Risk Assessment or Business Impact Analysis: What Comes First?

What Comes First? RA or BIA

Over the past few years, I have been asked this question and also noticed the many discussions among professionals on the topic of whether one should, when going through the BCM planning methodology, conduct Risk Assessment (RA) or Business Impact Analysis (BIA) first. Often, these discussions are long and go on with the hasty conclusion in sight. They are rife with inconsistencies, misconceptions, and opposing viewpoints that have resulted not necessarily from any error on the professional’s part, but from the conflicting national Business Continuity Management (BCM) standard, each practitioner subscribes to. I would like to shed some light on some of these inconsistencies and misconceptions, as well as offer my thoughts on the RA versus BIA discussion itself.

The Risk Assessment and Business Impact Analysis are fundamental components in ensuring the development of an effective BCM framework in an organisation. However, there has been much confusion about the difference between the two phases, and that should come first have been a long debated topic. To be able to determine the exemplary process, we must first understand the objectives and expected deliverables of each phase.

Getting definitions out of the way

I’ll like to start by saying that Risk Assessment (RA) and Business Impact Analysis (BIA) are not the same things. They have gradually been used more and more interchangeably as similar processes, and this is not only incorrect but not identifying the individual features in each process can prove detrimental to your organization’s business continuity.   The detailed definition can be found in BCMPedia.

Risk Assessment

RA Deliverables Goh Moh HengRisk Assessment (RA) is the process of identifying internal and external threats and vulnerabilities, identifying the likelihood and impact of an event arising from such threats or vulnerabilities, defining the controls in place or necessary to reduce exposure and evaluating the cost for such controls.

Risk Assessment is a phase within the BCM planning process. It is the overall process of risk identification, risk analysis and risk evaluation. It is NOT to be confused or conflated with risk management, which is similar but separately defined as the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks, followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and impact of unfortunate events. The primary objective of Risk assessment is to lessen vulnerability and decrease risk.

Business Impact Analysis

Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is the process of analysing the effect of interruptions to business operations or processes on all business functions. The scope of Business Impact Analysis includes facilities, It Infrastructure, Hardware, and Data. The main objective of Business Impact Analysis is to identify the operational and financial impacts resulting from the major disruption of business functions and processes, and thus, BIA is incredibly crucial to Business Continuity Planning.  The outputs from RA are a bit different from those of BIA.

BIA Deliverables @ Goh Moh Heng

RA gives you a list of risks together with their values, whereas BIA gives you timing within which you need to recover (Recovery Time Objectives or RTO) and how much information you can afford to lose (Recovery Point Objectives or RPO). So, although these twos are related because they have to focus on the organization’s assets and processes, they are used in different contexts.

What does ISO22301 BCMS standard say?

The International Standard ISO 22301:2012 allows for both approaches, depending on the BCM planning methodology that is used. Organisations may choose to conduct BIA to identify their critical business functions followed by RA to analyse and mitigate the potential risks faced by each business operations and processes. The advantage of this approach is that it focuses on the identification and mitigation of specific business threats faced by each business unit. Another approach would be to conduct RA to identify threats and establish the risk landscape at the corporate level before conducting BIA. As the BCM framework is set up to prepare and build resiliency against corporate-wide disruptions, it is reasonable to assess threats and estimate the possible period of disruption at the corporate level. The outcome could be used to establish the Key Planning Scenario, which sets the basis for planning in the subsequent stages.

An effective Business Continuity Management framework ensures the capability of an organisation to continue delivery of products and services at an acceptable predefined minimum level and safeguard the interests of key stakeholders. The understanding of potential threats faced by the organisation and the determination of recovery priorities set the foundation for BCM implementation. Our preferred approach would be first to conduct an RA at the corporate level to establish the Key Planning Scenario, which could be used as a benchmark for determining the organisation’s critical business function in the BIA. To mitigate the RA not completed correctly, in ISO22301, a continuous review using RA is repeated in the BIA and then the BC Strategy phase.

What do the other standards say?

