How to Prepare and Ensure Your IT System is Up During Holiday Season

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For many of us, holiday seasons, for example, December, are a mixed blessing.   Just before the break, a frantic rush to finish up everything, followed by the break itself.   It’s business as usual for some of us, perhaps a little down because some customers are on leave, but still close to normal.   For others, particularly in the e-commerce space, it’s the busiest time of the year.

Even with a total business shutdown, for example, in a manufacturing environment, IT Systems do not stop.

Suppose it’s holiday time in the business. In that case, that can allow a bit of house cleaning, essential maintenance, and development things we cannot do in standard operational times like applications and systems upgrades.   However, having said that, IT Systems need to be fully up and running 24/7/365 in an e-commerce environment.

It is very likely that you will be running on a reduced staff level during the holiday season, as will some suppliers.  Making sure that your systems are 100% available and working during the break requires planning.   Not just once, but as a regularly updated exercise.

In essence, vacation planning is a specialized subset of your business continuity planning.   It should start at least a couple of months before the break.

Implement the magic phrase – “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”.

Your Preparation

Your Preparation

You need to carry out a risk analysis, setting out what will happen and what might happen during the holidays, how you might reduce the risk of it happening, and how you would fix it if it did.

Divide the list into categories, for example, Internal Issues,  Supplier Issues, and others.  Rank each risk on the likelihood of it happening.  Try to put an approximate cost to stop it from happening at all, and fixing it if it does.

Bear in mind that you can ignore low-risk events with a low probability of happening, and in some cases, it might be better or cheaper to let them happen and sweep up after.

One thing to avoid is surprises.  If a risk happens, you need calm and confident staff, dealing with it calmly and confidently, not running around like headless chickens:

  • Go through the list with your staff and other key stakeholders to understand what to do in the event of a risk happening.
  • Have trial runs.  That will find gaps in your planning and help players in the solution understand their roles and responsibilities.
  • Make it a regular part of the work routine to keep the list and procedures up to date.

Administration

Administration

DRP usually demands a list of staff key to any recovery from an IT disaster.  It will incorporate the location and contact details of any IT staff, keyholders to backup safes, and who to contact to access offsite locations.   It should also include the contact details of key suppliers.

You should also prepare a sort manual setting out how to recover from simple situations.

If you use consumables, for instance, pre-printed forms, make sure you have enough on hand.  Printer inks are also a favorite to run out.

If you have standby diesel generators, make sure they are operational with fully-topped-up tanks and a ready backup supply of diesel.  Have a trial power-out exercise.

Operational Matters

Operational Matters

You need to have your systems fully operational during the break, probably with reduced support available.  You need to:

  • Decide whether you run a full or reduced shift system.  Do you need full-time support or just staff to take backups.  What can you do remotely?
  • A no-brainer.  Schedule any hardware and software upgrades outside the break.
  • Automate as much as possible to make sure that you have routine and periodic backups.
  • If you are running e-commerce, make sure that anyone likely to need to update product catalogs or price lists knows that support services will be limited.
  • Distribute the list of all key staff to all key staff, setting out contact details,
  • Make sure that all support center staff are aware of the support limitations.

Staffing Matters

Staffing Matters

It’s a racing certainty that your staff will look for leave during the holiday.  You need to assess what gaps you will have during the holiday period.

In your risk analysis, ask your staff what their vacation plans are. You might need to provide third-party emergency cover if crucial staff are to be absent.  In the worst case, you may need to persuade them not to take a break.

Supplier Matters

Supplier Matters

You need to know if essential service suppliers are available or not.  If you have an emergency during the break, what can they do to assist.  Find out about the availability of vital replacement components and support staff.

It is entirely possible to keep an IT service up and running during a holiday break.  That is not to say the worst won’t happen.  Not everything is under your control, but you can minimize the effect by planning.

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