How to Enrich Customer Care With a Proactive Disaster Recovery Plan
What do Target, Harbor Freight Tools, hurricanes and winter storms all have in common? They exemplify why retailers must proactively plan for recovery of invaluable data when disaster strikes.
Retailers can gain valuable insights into disaster recovery (DR) by considering how AmeriPride Services, a uniform rental and linen supply company, proactively fashioned a DR plan to prepare for any unexpected calamity. The company owes much of its success to keeping pace with technology advances — e.g., the use of telematics technology in vehicles and radio-frequency identification chips to help track uniforms — and continually updating its IT infrastructure.
AmeriPride employed the latest in IT security and protection technology to create a centralized DR program. Being prepared for crazy weather patterns and crooked hackers can pay off by enhancing customer service and, hopefully, having an impact on the bottom line.
The price tag for unplanned IT downtime can be gigantic. A 2013 study by the Ponemon Institute found that 17 percent of respondents figured they would lose more than $500,000 per hour from an IT outage, with another 6 percent estimating the cost would exceed $1 million per hour.
Here are a few rules of the road for generating and employing a DR program, with specifics about what AmeriPride did in fashioning its plan:
- Assess what the plan will require. At AmeriPride, data was scattered across 45 data centers in its 45 branches. By centralizing its infrastructure and partnering with disaster recovery company SunGard Availability Services, AmeriPride developed a flexible and scalable program that didn't require it to add IT hardware or staff.
- Retain an experienced, full-service DR provider. AmeriPride identified a partner that delivers around-the-clock service; provides a full array of support benefits and data centers with redundant networks, power supplies and communications links; monitors security and performance; and handles regulatory compliance issues. This allows AmeriPride to focus on and handle other aspects of its business, such as customer service.
- Ensure the DR vendor tests, tests, tests. Since any loss of critical data and information can cause serious problems, a third-party DR provider should be able to test every element in its contract. This includes servers, applications and platforms. AmeriPride made sure that its outside vendor provides a strong service-level agreement to reinforce its data recovery responsibilities if a data failure occurs.
- Seek a DR partner with seasoned IT professionals. Since most retailers have inadequate IT resources to handle today's sophisticated DR requirements, you should retain a provider with plenty of testing and training expertise. AmeriPride looked at the types and numbers of disasters its provider had handled and the typical size of the customers it helped with data recovery. It also obtained testimonials from customers who vouched for its vendor's capabilities and quality. AmeriPride had a plan in place in six months to seven months, a very short time frame for this type of project.
So what has AmeriPride learned? For one thing, its provider uncovered gaps in the documentation the company used for DR and helped it fill them. Good documentation is critical since you can't assume people will be available or know what to do when disaster strikes. AmeriPride has also now assembled a more efficient IT infrastructure, including tiered applications, data and backup.
With the ongoing threat of severe weather and cyberattacks, AmeriPride has a DR plan that will give it the best chance to keep its priceless information up and running.
Jeff Baken is the data center manager for AmeriPride Services Inc.