Do You Have A People Continuity Plan For Your IT Support?

Business resilience and continuity planning is becoming more and more important as organisations increasingly understand its value and the position IT has in achieving it. However, in Business Continuity Management not all elements are given the same significance. Many organisations focus on securing their data with constant back-ups, others are more concerned with minimising email or server downtime – but the measures taken might not be so effective if there is insufficient support staff to deal with them. How many organisations have a BCM strategy that addresses IT workforce continuity?

Data recently disclosed by The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that 71 per cent of senior managers recognise Business Continuity Management as ‘important’ or ‘very important’. At the top of the list of perceived threats that can cause disruptions which may potentially have a significant impact on costs and revenues there is the loss of IT. Over half of participants in ‘The 2010 Business Continuity Management survey’ also recognise skills and people loss as being a possible threat.

However, their BCM plan does not always cover these. Only a quarter of organisations have a plan that includes remediation towards a potential loss of people and 40 per cent have a plan for loss of IT. There are no statistics concerning a continuity plan for IT Support people specifically, but as more and more businesses become reliant on IT this is an issue that should not be ignored.

Natural disasters, bad weather and flu epidemics, which are among the threats which cause the most workforce loss, may result in a number of IT engineers being unable to carry out their job. A reduced number of technicians who can’t deal with the amount of incidents can leave users unable to work as a consequence. Even simple everyday absences due to holidays or sick leave can cause disruptions to the normal IT Support service that may affect the business.

There are two main issues that need to be addressed in planning for workforce continuity – distance and presence. To overcome the distance problem, organisations should take measures that can allow staff to access the system remotely, choosing the appropriate virtualisation tools. This can benefit both employees who can then work from home, trains or abroad and Support staff, who can access servers and desktops remotely and resolve incidents from a distance.

In some cases, however, physical presence is required or preferred. Not only in the event of a disaster but also in the more ordinary case of personnel on leave or being ill, it may be necessary to provide appropriate substitution with the same level of knowledge and skills. Immediate availability might also be required to avoid disruptions which would cause the service to lose on quality and efficiency, or costs to the business including financial loss, low client satisfaction and loss of reputation.

Some organisations might be able to get by without the full team on board, for instance those where IT efficiency and continuous availability are not a priority. Others, perhaps large corporations with a preference for keeping staff internal, might be able to afford a team of ‘floating’ engineers that are paid to remain available in case of need, or to employ contractors every time they require a substitution.

But for most organisations the need to have ongoing high-quality support is strong and having a floating team or individual contractors is not financially or logistically convenient. For them, it might not be possible to obtain this sort of workforce continuity without resorting to external help.

Let’s take financial firms for instance, where business is heavily reliant on IT and time is literally money. For them, disruptions and downtime can have a very high cost and even determine their success or failure. Cost-efficient and reliable IT Support is vital, and so is immediate cover. For them, external support might be a solution – flexible and scalable co-sourcing can offer skilled technicians for emergency and long-term cover.

Some providers offer standardised services that can cover all the basic needs, ideal for organisations with little need for bespoke solutions. Others are able to offer more flexible and tailored solutions, for instance providing staff with characteristics which meet certain requirements within a short time space.

Personnel is employed full-time by the provider as multi-site engineers, ready to work wherever the need arises and for any period of time, and trained to a wide range of skills and knowledge which they can apply to different environments. The difference with individual contractors is possibly in the quality a provider can offer thanks to SLAs that guarantee a high level of service.

There may be different strategies to suit different organisations, but it is true for all that efficient IT cannot be possible without efficient management of the IT Support team, which include a workforce continuity strategy specifically addressed to them. Planning in advance is vital to keep the IT system running during disruptions that affect the organisation. It is through a comprehensive Business Continuity strategy which covers Support that an organisation is able to prevent or minimise disruptions that may otherwise have an effect on costs, revenue and, ultimately, reputation.

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Pete Canavan is Head of Support Services at Plan-Net. An accredited ITIL Service Manager, he has a proven track record in IT with special expertise in the Financial Services industry. With two decades in the IT field, Pete has acquired extensive experience in business relationship development, project and people management, training and client/supplier relations.