  1. Australia (HB221:2004): “Risk & Vulnerability Assessment” is step #2, whereas “Conduct BIA” is step #3
  2. Canada (Z1600-08): Risk Assessment precedes BIA as part of a continuity project planning activities
  3. Great Britain (BS25999-1:2006): BIA precedes the Risk Assessment
  4. U.S. (NFPA1600 2007): The Risk Assessment takes precedence, with the BIA being a subset of the RA
  5. Singapore Standard (SS540:2010): Risk Assessment precedes BIA as part of a continuity project planning activities

As you can see, every standard offers a different take or variant on what comes first, and some of these standards do not factor in Risk Assessment. Additionally, business impact analysis is mandatory for ISO 22301 implementation, but not for ISO 27001. Who, then, do we subscribe to for a universal take on what is right?

Why Risk Analysis first?

Some practitioners and most of the older international BCM standards believe that the RA should come first as it enables one first to identify exposure and risks, allowing the practitioner to develop the necessary mitigation measures to reduce the threat. It also allows the practitioner to perform BIA more quickly as the lists of assets in the organization have been completely identified.

Most of the international standards support this claim, with RA being regarded as the initial step to take before the BIA.

Additionally, will have a better impression of which incidents can happen which risks you are exposed to. Therefore, be better prepared for doing the business impact analysis that focuses on consequences of those incidents. Furthermore, if you choose the asset-based approach for risk assessment, you will have an easier time identifying all the resources later on in the business impact analysis.

Why BIA first?

The counter argument against using RA first is that in sufficiently large organizations, it can be quite difficult, if not flat out impossible, to access all the risks and their impact on the organization. Rather than going for RA first, it would be much easier to go for BIA first, evaluating all the critical functions (or prioritised activities as ISO22301) and assets of the business and how they will impact the organization.

Different business units or departments in large organizations often have their individual subcultures and approaches to work. By showcasing a complete list of risks to critical business functions that have been identified from all parts of the business, new thinking and debate almost always ensue. Thus, some would argue that employing BIA first saves everyone involved in the BCM process an enormous amount of time and effort.

Different business units or departments in large organizations often have their individual subcultures and approaches to work. By showcasing a complete list of risks to critical business functions that have been identified from all parts of the business, new thinking and debate almost always ensue. Thus, some would argue that employing BIA first saves everyone involved in the BCM process an enormous amount of time and effort.

BIA forces the practitioner to consider which assets are of most importance to your business and its continuation. RA will then be applied afterwards to access the potential risks against these critical functions, followed by forming a mitigation plan to counteract the risks involved.

Sometimes, practitioners start with BIA because they want the organisation to talk about business processes and assets. This is often a strategy, and it should not be part of this discussion.

RA vs BIAConclusion

It is a matter of preference and circumstance. It can be conducted before, after, or even concurrently with one another, depending on what the situation demands. Some implementers felt that the combined effort to gather the information combined with one interview was time saving. As a practitioner, the argument is what constitute RA – it may require you to conduct a field RA survey.

When RA and BIA are placed together, these two processes combined can easily tell how hard a potential disruption can impact a business, as well as how quickly and how damaging it can be.
It is always good to have a healthy discussion but the key message does we have the same understanding of the RA and BIA definitions, are you speaking when you are just starting a new BCM project or updating an existing program, do you have other standards already in place such as ISO9000, ISO27000, and consulting techniques to gain acceptance of organisation.

It is always good to have a healthy discussion but the key message does we have the same understanding of the RA and BIA definitions, are you speaking when you are just starting a new BCM project or updating an existing program, do you have other standards already in place such as ISO9000, ISO27000, and consulting techniques to gain acceptance of organisation.

I would expect comments, and there are strong opinions on both sides with justifications. However, having spent some time in this industry, I would like to take a middle ground that there is no true right or wrong position on this debate as it is from which perspectives you are starting from and essentially what meets the requirement of the internal or external customers’ needs.

