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SSP Worldwide under fire over cloud outage communication failings

Insurance brokers blast SSP Worldwide over its approach to crisis communications during recent cloud outages

Insurance brokers have accused SSP Worldwide of withholding information about the cause of the cloud outages that have blighted its Pure Broking service during three out of four of the past working days.

Users of its cloud-based Pure Broking platform, which brokers use to source quotes and track renewals, have expressed frustration at the company’s failure to reveal the reason behind its recent outages and the lack of detail contained in its service status updates.

Michael Metcalfe, a director at Stockport-based Metcalfe Insurance, told Computer Weekly the company’s reluctance to clarify what the problem is and when it will be sorted has made an already difficult situation even harder for many brokers.

“All we are getting are texts saying ‘we’re working on the problem’, and it is annoying to get these texts through in the end because they’re not saying anything at all,” he said.

“If they just said, ‘we’ve got this problem and your system will be down between Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday’ or whatever, you can plan round that, but you cannot do that when there is so much uncertainty.”

The system is known to have run into technical difficulties for nearly a full day on 10 November 2016, and then for approximately half a day on 14 and 15 November, during which the company advised users to check its online service portal for status updates.

Computer Weekly understands that, on these days, the platform usually ran into problems after 9am, which would coincide with when the majority of brokers around the country start their working day.

“If we log on before 9am, we are okay, but if we are a minute after 9am, it is very difficult to log in and access the system at all,” said one broker, who asked not to be named.

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The company is also known to have distributed text and email alerts, to keep those affected updated on the situation, but brokers claim the communications are too light on detail to be of any real use.

“All we had was a message saying they are investigating the problem and there will be an update at 11.30am, for example, which is a repeat of the previous message. They don’t even let us know when the problem has been fixed,” the broker added.

Metcalfe said he ended up sending his staff home during the Thursday 10 November outage because they were unable to access the system for so long and could not work.

“We had no communication from SSP on Monday and I could have sent them all home again, but then the system came back on 12.30pm. This is the problem. We don’t know from day-to-day if we’re going to have a system we can use,” he added.

Brokers in the dark

In a statement to Computer Weekly, SSP group CEO Laurence Walker confirmed this week's problems were the result of "connectivity issues" at one of its three datacentres.

"We have been working to resolve these issues and the work we carried out yesterday has seen an improvement in the service. Some customers are still experiencing intermittent problems with Microsoft Outlook which we are continuing to investigate," he said.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and providing regular updates to customers through our web-portal and SMS. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience this has caused."

Ahead of this, the company released a statement earlier this week, confirming its recent problems are unrelated to the ones it encountered in August 2016 at its Solihull datacentre.

As reported by Computer Weekly at the time, a power outage at the site in late August left 300 brokers unable to access Pure Broking for a fortnight as the company sought to restore the service.  

In light of this, the company’s reluctance to share details about the cause of the problems this time around has emerged as a major source of anxiety for many brokers Computer Weekly has spoken to.

In the wake of the two-week outage, which began in late August 2016, the company met with a dozen or so customers affected by the prolonged downtime at a meeting overseen by the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba).

During the meeting, members of SSP’s senior management team are understood to have moved to assure those in attendance about the remedial work it is doing to shore-up its disaster recovery strategy and improve the way it communicates with customers during times of crisis.

Metcalfe, who was among the 20 brokers who attended the Biba meeting, said it is clear to him the firm has failed to deliver on these promises.

“At that meeting, their CEO Laurence Walker acknowledged they could have handled the communication side [of the August outage] better, and this time around they haven’t even confirmed what the problem is. It is as if they haven’t learned,” he said.

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