Contingency Plans: Working During Platform Outages

Yesterday, Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides took an early weekend. For thousands of workers around the world, the platform’s outage—which at least for some workers conveniently fell on Friday afternoon—meant an early weekend for them too. While many workers may have welcomed the early weekend, for businesses, the three-hour outage came at a high cost, grounding work to a halt in some workplaces and in others simply slowing it down. While Google Docs is now up and running again, the question remains—when a much relied upon external platform goes down, is your organization prepared to keep working, and if so, how? More importantly, what if the platform that goes down is your own platform? How best can you respond to customers in a transparent and effective manner? Whether the platform is Google Docs or your company’s enterprise resource management platform or learning management system, it is important to have a contingency plan in place.

Contingency Plans: Working During Platform Outages

Don’t Need to Back Up Google Docs…Think Again!

There is no doubt that Google Docs and its related applications have transformed work and education over the past decade. Google Docs, among other things, enables workers to collaborate more easily and most notably to collaborate across long distances. A dozen colleagues working in different offices or remotely from home across the country and even around the world can now easily share data and even co-author a report easily, even more easily than they could do in person. In short, Google Docs works because it is a highly intuitive, simple and effective application that responds to the increasingly remote and global nature of the 21st-century workplace. Of course, like other technologies that work well, we’ve quickly become dependent on Google Docs and its related applications and as a result, many people now assume that their Google Docs will always be there. Unfortunately, as discovered yesterday, Google Docs are also prone to temporary outages. More seriously, however, they are also vulnerable to deletion.

During yesterday’s outage, most people were able to quickly recover their temporarily inaccessible Google Docs, but the scare reminds us that like all forms of electronic data, Google docs are by no means entirely stable. First, despite efforts to keep hackers out, Google Docs have been hacked. Whether the data is breached or deleted, the consequences can be dire. Second, although Google Drive enables you to keep a local copy of your files, there’s a catch. If you create a Google Doc online, in your local folder, what you see is a link to your online document. In other words, when you’re backing files up locally, you are not backing up actual files but something that simply points to your online files. Finally, Google Docs, which are made for collaboration, also may be vulnerable to collaboration confusions that result in a permanent loss of data. If you’re working on a project with several people and one collaborator finishes his or her part of the project and as a result, deletes it from his or her drive (assuming they’ve handed over the completed work for you or someone else to finish), they will also delete the work from everyone’s drive. To prepare for these worse case scenarios, it’s important to back up your Google Docs and other shared files not only on Google Drive but also on at least one other external server. Ensure, of course, that you’re backing up real files and not alias files, or you may find yourself unable to access your data after all.

 You’re Backed Up—Now What?

Naturally, we become reliant on specific platforms and as a result, even with backed up data, it can be easy for organizations to suffer a loss of productivity during an outage. There are, however, steps you can take to ensure that when an external or internal platform experiences an outage, work does not come to a complete halt.

  1. Ensure that all employees know how to access back ups: It is one thing to back up data so one can keep working during a platform outage but it is another thing to know where the back ups are actually located and how to access them. In short, if your employees can’t access backed-up data, the backed-up data may as well not exist at all. It may sound obvious but ensure that every employee knows where the data is and how to access it, so they can keep working throughout a platform outage.
  1. Develop procedures: Platform outages are bound to cause confusion. For example, employees may wonder how long they should wait before accessing backed-up files on another server. For this reason, it is important to have clear polices in place to guide employees’ decision making if and when an outage occurs.
  1. Turn a platform outage into an opportunity for actual face time: People once spent an enormous amount of time talking to each other. Leverage the platform disruption by using it as an opportunity for spontaneous face-to-face contact.  

How to Respond When Your Organization’s Platform Experiences an Outage

How to Respond When Your Organization's Platform Experiences an Outage

The above scenario focused on external platforms interrupting internal workflows. Of course, today, many organizations also run their own platforms and keeping them up and running is essential. Of course, from time to time technical and security issues lead to outages.

  1. Admit there is a problem sooner rather than later: As soon as possible, let you’re customers know that you are aware of the problem and working to get the platform back up and running.
  1. Post updates and include relevant information: Post regular updates on the status of the repair and include information that will help your customers make strategic decisions about how to move forward. If you know that their own data is safe, let them know. If it is a technical problem and not a security breach, share this information. The more secure your customers feel, the less likely they are to launch complaints or move to another provider as a consequence of the outage.
  1. Take responsibility: Don’t blame the problem on someone else; take responsibility and let your customers know that you realize that you are causing them an inconvenience.
  1. Don’t disappear: Post updates regularly and put extra staff on your customer service lines to ensure you can handle the higher than average volume of calls likely to come in while you work to get your platform back up and running.
  1. Send a unified message: Ensure that your communications (both updates posted online and those delivered via customer service representatives) are up-to-date and consistent. Sending mixed messages will have negative consequences.
  1. Leverage other social media platforms: Use your company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to reach customers who may or may not know about the outage.
  1. Be prepared to compensate customers: If you’re offering a service that is dependent on a platform and the platform is unavailable, expect to compensate customers who are inconvenienced. Have clear policies in place (prior to an outage) to determine how to respond in an appropriate manner.

There is no question that whether the outage is external (a platform you rely on, such as Google Docs) or internal (a platform your organization provides), there are things you can do to mitigate the outage’s short-term and long-term damage. Above all else, it is important to have procedures in place to ensure that the outage is dealt with quickly and that workers know how to respond so that work continues and that customers impacted by the outage are taken care of as best as possible throughout the outage.

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