The UK's largest and most experienced team of fractional IT leaders

The recent Visa systems outage brings disaster planning into sharp focus. A simple hardware failure brought chaos to shoppers across Europe. Whilst no-one yet knows the details, this should be a salutary lesson for all businesses: Not having a plan for a disaster and testing it regularly can be a costly mistake. Unfortunately, it’s a rarity for businesses to have a decent plan and even rarer for a company to test those plans. If Visa can’t get this right, then how can an ambitious mid-market business hope to do any better?

Disasters happen more frequently than you think; at least two of our clients have experienced a disaster that could have brought their business to its knees if we hadn’t been involved. A fair estimate is that an average business will be hit by a catastrophe every 5-10 years. Hardware fails, software fails. Hoping nothing will go wrong is simply a delusion.

When we start with a client, one of the first things we do is to create a risk and issues log with the Board. This is the beginning of a good DR plan and we treat it seriously. It is a long-term priority for us to ensure our clients have good plans for when things go wrong. And good plans mean plans that are appropriate, practical and tested. Of course, some of our clients provide critical 24/7 services and they need bullet-proof disaster plans; for other clients the plans are far more loose – the key point is that the plans are appropriate. It’s not doom-mongering, it just makes sense.

Preparing for the worst is an on-going activity because things change, but a good place to start is to imagine some common scenarios and to work them through with the management team. For instance, what would you do if your company’s office was completely off-limits due to a police incident? What would you do if your internet connection was down for a few days? Or, thinking about the recent issue at Visa, what would you do if your main servers failed? Playing out these scenarios will expose weaknesses and priorities and will help you focus on what needs to be implemented to prevent these outages from having a major impact on your business. That may be an updated process, improved system or better distribution of critical services. Practice makes perfect, so these scenarios should be worked through regularly embedding them in the minds of your management team so they are easy to execute when it comes to the crunch.

In reality, when disaster strikes then you will need to respond and adapt to the circumstances. But the rehearsals mean that you have already worked through the critical questions, for example: who can make decisions? how will key people be contacted? what are the priorities to keep your business going? The directors and management can handle unexpected situations far more effectively because they have a common understanding and have workshopped situations like this before.

If you’d like to talk to one of our Principals about ensuring you have the plans and capabilities in place to survive a disaster, please get in touch via our Contact Us form or by calling 0203 020 1864.