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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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.