Clement May Blogs

Tips for Reacting to A Major IT Failure

British Airlines hit the headlines in May 2017 for all the wrong reasons. The commercial aviation giant saw an estimated £170 million wiped from its value overnight after a catastrophic computer system outage left around 75,000 customers stranded at London airports. At the time of writing, the cause of the chaos was still under investigation, with BA contractors CBRE denying human error played any role in the incident.

BA’s reaction to the fiasco has certainly provided a stark reminder of the importance of dealing with such difficulties in a timely and reasonable manner. The firm has been criticised for providing confusing reports in the aftermath of the crash, being unclear as to its compensation policy and acting too slowly in response to customer complaints. We look at some key lessons CTOs and senior IT staff can take in case of comparable IT failures in their own organisations:

Speed is of the essence

Companies who find themselves falling victim to a significant IT issue need to deal with the failure and its impact on customer confidence – fast. As well as encouraging any external contractors to respond as quickly and effectively as possible, it’s also essential to make sure the plug is pulled before a problem reaches the point of no return. Just look at the doomed NHS Connecting For Health project or the UK government E-Borders fiasco – both costly and salutary lessons in admitting timely defeat rather than letting badly executed external projects drag on.

Communication is key

Big IT failures test a CTO’s communication skills and patience to their limits. A company board, PR department and shareholders will be advocating for the fastest solution possible in an attempt at damage limitation. CTOs, however, need to balance the likely highly pressurised demand for resolution with a potential lack of tools at hand to fix the problem. If you and your team are stuck with old technology or simply don’t have anyone with the necessary skills, this needs to be communicated swiftly and calmly to potentially fractious bosses. A good reason to regularly hone your communication skills if ever there was one.

Ask for company-wide support

Don’t be worried about asking, firmly but diplomatically, for support from the board and the rest of management. At times of IT chaos, it’s all too easy for a CTO’s team to be heaped with blame and left to face angry customers – it’s up to team bosses to stand up for their staff in such situations.

Deal with external contractors

As more organisations outsource their IT needs, it’s worth bearing in mind that many external contractors will be concerned with legally protecting their own reputations when the going gets tough. Try to anticipate this mentality when drawing up agreements with contractors, building in incentives for them to respond promptly and restore failed systems quickly, rather than simply rushing to cover their backs.