Telstra’s major mobile network failures recently reminds us just how important it is to have systems in place to deal with failure! While major failures like this are usually rare, their three outages over recent weeks remind us they do happen and it can be difficult to get things working again straight away.
It is important to develop a plan, (sometimes called a Business Continuity Plan) for what you would do if there was a similar network failure again in the future.This plan needs to be developed when everything is working and you are relaxed, not when you first hear of the outage.
You need a plan for all your services (Mobile, Fixed Voice, Broadband, etc) and take into account the different types of outages: partial, intermittent, total, short, long, affecting all services, affecting only one, single telco affected, more than one telco, etc.
We will have further blogs on this topic, but let’s just focus now on the outage that we did experience to keep it simple:
Essentially affecting mobile only, involving one mobile provider, about four hours in length – but to make it more useful we’ll
take the case where the outage lasts say 5 hours, i.e. most of a business day.
Here are some things your plan might include (there is always more – have a brainstorming session with your staff):
Make a short list of critical business activities that would be affected by such an outage e.g. you are:
- a plumber who uses mobile credit card facilities and mobile phone for receiving orders, etc,
- a busy small business owner going to several meetings, relying on online maps to find your way
- or you are a small business that relies totally on mobile to take and follow up on orders (there are many like this)
Decide in advance how critical these activities are to your business – this will dictate things like how much you would be prepared to spend to buy redundancy features, such as spare equipment linked to a different provider. Couple this with your assessment of the likelihood of an event happening and you’ll have done a Risk Assessment. The key thing here is that if the likelihood of the event happening is low (say once every 5 years) but the impact is very high (e.g. you lose $15,000 like the case cited in the news), then you know how much you could spend over the intervening months to avoid the worst consequences of an outage.
Decide what you would do if such an outage occurred in the future. Of course everyone’s circumstances are different, and can be much more complex, but we will give some simple examples here to establish the concepts:
- Let’s say that you decide you would lose $15,000 if there was a 5 hour outage, but you also think you could keep the business going if you only had one working mobile phone, then you could spend $30 per month* for a spare (low value plan) sim card (with an alternate provider) and be $13,200 in front if the predicted outage (above) happened in 5 years’ time. Of course calls/data would be more expensive on the low value plan, but you may never have to use it and if you did you would be very glad.
- If you were the small business owner cited above going to meetings, your continuity plan might include deciding in advance that you would immediately park your car and catch a taxi or Uber, or at least have a copy of a street directory handy in the office or car.
- If you take all your orders by mobile phone now, consider having a backup land line that you can divert the mobile(s) to in an emergency (say and arrangement with a friend of adjacent business, etc) [Although new diversions couldn’t be setup on Tuesday]
- If the equipment is a mobile credit card machine, make sure you always have a paper based (slider) machine for emergencies.
- Make sure you have in your plan all contact details for people/orgs that you need to advise – especially after hours – of the fact that your phones are out; decide in advance if you can send out a bulk email notice, put something on your web site, etc•
- If your company has several staff using mobile phones, your plan might include having half of the phones provided by one mobile phone provider and the rest by another one.
This gives you an idea of what you can do between now and the next major communications network outage, however far out that is. The important thing is to have a plan. It might be that after doing your risk assessment you decide you don’t need to, or can’t afford to do anything, but at least you decide that from a position of having thought about it in advance. And one of the many advantages of doing a Business Continuity Plan is that you will sleep better at night.
* This is illustrative only; there are lower priced and longer duration sim cards that can be used for backup, but be sure the backup provider you select is not using the network of your main provider and give consideration to quality as you don't want a backup service that will be unable to sustain the extra demand generated by an extended outage with your main provider.