About the Author

Dr Goh Moh Heng

Dr Goh Moh Heng is the President of BCM Institute and the Managing Director of GMH Continuity Architects – a specialized BCM Consulting firm. His primary areas of expertise include Business Continuity Management (BCM), Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP), ISO22301 BCM Audit and Crisis Management. Since 2011, Moh Heng has assisted more than 20 organizations, particularly those operating in the Asia Pacific and Middle-East Region in their successful implementation of their Business Continuity Management System (BCMS) and achieving their BS 25999/ SS 540 / ISO 22301 organization certification.  Before establishing BCM Institute and GMH BCM Consulting, Dr Goh held senior positions with some large organizations. During his career with the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), he was responsible for all aspects of its BC and contingency planning. At Standard Chartered Bank, he saw to the global implementation of its BC management and planning. He also managed the BCM practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Currently, Dr Goh is the senior advisor to the China BCM Forum, a quasi-government agency responsible for BCM throughout China and an expert panel member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Network on Improving SME Disaster Resilience (since 2011) and JICA-ASEAN study to enhance resiliency of industrial areas against natural disasters (since 2012).   He hold a Ph.D. and also been awarded the highest level of certification from the three major business continuity management institutes.  He is the author of nine business continuity management books.  Dr. Goh is instrumental in creating the first Wikipedia for BC He can be contacted at or


Goh, M. H. (2016). Risk Assessment or Business Impact Analysis: What Comes First? LinkedIn Pulse

Goh, M. H. (2015). Business Continuity Management Planning Methodology. International Journal of Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity, 6, 9–16. Retrieved from

Kosutic, D. (2014). Risk assessment vs. business impact analysis. Advisera, (Mar), 2–5.

Ross, S. (2010). A business impact analysis checklist: 10 common BIA mistakes. Search Disaster Recovery, (Oct).

Rupert, J. (2013). The Relationship Between the Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment. Avalution Perspective.

Zecuboy. (2013). Risk Assessment versus Business Impact Analysis. Information Security Cafe, 5–8.

Simulation Exercise

Choices and Categories of Tests & Exercises


In testing and exercising the BC plans, the terminology for the various type of tests and methodologies often poses a challenge for any BCM professionals when they are about to start their testing and exercising programmes. The paper is a summary of tests, and it is not intended to be comprehensive list, so as to provide a good foundation of the types of tests that a BCM professional is are likely to embark upon.

1. Introduction

Most BCM professionals find it challenging to identify the type of tests and exercises, that to be conducted for their organization. It is usually a long list and there are many variations within the discipline.

1.1 Categorization

There is several ways of categorizing the types of tests. One approach is to be based on the actions to be taken. An example would be: Desk check, simulation, procedure verification, communications and IT environment walkthrough. Another approach is to list all the possible types of tests to be conducted and then select the type of tests that is useful for testing the requirement outcome based on the readiness level needed by the organization. This includes component, integrated, simulation and live test.

The approach in this paper is to describe the techniques or methodology as the content and objective of the plan can be developed separately. Additional terminology relating to testing can be found in

2. Component Tests

The following are sample of the type of tests that could be conducted as part of a component test for a typical business continuity plan.

2.1 Confirm Availability / Version of Plan

This test is designed to check that key staff in both business and support recovery teams can gain access to a hard-copy of their continuity plan at any time. As part of your maintenance program, you should include procedures to “visit” your plan at pre-defined intervals, to update personnel details and to ensure that recovery measures remain relevant.

2.2 Retrieve Vital Hard Copy Records from Offsite Locations

As a good practice, the hard-copy records of documents critical to business operations should be kept in an offsite location. This Component Test confirms that such records are indeed available offsite, are sufficiently up-to-date to be of use in a crisis and can be promptly retrieved within the expected time frame.  These documents may include copies of contracts, agreements, insurance policies, floor plans, title deeds as well as any special reference manuals required to conduct business operations in a crisis situation.

2.3 Contact Staff, Suppliers & Others

One of the most straightforward but important tests is the telephone notification procedure. This is typically carried out on three main groups of people:

  • Staff
  • Suppliers or vendors, who provide you goods and services
  • Other contacts, including customers or others to whom you provide goods and services

Whilst the principles of these tests are similar, you should consider differences in the relationships between your organization and the groups of people and tailor the approach of testing for each group accordingly.  The benefits of carrying out these tests are:

  • Establish that the contact telephone numbers in your plan are correct and up-to-date.
  • Confirm that the resources you require in a crisis, both human and otherwise e.g. equipment and supplies, can be obtained when and where needed.
  • Ensure that the targeted degree of recovery matches the expectations of your internal or external customers.

