Who’s got your back?

If I was to give the board at British Airways one piece of advice today it would be this; immediately sack your senior management because they are all incompetent.

A bit drastic perhaps? Well I would argue not, and here is why.

Look after customers

Richard Branson said that the key to business is to look after your staff because your staff will look after your customers. If you keep you customers happy then they keep your shareholders happy. And so on. This message is true but it only stands up if you have all the areas covered in terms of looking after your customers. And part of looking after your customers is making sure, that as far as they’re concerned, the service never stops.

Looking after your customers can therefore be summed up with two priorities, each as important as the other:

  • Provide an excellent service
  • Make sure the service won’t fail

If you can do both of these things then you will be in a good place. But inevitably a lot of the time the second one is not considered or, if at least considered, is neglected.

Failure is inevitable, the impact is not

There is a saying that all good managers will be familiar with;

To fail to plan is to plan to fail

Here is another:

To assume is to make an ass out of you and me

It doesn’t really matter what sector you’re in, these apply. And if we think of these in the context of the two things we have already said are key to keeping happy customers then they become even more critical in making sure we have a service that doesn’t fail.

I have experienced many times in IT where problems could have been easily avoided if a little bit of forward planning had been put in place to consider the risks that might become issues. I’ve also seen this in sectors like education, catering and events, where complacency and an attitude of “well that wouldn’t happen to us” have led to catastrophic failures and ultimately reputational damage.

But the reality is that failure is pretty much inevitable. At some point something will go wrong. In IT that could be a vast range of things, from server failure to an upgrade being incompatible, or even end user error that wasn’t foreseen introducing bad data and a ripple effect that breaks the whole system. If a system or a process is not designed to cope with these scenarios then what will happen is that when they occur, and they will occur, no one will know what to do to solve it. This will inevitably mean that the excellent service is now failing and for a prolonged period of time. This will impact on your reputation and, in the worst scenarios, potentially result in very expensive litigation and compensation claims.

Planning for these problems and putting things in place to deal with them may well be an upfront investment that you don’t want to make, but it will reduce or even remove the impact altogether. It is definitely worth it in the grand scheme of things. With the right planning, the impact of an outage can be reduced or completely nullified.

To fly, to serve.

Whilst British Airways are being rather cagey about what actually went wrong with their IT services recently, it seems relatively obvious that two things were missing; they didn’t have any proper redundancy built into their systems and they didn’t have proper backups in place.

We have come to know British Airways as a company who provide a premium service. A lot of what they do is digitised in order to improve our experience and, as someone who has flown a lot with them, it does make the experience much more enjoyable and smooth.

However, let’s be clear about one thing. If you have a product that relies on IT systems to run then it is nothing short of incompetence not to have both robust failover and regular and easily restorable backups in place.

It has been the standard for decades to make sure IT systems, especially those in the sort of context BA operate in, are completely robust. This can be done in many ways. A simple idea like the systems having a failover to a second server farm that is unconnected to the first, with real time data sync is just one way of doing this. Daily or even hourly data updates can be taken, either in full or incrementally, in order to make sure if there is a corruption that a backup can be brought online immediately. And most importantly, regular simulations of outages should be run to ensure systems cope with outages, and can be quickly brought back online, and people know what to do if they occur.

As a small company with ISO9001 Quality accreditation, we know how important it is to consider redundancy and rehearse for disaster recovery. If we can do it then a company the size of British Airways should have a whole department dedicated to it. But it would appear it does not.

As a company that prides itself of a premium service, they have dropped the ball significantly and it has come due to a lack of foresight, a lack of proper planning and ultimately complacency. The ultimate nail in the coffin for all the senior management there is that this isn’t rocket science, it isn’t even unusual or the reserve of specialists. It is basic, it is day one stuff, it is routine. And that is why heads should be rolling at British Airways.

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