What Are ISO 22301 and Business Continuity?

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Modern security and risk frameworks often focus on a limited set of concerns–security controls, external threats, insider threats, upgrading or updating systems, etc. But, as the relationships between security, business continuity, and system reliability become more complex in our data-saturated environment, organizations must have equally robust system support in place to ensure that information remains secure and available at all times. 

ISO 22301, “Security and resilience–Business continuity management systems–Requirements,” the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines a broad set of standards that organizations can implement to focus on business continuity and resilience. 


What Are Security, Resilience, and Business Continuity?

Modern computing and business IT systems rely on traditional support and maintenance and long-term protection and availability. It’s critical for most IT systems, especially cloud-based systems, to remain available for user access 24/7, minimize downtime, and ensure that the data contained remain confidential and private. 

With those needs in mind, many contemporary IT disciplines focus on a broad set of concepts that take traditional ideas of maintenance and security and expand them into fully-fledged areas of emphasis that can guarantee security and availability. 

The three main areas of this endeavor, and the focus of ISO 22301, are:

  • Security: What we think of when we think about cybersecurity and compliance. Data must remain private, confidential, and intact, and users (business or otherwise) must be able to access that information reliably. This includes data access through several different means (email, file transfers, web interfaces, etc.) as well as several different contexts of the user (automated business systems, remote access, etc.). 
  • Resilience: Business IT systems will face several types of challenges to their operations, including cybersecurity threats, natural disasters, freak accidents, etc. There must be operations in place to ensure that IT systems can respond to or resist downtime based on these incidents. For example, modern banking systems have mostly migrated to robust and distributed cloud computing solutions to ensure that their systems are all accessible and available at all times, no matter where the user is. 
  • Business Continuity: How does the business IT system respond if a disaster hits? Modern IT cannot abide by slow recovery and lengthy downtime, and ensuring business continuity means deploying systems that can bounce back from disaster quickly. This includes using hot and cold system recovery systems, robust backups, and failover systems. 

The challenge with any of these individual practices, much less the combination, is that they require constant and consistent management, typically through dedicated leadership and resources. 


What Is a Business Continuity Management System (BCMS)?

To support these priorities, ISO 22301 defines a Business Continuity Management System, or BCMS. 

According to ISO 22301, a BCMS emphasizes understanding organizational needs, streamlining processes and capabilities to support continuity, implementing ongoing monitoring and instating continuous improvement practices. 

Accordingly, the components of such a system include:

  • Centralized policies to guide implementation and maintenance,
  • Skilled and experienced leadership to take responsibility and accountability while driving the policies as defined, 
  • A management process that includes guidance in policy, planning, implementation, and assessment (see more below),
  • Extensive documentation for operations and performance evaluation. 

Properly implemented, BCMSs allows enterprise organizations to reduce security, legal, and financial risk, all while aligning strategic objectives around overall organizational stability and longevity. 


ISO 22301 Requirements to Implement a BCMS

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ISO 22301 articulates, through several clauses, a few areas of emphasis that a business should focus on when implementing a BCMS:

  • Organization Context: An organization must be able to understand and define internal and external factors that impact its mission and operations. This clause will include stakeholders and their requirements, legal and regulatory requirements, the scope of a critical continuity system, and any products or services that must be part of the BCMS.
  • Leadership: The organization must have leadership dedicated to managing the BCMS and its components. This includes ensuring BCMS requirements align with business goals, communicating operations and continuity with internal and external stakeholders, ensuring achievement of outcomes, and providing accountability for operations related to the BCMS. 
  • Planning: Leadership in the BCMS infrastructure should be able to address risk and opportunities around expanding and implementing the BCMS, including risks to security or data availability. Plans must integrate the organizational context and ongoing risk profiles to drive BCMS implementation. 
  • Support: The organization must provide resources for the success and continuance of the BCMS, including financial support, training, competent personnel, and extensive documentation. Additionally, the BCM leadership will define the who, what, where, when, why and how to communicate awareness and support needs for the continued operation of the BCMS.
  • Operation: BCMS leadership shall implement necessary operations to promote the work of the BCMS, including risk and business impact analysis, strategy identification, solution selection and maintenance, the definition of resource requirements for current and future operations, and overall implementation of components. 
  • Performance Evaluation: The organization should conduct extensive internal audits (with comprehensive plans and agendas based on the organizational context).
  • Improvement: BCMS personnel and leadership should look for opportunities to improve the BCMS. Additionally, there should be plans and procedures in place to address nonconformity so that steps can be taken to mitigate issues related to such nonconformity. 


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