It is highly likely that you will need to modify your plans following each test. These tests play a very important role in the maintenance program and their value should not be under-estimated.

2.4 Check Lead Times for Critical Equipment

This is to establish the lead-times for the delivery of critical equipment. This differs from testing suppliers of services as it relates to availability of specific items rather than the ability to contact personnel. This is a simple test, which applies to both business and support units.

2.5 Confirm Alternate Site Readiness

This test is used to confirm the readiness of the personnel at the alternate site to receive people from a business unit or building who are displaced due to an incident.  The procedure will vary depending on location and on whether the recovery will be at a commercially operated alternate site or at another organization’s building. In any case, a Service Level Agreement (SLA) should be in place confirming the agreed relocation arrangements. This document will state the expected time frame for the relocation, where all relevant parties (Officials from the alternate site as well as the Central Support Business Units of the organization carrying out the recovery) must acknowledge, confirming that they find the time frame acceptable, reasonable and attainable.  Given that alternate site recovery contracts are usually held centrally and that only certain staff can invoke such plans, it will be assumed, for the purpose of this test, that recovery will be at a site controlled by the organization.

2.6 Test Staff Members’ Knowledge of Business Unit Plan

The person conducting the test visits the business unit BCM coordinator and staff members of a selected business unit and tests how much he/she knows about the procedures without the staff having access to the plan. This will confirm the business unit staff members’ knowledge of the plan and potential ability to ensure the recovery of the business unit if, for whatever reason, a copy of the plan is not initially available.

2.7 Spot Check of Vital Records

This test involved the business unit BCM coordinator and staff members of a selected business unit to visit the offsite location where the vital records are kept. While at offsite location, the team is required to perform a review using a checklist of the inventory of vital records.

2.8 Recall Offsite Storage

This relates mainly to support business units and should not be confused with the retrieval of vital hard-copy records, which is covered separately.
The list of support business units at a medium to large operation would normally include the following:
  • Premises/ Facilities
  • Information Technology
  • Telecommunication/ Networks
  • Security
  • Public Relations
  • Human Resources
  • Administration/ Correspondence
  • Legal/Compliance
  • Financial Control
  • Transport

In order to meet the everyday needs during a disaster, these business units are likely to have spare items such as furniture, equipment, cables, server tapes, back-up disks, stored offsite. In some cases they will be stored in another organization’s building premises and in others, an external storage contractor may be used.

The purpose of this test is to confirm that the business units can access and/or arrange delivery of the required items within the expected time frame stated in the plan.2.9 Check that Important Lists are Still CurrentThis ensures that important lists are up-to-date. Each business continuity plan contains a number of lists, e.g. list of key items or contacts required in a crisis. The information stated in the lists can be used to contain the impact and/or limit the damage to the business.  The following are key lists in a typical business continuity plan:

2.9.1 Personnel Contact List

In addition to a Telephone Call Tree chart, business unit coordinators should have an updated Personnel Contact List.

2.9.2 Initial Action by Business Units

Important business units should each have a brief list stating the tasks which key team members need to undertake in the opening stages of a disaster scenario. These members should have this list with them at all times.

2.9.3 Inventory of Resources

This lists all key resources. Regular checks should be done to confirm they accurately reflect the needs of each business unit.

2.9.4 PC Software Versions

The lists of IT hardware and software, (showing the version) should be kept up-to-date. “Systems” for unique software should be regularly tested and not just stored in an IT business unit.

2.9.5 “Grab” List

This is a list of small items, identified as being useful, which staff will try to take with them as they evacuate.

2.9.6 Priority Salvage List

This identifies items a business unit BCM coordinator might ask someone to hand-carry from the office, if that person was allowed back into a building for, say, 30 minutes.

2.9.7 Essential Forms / Stationery

If a business unit has any special stationery or printed forms without which the business cannot operate, a small supply of these should be stored offsite and the location recorded in the plan. The tests for confirming the contents of these key lists are simple and quick to conduct.

