HBOS power failure highlights importance of business continuity planning

Neil Stephenson, CEO of Onyx Group, discusses the recent HBOS crisis and explains why disaster recovery will remain a business bugbear if not managed properly.

In November HBOS suffered a datacentre power failure which meant all Halifax and Bank of Scotland branches were unable to provide services - including cash machine, over the counter and online facilities - to customers for nearly a full working day.

The power cut, which was caused by severe weather conditions, questioned the quality of datacentres organisations are using to store critical data. It also highlighted an issue that is often brought to the fore following incidents like this - how disaster planning continues to catch businesses out time and time again, greatly impacting on a business' operations.

The HBOS incident has put a question mark over how safe data of large public organisations, which hold sensitive information and deliver essential customer services, actually is.

It is of utmost importance that the datacentres used provide a secure and resilient environment for data storage. Purpose built datacentres where environments are carefully selected, with features uniquely chosen to meet specific business needs are a much better option than facilities who use has simply been converted.

The power failure that affected HBOS could have been avoided if its contracted supplier had provided not only back-up power generation, but also insured that secondary or tertiary sites at which to store back-ups of data were made available. It is also vital to put in place a contingency plan to cater for loss of connectivity in case any of the many provider routes falter. The ability to re-route in the event of a problem on a network will avoid any unnecessary downtime.

The loss of service by the bank ultimately highlighted a failure in business continuity. Organisations must understand that it's not enough to simply have a disaster recovery plan in place - they need to ensure that it works in an event of a crisis.

As HBOS unfortunately realised last week, a fundamental part of any business continuity plan is regular, ongoing assessments and rehearsals of it to ensure it works when disaster strikes. Recent research, however, shows that while many companies have business continuity systems in place, only a staggering 26 per cent regularly test their plans.

Incidents like HBOS will continue to happen, disrupting business service if organisations don't ensure the very basics are covered when it comes to crisis preparation.

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