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Small and medium businesses do not just need to prepare for medical and other emergencies in the workplace, they also need to prepare for unwanted events such as telco outages that can greatly affect daily business activities.

Telstra’s major mobile network outages during recent months remind us just how important it is to have systems in place to deal with failures and to seek the best possible small-business-aware services from your provider.

Be Prepared!!

It is important to develop a plan (often called a Business Continuity Plan) for what you would do if there was a similar network failure in the future. This plan needs to be developed when everything is working and you are relaxed, not when you first hear of an outage.

Ideally, you need a plan for all your services (Mobile, Fixed Voice, Broadband, etc) and to consider different types of outages (partial/total; short/long, continuous/intermittent; single telco/more than one telco affected, etc).

But to keep it simple for this blog, we will cover the main scenarios with the recent Telstra outages: mobile services affected; involving only one mobile provider; somewhere between four hours and several days in length. Here are some things your plan might include (there are many more – have a brainstorming session with your colleagues):

Some Key First Steps

1. Make a short list of critical business activities that would be affected by such an outage e.g. you are:

  • a retailer who uses mobile credit card facilities and a mobile phone for receiving orders, etc,
  • a busy small business owner going to meetings or work sites and relying on online maps to find your way
  • a small business that relies totally on mobile to take and follow up on orders (there are many like this)

2. 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.

3. Make an assessment of the likelihood of an event happening e.g. 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 a case cited in the news), then you can see the value in investing to avoid the worst consequences of an outage.

Scope Out What You Would Actually Do During a Service Failure

If an outage occurred in the future do you have specific responses planned – and written down? 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 in your planning you decide you would lose $15,000 if there was a five-hour outage, but you also think you could keep the business going if you only had one working mobile phone. Between now and the next outage you could spend $10 per month* for a spare sim card (low-cost plan with an alternate provider). Don’t wait till the outage has occurred, it’s not practical to arrange services at the last minute.
  • You would be $14,400 better off if the predicted outage happened in 5 years’ time. 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 you had it.
  • If you were a small business owner, such as a hospitality manager, driving to customer sites, your continuity plan might include deciding in advance that you would: a) park your car and catch a taxi/Uber b) drive yourself using a street directory handily placed in the car in advance or c) go back to the office and re-plan your day.
  • 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 (an arrangement with a friend or adjacent business, etc).
  • 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/organisations 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 and put something on your website (assuming your internet service is not also down)
  • If your company has 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.

It doesn’t matter as much what is in your plan – though clearly that is important – but it is critical that you have one; panicked decisions on the day nearly always lead to chaos – and you could be competing for alternate solutions with everyone else who hasn’t planned.

Make Sure You Use a Quality Provider of Business Grade Services

We are hearing encouraging feedback from small businesses about Optus, Telstra and Vodafone’s new small business initiatives. Digital Ready welcomes these but they don’t go far enough. Service providers should:

  • Differentiate the value of their business offers more clearly so that the small business market can understand what value for money they are getting in selecting a business plan.
  • Offer real service level and performance guarantees to their small business customers

Outages happen from time to time, but small businesses can reduce their losses by asking providers the following questions before choosing a service:

  • What processes are in place to prioritise my faults and business needs?
  • Do you offer alternative communication services if there is an outage/fault?
  • Is this solution compatible with my office equipment? For example, alarms and EFTPOS services?
  • Can I rely on only a 3G/4G mobile service as a fallback in the case of outages?

Is your business ready for outages? Make sure you are. Digital Ready can help you get your business going (even with outages) using digital tools and technologies.

This article has also featured on the ALSCO greenroom website at this address: