Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery: Is There a Difference?


While the rest of us were shaking off the holidays and slowly getting back into our work routines, the Conti ransomware gang kicked off the new year with a ransomware attack on short line rail operator and logistics provider OmniTRAX.

Although there is no indication that the attack affected operations, Conti was able to steal confidential company data, which the gang then published on a leak site.

Cybersecurity events like these drive home the importance of creating and maintaining a comprehensive business continuity plan that includes a fully tested disaster recovery strategy.

What Happens When You Fail to Plan for Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

We all know the old adage, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” When it comes to unplanned downtime and data loss or exposure, failure gets really expensive really fast.

A data breach can affect your organization in several ways—none of them good. First, there is the potential to physically lose important data that can’t be replaced. Sales records, gone. Confidential employee documents, gone. Mission-critical business and finance files, gone.

Then there is the legal and regulatory fallout from data breaches and system downtime. In addition to legal fees and compliance penalties, you’re looking at further financial impacts such as lost revenue and employee productivity while operations are at a standstill.

Today’s consumers are fiercely protective of their data, so any breach or significant outage will negatively affect your company’s reputation and may even send your customers fleeing to your competition.

In fact, according to a survey of consumers across North America, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, 70 percent of respondents don’t think businesses are doing enough to secure their personal information. They also assume their information has been compromised without their knowledge.

The same study found that 25 percent of consumers will switch to a competitor after a single ransomware-related service disruption, failed transaction, or period of downtime. It also showed that more than two-thirds of survey respondents would move to a competitor’s product if your systems and applications are down for three or more days after a cyberattack. Even more alarming is that one-third of those respondents would only give you 24 hours to restore services before they jump ship.

How Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Are Different

The consequences of not protecting your company from security breaches and downtime are significant. However, when done proactively, implementing a business continuity and disaster recovery strategy can mitigate the impact of a disaster on your organization.
The first step in creating an effective strategy is understanding the respective roles of business continuity and disaster recovery—how they are different and how they work in concert to protect business-critical data and operations.

On the surface, business continuity and disaster recovery seem like interchangeable processes—like one or the other is sufficient for crisis clean-up. However, when you take a closer look, each serves a specific function in mitigating financial risk and data loss.

The table below highlights some of the main differences between business continuity and disaster recovery. It illustrates the specific roles each plays in protecting business-critical applications, data, and systems before, during, and after a security or crisis event.

Business ContinuityDisaster RecoveryFocuses on how to keep business operations functional DURING a disaster or disruption and immediately after the event

Focuses on how to respond and return systems to normal AFTER a disaster or disruption has ended

Plan to keep critical business functions working with minimal downtime in the event of an unplanned outage Plan to restore business processes within a certain amount of time in the event of an unplanned outage Process of getting all business operations back up and running after a crisis Process of getting important IT systems and infrastructure back up and running after a crisis


The key difference between disaster recovery and business continuity is when the plans kick in during a disaster. Your business continuity process must kick in immediately when a crisis hits. Essentially, your plan needs to keep the lights on so the most essential processes can continue at some level.

Disaster recovery commences when the initial threat passes and involves picking up the pieces so business functions can resume as quickly as possible.

Why You Need a Plan for Both

Business continuity and disaster recovery are both critical elements of the process of restoring business functions after a crisis. By making disaster recovery a part of the larger business continuity plan, organizations can plan for all contingencies.

Although it’s possible to have a business continuity plan that doesn’t include disaster recovery, doing so creates the potential for prolonged downtime and increases the risk of losing critical data permanently.

With a coordinated plan to make the organization operational again and defined steps for protecting and restoring the data, systems, and technology needed for the organization to commence operations, business functions can resume quickly with minimal disruption and little to no data loss.

Today’s enterprises can’t afford not to be proactive about business continuity. For businesses faced with increased cyberthreats, unprecedented weather and natural disasters, and a pandemic-fatigued workforce, planning for a crisis must be a priority. Download Smart Strategies for Business Continuity to learn more ways to protect your applications, systems, and data from threats of all types.