The great storm predicted for 27-28th October 2013 failed to live up to the hype and, despite heavy rain and high winds, the UK escaped the worst of the Atlantic storms. Many may have thought it was ‘business as usual’, however this was far from the truth for everyone.
In parts of Colchester and surrounding villages, homes and businesses faced misery. Blocked roads meant employees faced a difficult journey into work, local schools were closed and, to compound the problem, power supply was out to local businesses and homes. It’s a picture that has become all too familiar over the last few years with increasingly unpredictable weather seemingly becoming a feature of British life.
One Colchester-based business, Water Direct, was just one of the affected organisations facing disruption. Along with its neighbours in the business park, power and telecommunications were down and two of its employees were unable to travel into work. However, within just a few short hours the company was fully functioning having relocated to a nearby hotel, with remote access to all critical data.
The organisation’s resilience did not come about as a matter of chance but as a result of many months of hard work in implementing a robust business continuity management system certified to international standard, ISO 22301.
Managing Director, Keith Silcock explains the chain of events that led him to bring their Business Continuity Plan into play. “We lost power over night at home which led me to check the situation at Head Office first thing. The office houses our main computer server and prior to certification it was our only means of accessing data. However, because of the changes to our IT system brought about as a direct result of comments from our LRQA assessor during assessment, we were able to relocate and gain access to all critical data.
“We immediately invoked our business management plan. This actually says we should meet at our Operations Manager’s house, however as he was on annual leave we moved to Plan C and met at a local hotel which had both power and internet facilities. Critical staff were contacted and asked to meet at the hotel where we were able to set up a temporary base until power was brought back.”
Telecoms were quickly restored with the help of its provider who was able to transfer incoming calls to a mobile number on a cascade system meaning that all calls could be answered by staff who had been contacted.
“Our customers remained unaware of our situation. If they called, these were answered immediately and it really was business as usual, just from a different location,” comments Keith. “Since October, we have had clients visiting to look over our business continuity plans and when we talk them through the incident, and the aftermath, it gives them more confidence in using us as a supplier.”
Implementing the BCMS
The nature of the business, as a supplier of emergency water to many of the UK’s utility companies, is based on helping people out in a disaster. It was therefore felt appropriate that if it was selling this type of service, it needed to ensure its own house was in order.
The company first looked at developing a management system to align with BS 25999, the predecessor to ISO 22301. In late 2011, with the help of specialist business continuity consultancy, award winning PlanB Consulting, work began on implementing the Business Continuity Management System.
However, having been successful in a bid to supply the Olympics, Water Direct needed to put its plans on hold for six months. It started again in earnest in late 2012 making certification to ISO 22301 a business priority.
Water Direct achieved certification in April 2013 although its LRQA assessor, Lyn Browne advised changes were needed to build greater resilience into its IT systems. Keith picks up the point. “Lyn had said at the initial assessment that IT was our biggest risk.
“We needed to look again at our impact assessment and planning in terms of reducing risk in this area. This made us review this area and her determination in stressing this point at the follow-up visit ensured we took prompt and appropriate action.
“As a result of her comments, we now have internet based databases and our most critical files that we need access to on a daily basis are held in two different cloud systems, updated instantly as we edit and accessible from any location.
“The process of certification made us look again at the resilience of our IT systems which, when disaster struck in October meant, we were able to maintain the service levels our clients have come to expect. We are proud to say that despite the situation, we were able to answer all calls and fulfil orders. What could have caused significant disruption, turned out to be more a case of inconvenience,” he concluded.