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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.