Disaster! What Now?
July 17, 2012
Disaster! What Now?
It seems the UK has been blighted with disaster recently, and not just with the flooding! Millions of RBS and Natwest bank customers were affected by a failed software upgrade that prohibited transfers either in or out of their accounts. Eventually the fault was corrected, but the widespread computer problems caused a huge backlog of transactions that took weeks to deal with (indeed one part of the group, Ulster Bank, is still working towards a fully restored recovery).
Shortly after, 02 became victim of a system crash, when a fault with one of their network systems caused widespread disruption, preventing calls and internet access for many subscribers. Exactly how many customers were affected is an unknown, but it’s thought to be hundreds of thousands.
On the heels of that technology failure, the BBC website crashed leaving millions of users without access to BBC online and its popular iPlayer service. Blaming a ‘major technical issue’, the broadcaster was at least able to get the whole site up and running within a few hours.
IT problems can impact organisations of all sizes, from large multinationals to small independents. How companies deal with these technology problems impacts on the everyday lives of millions of people. Given the recent wave of IT problems affecting such significant brands within the UK, perhaps now is a good time to review your own IT support and DR plans – your findings may lead you to take a different approach to managing and supporting the performance of your IT systems. Review now – before your customer experience is affected.
Regardless of the size of the organisation, there are wider lessons that firms need to consider – and effective maintenance of technology is often the significant factor. IT is often an integral part of a company, but can often been seen as just another “cost centre”. Businesses depend on the continuous availability of their IT systems to ensure a smooth operation, but the general high reliability and availably of IT over the last few years has lulled many businesses into a false sense of security. Everything breaks down eventually, and the need for rapid recovery of such systems has increased as users and customers demand and expect continuous and uninterrupted service.
“Properly maintained systems are a vital necessity for both SME’s and large enterprises, but even the largest of organisations fail to have experts supporting every single aspect of their IT systems” says Andrew Evans, MD of Keystep Limited, “As a minimum, every organisation should look to implement some basic rules to help keep technology running” he continues.
1. Back up early, back up often
This cannot be repeated enough. It is vital that back-ups of data are done frequently, and that a process is developed to ensure this is done methodically. There are a range of existing solutions available to help automate this process and by taking some time to get this right now will help avoid time-intensive and potentially expensive problems later on.
2. Get patched...
Ensure that all software is kept up to date. Hackers and your own nefarious users exploit security flaws in old versions of software – help combat this by ensuring systems are properly patched.
3. ...But update out of hours
While it is vital that systems are properly updated, it is just as important that this work is done at a sensible time. Don’t update customer-facing systems during opening hours. Similarly, wait until out of hours to update systems employees rely on. This will help to minimise the potential for lost revenue in the event that an update goes wrong, or takes longer than expected.
4. Get protected
Anti-virus and anti-spyware software is amongst the most important tools in your fight to keep computer systems working properly. Invest in commercial grade anti-virus protection, ensuring the chosen solution fits the specific requirements of the organisation. If employees work from home and need to log into the network, remember that they will also need to have suitable protection installed and maintained on their workstations.
5. Develop a security policy
A robust security policy will help maintain a safe, fully operational computer network. A good policy begins with a comprehensive audit and investigation of the potential problems that a system might suffer. Approach this in the same way you would approach a general audit of any area of the business. Identify the potential issues, eliminate those that can be eliminated, and develop strategies to mitigate the remainder.
Ensure that employees are aware of the security policies, and ensure they abide by them.
6. Don't skimp
Finally, it is worth noting that technology is one of the areas in which businesses frequently make false economies. Many small and even some large firms lack the expertise in house they need in order to keep their systems running properly. If this is the case in your business, it is important that you seek help. It can be tempting to soldier on and try to teach yourself, particularly when money is tight. But frequently the cost of downtime will far outweigh the potential savings you would have made by not paying a professional.
7. Have a Disaster Recovery Plan
A disaster recovery plan should be clear and concise, focus on the key activities required to recover the critical IT services; a DR should be tested, reviewed and updated on a regular basis, have an owner, and enable the recovery objectives to be met. When planning for disaster recovery, consider the cost of being unable to operate the business for a period of time.
Remember, getting to the route of the problem and implementing a Disaster Recovery plan is of paramount importance. But do not overlook how you communicate the progress you are making to your customers – no news is not good news, especially when today, customers will let the whole world know what they think of your service (or lack of it) by using popular social media tools such as Twitter or Facebook.
Tanya Stadler (Marketing Director)
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