3. Notification Call Tree Test

Even though this is a Component Test, the critical importance of this test cannot be ignored. In a Telephone Notification Call Tree Test for recovery teams, the recovery team members will notify designated staff members as documented in the plan. This personnel communication network forms one of the most efficient and effective means of communicating any news or instructions to all relevant staff, and should include the entire organization.

4. Walk-through Test

In a Walk-through, recovery team members meet to verbally walk-through the steps of each component of the business continuity process as documented in the business continuity plan.

5. Integrated Test

An Integrated Test involves integrating any number of the components in the order that they would occur during actual recovery operations. Integrated test builds on test successes and increasing employee awareness generated during component testing. Organization BCM coordinator and business unit BCM coordinators should realize that the increased complexity, coordination of multiple teams, involvement of other interested personnel and budget considerations will limit the frequency of integrated testing.

6. Incident Simulation Test

This involves the development and use of pre-written test scenarios or test scripts for disaster events. The scenarios tell the team members how to react to such disasters and give organizations a baseline from which to start their recovery plans.

7. Partial Simulation Test

Similar to Full Simulation (below) except that only several business units will be involved. However, for these business units, the testing will be to the fullest detail and scope.

8. Full Simulation Test

Full Simulation test is the ultimate BC plan test which activates the total BC plan. Full Simulation test is also called Full Interruption test or Mock Disaster test. The purpose is to simultaneously test as many components as possible in the organization recovery structure. The test is likely to be costly and could disrupt normal operations, and therefore should be approached with caution. Adequate time must be scheduled for the testing.

To successfully test recovery capability, the tests must evaluate the recovery procedures and documentation, not the inherent knowledge of the staff.
Each test must have a set of primary and secondary objectives to define the direction of the test and to measure its success. An example of such objectives; the primary objective is to evaluate success or failure and the secondary objective is to test if extra time is available.

9. Live Test

Finally, this is the ultimate of all tests. It is perhaps, the most challenging test that any BCM professional would deemed to undertake as this is where anything can go wrong will go wrong. To worsen the situation, this errors of this test will be seen live in the presence organization-wide and especially with senior management.

10. Conclusion

The decision on the types of test to be conducted can be an uphill task initially for many BCM professionals. There is an pressing expectation from the management to test the BC plan to its readied state. Hence, the identification and implementation of correct series of tests for an organization becomes the key necessity for any organization who has a BC plan.

11. References

[1] BCMpedia (2008). Definition of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Terminologies,
[2] Goh, Moh Heng (2008). Managing Your Business Continuity Planning Project, 2nd Edition, 166 pages.
[3] Goh, Moh Heng (2008): Conducting Your Impact Analysis for Business Continuity Planning, 130 pages.
[4] Goh, Moh Heng (2008): Analyzing & Reviewing the Risk for Business Continuity Planning, 162 pages.
[5] Goh, Moh Heng (2005): Developing Recovery Strategy for Your Business Continuity Plan, 104 pages.
[6] Goh, Moh Heng (2004): Implementing Your Business Continuity Plan, 104 pages.
[7] Goh, Moh Heng (2006): Testing & Exercising Your Business Continuity Plan, 2nd Edition, 160 pages.
[8] Goh, Moh Heng (2007): Managing & Sustaining Your Business Continuity Management Programme, 190 pages.
[9] Goh, Moh Heng (2006): Developing Your Pandemic Influenza Business Continuity Plan, 128 pagesAbout

The Author

Dr Goh Moh HengDr Goh Moh Heng is the President of BCM Institute and the Managing Director for GMH Pte Ltd , an Asia-Pacific BCM consultancy firm. During the last 20 years, Dr Goh had conducted several hundreds of tests and exercises for clients throughout the world.  It ranges from the many simple notification tests, walkthrough tests to the large simulation and live tests. Sometests worth mentioning include the enterprise-wide crisis management simulation, full simulation test and unannounced live tests for many international organizations. He hold a PhD and also been awarded the highest level of certification from the three major business continuity management institutes.  He is the author of nine business continuity management books.  Dr. Goh is instrumental in creating the first Wikipedia for BC He can be contacted at or