Effective business continuity planning has allowed clothes retailer Primark to restart its supply chain 48 hours after fire destroyed its principal stock warehouse last Tuesday (1 November 2005).
The retailer, which has outsourced its supply chain operations to TNT, maintained the flow of critical stock to its stores thanks to TNTFashion Group ITdirector Jim Flood's decision to bypass the usual distribution channels.
He re-routed stock coming into the UK directly to Primark's stores while he created a new IT-based warehouse management infrastructure for the trouble-hit retailer.
Flood said, "Our first priority was to get the warehouse management system back up. The second priority was to provide the necessary equipment for the new warehouse location."
As firefighters were damping down the remains of the Primark warehouse in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, TNT's IT team were kitting out a new unit a quarter of a mile away and deploying a replacement warehouse management system hosted at a remote datacentre.
The logistics company had disaster recovery contracts with all of its IT suppliers.
When those contracts were invoked, TNT's suppliers were required to deliver all of the equipment needed to run the replacement warehouse as soon as possible.
By Wednesday afternoon TNT was uploading Primark data from daily back-up tapes onto the datacentre-based warehouse management system.
The tapes were recovered from a fireproof safe in a separate building. TNTstores daily back-ups from the IT systems of all its warehouses in secure local facilities.
On Thursday TNThad installed the hardware needed to run the warehouse management system locally and connected the new site to its national network, provided by BT.
The management system, Powerforce from Fraser Williams, is run on an HP Unix cluster. "As it is a cluster, in the event of anything other than a fire, it is pretty fault tolerant," said Flood.
Protecting the supply chain
Primark's success in restoring its systems highlights the need to ensure suppliers have adequate business continuity plans, said Rory Graham, outsourcing specialist at law firm Baker & McKenzie.
It is a matter of course for large organisations to include provision for business continuity in contracts, he said. But it was not enough to see a policy. IT leaders must be convinced that suppliers' plans can be put into practice.
A survey by Cable & Wireless in September revealed that two-thirds of small and medium-sized firms in London and a third of those outside the capital have no continuity plans.