What will you do when the screens go dark?

One of the truisms of business is the more ways customers can pay; the more likely you are to make the sale.

This is particularly true when something goes wrong – the customer hasn’t any cash, the till is jammed or the EFTPOS system is down.

Exactly this happened to thousands of businesses across south-west Victoria last week when a fire burned down the Warrnambool telephone exchange.

Unfortunately for the people and businesses of the surrounding region, much of the telephone, internet and Telstra’s mobile network runs through the burned out telephone exchange, sending the district back into the pre-telephone days.

This presented real problems as customers couldn’t use EFTPOS or get cash out of ATMs, while businesses struggled to get payrolls done or place orders with suppliers who couldn’t comprehend that it wasn’t possible to place orders over the net or by fax.

A hundred kilometres north of Warrnambool in the Grampians town of Dunkeld, a cafe worker told the ABC, “suppliers say ‘send a fax’ and you’re like ‘we can’t’ and they’re like ‘oh, we don’t want to handwrite it’.”

Those suppliers are a good example of not having the systems or staff in place to deal with ‘out of the box’ situations.

Unexpected events like the phone network being down for a week, major floods, devastating bushfires or zombie invasions will test businesses and it’s why having a real Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is important for business.

A workable BCP is one that identifies all the critical failure points for the business such as not having the internet for a week, a flooded office or, as happened to one of my clients, their entire building collapsing into the construction site next door.

The various state business agencies have guides on what to consider in a Business Continuity Plan including a good one from the South Australian government.

Regardless of how comprehensive a plan your business has, the most important part is going to be your people. If your organisation is staffed or managed by people who like to say “computer says no,” then they are going to be particularly useless when the computer is stone dead.

As the Warrnambool outage shows, unexpected business disruptions can come from anywhere, so flexible thinking and initiative is what matters in a crisis. It’s something worth thinking about with your staff and systems.

Paul Wallbank is one of Australia’s leading experts on how industries and societies are changing in this connected, globalised era. When he isn’t explaining technology issues, he helps businesses and community organisations find opportunities in the new economy.



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