How can businesses guard against the floods?

The weather has always been a topic of concern for us Brits, yet we seem powerless when it comes to preparing for it.

2013 was a year of technology-fuelled outages and cyber attacks. It seemed that each week I found myself reading about the continued threats to digital infrastructure. The O2 and Hotmail outages immediately spring to mind. Now we are barely into 2014 and once again we’re seeing businesses facing disruption, though this time from a less sophisticated source, the British weather.

Flooding has dominated our news in the past few days. While there is no official figure of the total number of evacuations, some areas have seen large-scale clear outs of both homes and businesses in the area surrounding the River Thames. In the past 48 hours we at SunGard have supported a major business relocate their entire team to our recovery centre, and we are dealing with ongoing support and enquiries around how businesses can protect themselves from the floods or take the necessary steps to relocate, particularly in the Thames Valley area, which is becoming increasingly flooded.

The weather has always been a topic of concern for us Brits, yet we seem powerless when it comes to preparing for it. The government has been criticised for its lack of a coherent and consistent strategy when it comes to dealing with the floods, with discussions calling for responsibility to be taken. However, the government’s strategy is likely to be long term and is unlikely to be widespread across the UK, particularly as different regions are affected during different weather patterns, so we need a more immediate fix.

For businesses facing any risk of flood at all, ensuring service availability continues and employees remain safe are key priorities over the next few weeks.

Since 1995 at SunGard Availability Services we have handled numerous flood related incidents. One particular incident in 2007 resulted in one of our customers working out of our facilities for 17 days. Flood waters engulfed the ground floor of two of its office buildings, but we were able to move their 50 contact centre staff to one of our near-by facilities overnight, which meant minimum downtime. In fact, their call centre productivity, which handled 7000 calls per day, dropped just 2 per cent. Without a smooth plan in place, this law firm would have been in a very different position and the potential financial and ongoing reputation implications could have been catastrophic.

In today’s connected world, customers and partners expect responses instantly – no matter what your local situation is - and if one part of your process or even your wider supply chain is hindered by the impact of flooding, it could be a number of months, or even years before that relationship is re-established. Even for businesses not based in the area, there could be knock-on effects if you regularly rely on services from affected places.

At this moment in time there are various things that businesses and employees can be looking at to ensure the availability of resources and services. Accessibility to both data and the office are crucial here: how do your employees get in to work, will transport links be impacted or can suppliers and partners still meet expectations?

Firms should be careful, however, not to rely too heavily on remote working technologies; disruptions to local power or communications infrastructure, when severe enough, can compromise plans to work from home. Businesses can also consider alternative working facilities within the surrounding area and further afield.

And perhaps most crucially, businesses should ensure that their data is secure and backed up. Damage to physical infrastructure can in most cases be recovered, the same can’t always be said for crucial customer and business data. Recalling one instance where we worked with Irwin Mitchell solicitors following a flood, while their physical infrastructure incurred £2m worth of damage, the firm was able to maintain near normal levels of service.

While the British weather will never cease to disrupt our lives, as employees, employers and even suppliers we need to plan for the most severe eventuality, come rain or shine.

A resident pushes her bike through flood water in Staines-Upon-Thames. Photograph: Getty Images.
Keith Tilley is Executive Vice President of EMEA and Asia, SunGard Availability Services
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.