Operational Resilience and Business Continuity Management: Complementary and Interdependent but not Interchangeable

icon-reading-time-white7 min

image source and copyright by cyberunity AG, Joshua Bucheli



Written by: Joshua Bucheli, Talent Community Manager at cyberunity AG and John Corona, Partner Risk, Cybersecurity and Business Continuity Services at Osmond GmbH



In today’s cyber jungle, where cloud-based architectures, bad actors, phishing scams, and zero-day exploits run rampant, businesses of all sizes find themselves treading an increasingly perilous path around ever more numerous pitfalls. Enter Operational Resilience (OR) and Business Continuity Management (BCM), two key aspects of robust business operations essential for steering companies through the digital minefield.


Understanding these two concepts in relation to one another, especially the distinctions between the two and how they complement each another, is crucial for fortifying companies against the perils of the digital world.


Why are Operational Resilience and Business Continuity Important?


Before we delve into the differences between OR and BCM, it is worth quickly considering what they have in common – namely, their overall aims and the stakeholders who they impact.


OR and BCM are not just for emergencies; they’re everyday essentials, especially for tech-dependent businesses and should be proactively woven into daily operations and strategic planning, continuously implemented, and tested regularly. Both serve the primary aim of keeping businesses stable and secure in the face of cyber threats:


  • Protection: Both aim to guard data, systems, and services against disruptions and (cyber) threats.


  • Reliability: Both ensure essential functions keep running during and after a (cyber) incident.


  • Reputation: Both play a key role in handling and recovering from challenges effectively, protecting organisational reputation.


  • Compliance: Both are required in order to meet various regulatory requirements for data protection and business continuity.


  • Customer Confidence: Both help maintain trust and satisfaction by ensuring uninterrupted services.


With this in mind, it becomes clear that there are several stakeholders with a vested interest in OR and BCM plans:


  • Organisations: Companies need both OR and BCM to survive (when crises do arise) and thrive (as these considerations make them more appealing to investors and customers).


  • Employees: Staff need training and awareness to support resilience efforts, protecting their job security and ability to work during disruptions.


  • Customers: Reliable services and minimised data risks during cyber incidents increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.


  • Regulators: Authorities expect (and increasingly require) robust cybersecurity measures to protect data and maintain operations.


  • Investors: Strong resilience and BCM plans safeguard financial stability, attracting investor confidence.


Understanding the Concepts: Strategy vs Tactics


So far we have seen that both OR and BCM concern themselves with helping companies tackle the risk and impact of disruptions. But if they both share this aim, then why go through the trouble of formulating, implementing, and testing both? The short answer is that they approach the problem of risk in distinct but complementary ways – each is necessary, and only together are they sufficient. The longer answer lies in understanding said differences in approach.


Understanding the differences and interrelations between OR and BCM is made easier if we first consider an analogous difference – namely the difference between strategy and tactics: A strategy is an overarching plan or set of goals designed to achieve long-term objectives. Tactics, on the other hand, are specific actions taken to accomplish a strategic goal i.e., the means by which a strategy is realised. With this in mind, one can think of OR and BCM as strategic and tactical endeavours respectively. Just as a strategy is toothless without corresponding tactics, OR can quickly become an exercise in futility without the corresponding BCM – and vice versa.


Operational Resilience: Long-Term Strategy


Operational resilience refers to an organization’s ability to continue delivering essential services through adverse conditions, emergencies, or unforeseen events. It deals with developing strategies to prepare for, respond to, and bounce back from disruptions. With a broad, comprehensive approach, OR encompasses not only the ability to respond to and recover from incidents but also the capacity to adapt and thrive amidst ongoing and future challenges.

Think of OR as a long-term, holistic strategy that makes sure your entire operation can adapt and thrive despite hurdles:


OR in a Nutshell: Strategies for anticipating, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disruptions.


  • Focus: Long-term ability to adapt and evolve with changing conditions, threats, or opportunities.


    • Proactive Planning: Developing strategies and capabilities to anticipate potential disruptions.


    • Robustness: Ensuring that critical functions and business processes are designed to withstand various forms of stress.


    • Adaptability: Continuously evolving and improving to cope with new threats and changes in operating environment.


    • Integration: Involving a holistic approach that considers processes, technology, and third-party dependencies.


  • Scope: A big-picture view that takes infrastructure, people, and processes into consideration to keep operations running as smoothly as possible should disruptions arise.


Business Continuity Management (BCM): Tactical Plan of Action


BCM, on the other hand, deals with tactical action plans for when disaster strikes, ensuring that critical business processes don’t skip a beat. It therefore focuses more on immediate measures to mitigate specific potential disruptions like ensuring that backup systems and alternate locations are ready and available.


As a subset of operational resilience with a more tactical and procedural orientation, BCM can be thought of as a short-term crisis mitigation framework, focused on keeping key business processes alive and kicking during and immediately after a disruption.


BCM in a Nutshell: The process of crafting tactical plans and defining methods to keep essential functions going during and after a disaster.


  • Focus: Short-term crisis management to ensure critical business processes continue.


    • Business Continuity Plans (BCPs): Documented procedures and instructions to maintain or quickly resume essential functions.


    • Disaster Recovery Plans (DRPs): Specific plans for restoring IT systems and data following a disruption.


    • Crisis Management: Coordination and communication strategies during emergencies.


    • Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs): Defining acceptable downtime and data loss limits for critical processes.


  • Scope: Tactical measures like backup systems and alternate locations to restore operations quickly.


Key Differences in a Nutshell: Think of OR as your big-picture, long-term strategist, and of BCM as your immediate, tactical responder. Though they share the same overarching goal, each plays its own vital role in realising said goal and cannot function properly without the other.


  • Scope: OR has a broader scope, including strategic and long-term adaptability, while BCM is more focused on immediate response and recovery of critical business processes.


  • Approach: OR is proactive and holistic, aiming to build enduring capabilities, whereas BCM is reactive, centered on predefined plans and procedures for specific incidents.


  • Focus: OR considers the entire ecosystem of an organization, including third parties and external factors. BCM primarily concentrates on business processes and systems including outsourced services.


  • Objective: The objective of OR is to maintain overall service delivery and organizational integrity under any circumstances. BCM aims to ensure that key operations can continue with minimal disruption when specific crises arise.


The Bottom Line


Operational resilience and business continuity management address similar challenges and it is understandable when they are confused with one another. However, it is vital that companies realise that they are by no means interchangeable. Instead, they are two necessary parts of the same whole. Operational resilience offers a strategic, long-term approach to keeping operations steady and adapting to challenges, while business continuity management focuses on short-term survival during and after disruptions. Only together can they ensure that businesses are equipped to tackle immediate crises while evolving to meet future challenges and safeguarding their operations from all angles.



Want to Dive Deeper?


Curious about what Operational Resilience and Business Continuity Management mean for your business?

Joshua Bucheli (cyberunity AG) and John Corona (Osmond GmbH) are happy to point you in the right direction!

download pdf