptions.

Beyond Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

There are certainly other strategies for mitigating risk and reducing the negative impacts of business disruptions. 

Though response plans play an important role and are necessary, it is equally important to build systems and traits that can proactively improve an organization’s ability to withstand or even avoid disruptions.

For instance:

  • Digital transformation can improve an organization’s digital maturity. Organizations that are more digitally mature have improved capabilities across a wide range of functions. For instance, employees are more proficient and skilled, enabling them to cope with digital disruption more effectively. A more digitally skilled workforce will also be better able to implement certain types of continuity strategies, such as remote working.
  • Human resources can cultivate a culture that is pro-learning and more open to change. An organizational culture that is more adaptable and open to change will likely have a better chance of successfully handling disruptive changes. Through effective communication, hiring, and talent management, HR can help to develop a culture that is more suited to today’s fast-paced business environment.
  • IT can build systems that are more secure, mitigating the risks of cyber attacks. IT disaster recovery plans and software are certainly essential for every modern organization. After all, there is no way to predict when an IT-related disaster could impact the organization. However, there are a number of strategies that can help to mitigate and even prevent those risks completely. Robust information security, for instance, can prevent a great many incidents from ever occurring in the first place.
  • Workplace accidents can be preemptively avoided through appropriate work procedures and protocols. In many work environments, workplace accidents can pose a significant risk. In manufacturing, for instance, workplace accidents can threaten both worker safety as well as the organization’s operations. Like many other potential threats, a preemptive strategy can help to avoid such incidents entirely, reducing the chances an organization would need to implement the response plans covered earlier.

Tactics such as these should form part of a comprehensive organizational resilience strategy, an approach aimed at minimizing performance disruptions through a wide range of approaches.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.