Planning for the worst

Technology failure can cost you big – and most contingency plans are far from adequate. Here are some survival tips.


Paul Wallbank Tech Talk blog

It’s a truism of the IT industry that computers will fail at the worst possible time. A good example was at Hobart airport on Friday when a fencing contractor cut the phone lines on the eve of a long weekend.


In this case contingency plans kicked in and passengers eventually got on their way. But many businesses don’t have these procedures in place. Organisations that don’t plan for the inevitable technology problems risk losing revenue, customers or even going out of business.


An effective contingency plan has to be flexible and easily implemented. The first step is to identify what can go wrong and how would managers and staff deal with the problem. For technology, the usual culprits are hardware failure, network disruptions and internet outages.


Once you’ve identified areas of concern it’s time to bring in the suppliers – telephone companies, internet service providers and IT support. They can propose ways of mitigating the risks and implementing the fall-back plans.


Most technology suppliers will provide service level agreements. An SLA guarantees that the service will be available for a given amount of time, usually 99.8% or 99.9%. The higher the number you go, the more costly these agreements become.


It’s easy though to get blinded by those numbers. SLAs often allow a lot of wriggle room and eight one-hour internet outages a year could still fall within a 99.9% guarantee. It’s a fair bet any compensation will come nowhere close to paying for the real losses in the case of a serious failure.


Even the tightest SLA doesn’t eliminate things going wrong. To overcome this, many businesses have redundant systems, which is a buzz phrase for a having a spare just in case. Redundancy can be expensive, as having unused capacity doing nothing for 99.9% of the time can tie up a lot of capital.


The cost effectiveness of SLAs and standby systems are a matter of evaluating the cost against risk. Redundant hard drives in a server add only a few hundred dollars but can save a business hours of lost time and data. On the other hand, the several thousand dollars a year for a spare internet connection or one with a high SLA may not be worthwhile.


But most important is the human aspect; what will your staff do when the systems stop? In too many businesses, if the computers stop the staff take a smoko because “the computers are down”. With a good contingency plan the staff know their role and can reduce an outage’s impact on the business and its customers.


Then there’s the worst; a complete loss, a system crash, a flood or a fire. In that case, the contingency plan can keep a business afloat while the techs get on with the disaster recovery.


Having a well thought out and tested contingency plan gives you an advantage over less prepared competitors – it also means what could be a devastating crisis turns into a passing irritation. It’s an investment all business should make. So get your staff and IT people on to it.



Paul Wallbank is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on technology is sues. He founded national support organisation PC Rescue in 1995 and has spent over 14 years helping businesses get the most from their IT.

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