Only one thing about British Airways $129 million IT failure is clear to me: They did not have a Business Continuity plan.

They didn’t have a what?

A Business Continuity plan should have been in place to call into service the moment their IT problems surfaced.  No, I didn’t read this in the Guardian or the Economist. I’m pretty sure it’s not published anywhere. But I knew it because 1. It happened in the first place, and 2. Their explanation of the event was slow and uncertain.

The time between the first inconvenienced and angry would-be air travelers and the CEO’s statement about it was filled with speculation about the cause; some of it not so nice. Was it a cyber-attack by hackers? Or no local IT department, because the CEO had outsourced their IT department to India (700 British jobs lost)? According to Tom Batchelor, The Independent – UK, May 29, 2017, BA Chief Exec Alex Cruz said the cause was “a short but catastrophic power surge”. But other spokespersons for the airline have called it a power outage, a power supply problem, and, “local issues around a local data center” (IBID). Yes, all those spokespersons might be using different terms for the same thing, but anyone the least bit techy will immediately identify the different meaning in each statement.

So, how could a Business Continuity plan have changed things for British Airways? The first point is that the right type of IT oversight and a modern backup scheme may have prevented the problem in the first place. I know corporate giants aren’t exactly nimble and quick, but… really? If you’re a big airline and you see the mess an IT issue caused Delta last August, don’t you hustle to prevent the same thing from happening to you? (The issues, as reported, were even similar.)

Or let’s say every technological precaution had been taken, yet some event has still caused 75k travelers inconvenienced, to say the least, despite impeccable geo-diverse backup and recovery, multiple failovers for power supply, etc.  Wouldn’t it be best to know exactly what steps to take? Steps that will minimize loss of revenue, loss of good-will, bad press? Steps which will keep all employees in a public facing role on the same page? After all, a solid, unified message in the wake of any disruption preserves and instills trust.

A Business Continuity Plan gives you all the answers to all those questions and many more. Yes, BA is a very large enterprise and certainly should have had a tight plan in place. But it doesn’t matter what size you are, or the age or the nature of your business, you still need a plan. Think about it. Continuity means you stay in business no matter what happens. This certainly isn’t confined to some ill wind blowing through your technology. What if your sales manager is in the Hospital for weeks? Lead developer in a coma? Purchasing Director lost at sea?  

I know- name your nightmare is not a fun game. But it’s far better in simulation mode than it would be in real time. It certainly appears that British Airways has reacted in real time only. Don’t let yourself end up there.

If it seems too big to try, try to remember it won’t get done in an afternoon. If you don’t know where to start, follow the money. What is it that would stop your cash flow? That thing is, or those things are, what you want to start with. It might be your core business application and data, or it might be your facilities, your physical plant. It might be losing access to the brain of a person who may or may not be you! The object is, of course, to discover the alternative to that essential thing, or place, or person; a path to the same result.

NOTE: If you research this subject, you’re going to find that there has been a tendency to separate the tech aspects from every other part of Business Continuity. In fact, safeguarding data and systems is often held outside of Business Continuity and called BDR, Backup and Disaster Recovery, or IT Disaster Recovery. But, because IT is now integrated so closely with all aspects of business, we’ve found that separating it is actually impractical.  

The technical aspects are easy for TailWinds. So much has changed for the better around backup and redundancy that we’re confident we can secure your business in this area. Because of our work with other clients, we can easily help with other aspects, too. But, because your business is unique, some things will be tough. But worth the effort? Oh, yes. Use your imagination if you must, but I don’t think I need to tell you what occurs when bad things happen to businesses a bit smaller than British Airways- the ones who don’t have a Business Continuity plan.

I can tell you what happens to those who do have a good plan: Nothing. They’re fine.

Tell us what you think. Get in touch if you have a great tip for the process, or if you’d like to discuss Business Continuity. (205) 332-1600 or