Tag Archives: Service Continuity

The beast from the East

Lisa McDonald, User Support Manager at the University of Edinburgh and UCISA Support Services Group Committee Member, offers tips on service continuity and lessons learned after ‘Beast from The East’ snow caused widespread travel-to-work disruption.

HOW OUR BCP BEAT THE BEAST FROM THE EAST

“We’ve all heard the terms Business Continuity and Service Continuity and you likely all have business continuity plans you hope you never to have to use,” writes Lisa McDonald, User Support Manager at the University of Edinburgh.
Recently, the University of Edinburgh IT Service Desk had to become far more familiar with their BCP plans than anyone would want to.
In late February and early March 2018, the central belt of Scotland was hit by what the media termed “The Beast from the East”. And a beast it was, causing widespread chaos which unfortunately included the complete closure of the University of Edinburgh for nearly three days — a nightmare scenario for any Service Desk manager.
But we got through those three days and managed to keep our IS Helpline Service running throughout — handling 352 calls and resolving all bar four second line calls. We did this while spread geographically over an area covering a 127km radius of Central Scotland.

Figure 1: User Support team home locations (Argyle House in red)

We were organised, made the most of the tools we had and showed amazing team spirit. We learned many lessons on the way and this post is a “Top Five Tips for Service Continuity”
  1. Preparation 
    Have a Working from Home policy for all users. Create an Adverse Weather register showing team ability to travel in adverse weather and their ability to work from home. Ensure your key services like VPN have capacity to cope with an increased load from off-campus connections
  2. Communication
    Ensure your users understand the level of service to expect during this period. Set communication times in the day so staff and users know when to expect updates. Communicate with other first and second line teams so that you’re all aware of the level of underpinning support available.Your team might have tasks they need to see to at home during a weather emergency (playing in the snow doesn’t count!). They might face connection issues or find it hard to keep focus in a home environment. Make sure you continue to communicate to the team on a regular basis but don’t be tempted to micromanage.
  3. Tools
    Use Skype to hold meetings. Use chat tools to keep everyone focussed as a team while they’re geographically spread. Group chat is also a great morale booster ­– my team co-wrote a Helpline theme tune: “The Helpline Blues (I’ve got snow in my shoes)”. If you have out-of-hours cover from a 3rd party, ensure you use it as much as possible.
  4. Time Management
    You may not need as many staff on duty as usual. Review and revise your rotas so the team know when you expect them to be handling support calls. Have other tasks for them to do such as updating documentation, reviewing your website or completing their personal development paperwork.
  5. Review
    Ensure you review the event afterwards and discuss successes and learning points — not just within your own team but across the wider university or college.
No Business Continuity will ever be perfect, but with a good team and some organisation you can turn a Snowpocalypse into a Winter Wonderland!

Pictured: Lisa working from home during the ‘snowpocalypse’

Key take-outs:

  • Be prepared – Have policies guiding your users on working from home and ensure you do regular checks on your team’s ability to travel or work from home in adverse weather

  • Set expectations – Use automatic replies or standard solutions to explain to your users that service quality and speed will differ from normal running. Distance learners may not be impacted by the weather

  • Use the tools available to you – Cloud services, VPN, Chat tools and Remote Assistance tools

  • Communicate – make sure you clearly communicate at all stages of the event

 

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The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA.