IT outages are an ever-present achilles heel for organizations. Whether it's a scheduled outage - for upgrades and maintenance - or an unexpected incident - such as a virus, cyber-attack, or human error - rapid communication to those affected becomes key.
With each business suffering an average of 14 hours of downtime per year, during which time employees are only able to work at 63% of their usual productivity, pre-emptive, high cut-through communication has become a must-have. Done well, this eases the pressure on a Service Desk during a crisis while providing a better service to all employees.
The operational fallout from an IT outage can cost a business time, money, productivity and reputation. Zero time can be wasted so the pressure is on for the IT function to communicate with end-users fast.
Fast message delivery - Push urgent outage notifications onto employee devices, bypassing email completely
Target messages -Target outage notifications to affected users.
Schedule messages - For planned outages, specify target delivery time based on absolute or local user time zones.
Expire messages - Set an expiry time so that users who are away do not return to irrelevant IT outage notifications.
Unread message recurrence - repeat display of unread outage notifications until they are acknowledged.
Multiple message template options - provide visual cues regarding the impact of an IT outage, for example, red design = urgent.
Pre configure IT communications - save time during an outage.
Delegated administration - Nominate multiple message administrators each with their own customized rights to send outgae notifications.
Readership reporting - Determine the specific readership of IT outage notifications.
Be prepared - Doing the background work can save valuable time when a problem strikes, backs are to the wall and every minute counts. Effective and fast IT outage notification can also mitigate an influx of support requests or queries in the event of an outage. Checklists or templates that have been prepared in advance can guide IT, project or communications staff and make the process more robust.
How SnapComms can help - the SnapComms solution facilitates pre-configured IT communications, user targeting groups and message notification settings ahead of an outage to ensure that IT teams are able to respond quickly without delay.
Roles and responsibilities
Make sure your IT team know who does what and that they know the go-to people within other parts of the organization. For serious issues different tiers of management may need to be called upon.
How SnapComms can help - The SnapComms solution allows you to set up custom message administration settings allowing delegated administration with different rights around user groups to target, the types of IT communications that can be sent and message moderation and approval options.
Planned and unplanned outages - IT outages can be planned (for example scheduled maintenance) - or unplanned (unexpected downtime of a service) and the context can vary enormously. IT professionals need to be able to effectively communicate these outages to staff, customers, partners and other stakeholders within their business —or have access to tools or colleagues that can do this.
Channels that sidestep email - SnapComms provides a range of internal communication tools that can be selected for use based on the level of urgency of the outage. For example, an urgent unplanned outage can be communicated via a desktop alert. Planned outages can be communicated via a series of screensaver messages over a period of time with messages escalating to scrolling desktop tickers or desktop alerts at the time just prior to the outage.
Outage notification templates can also be customized to provide visual cues,indicating the type of outage. For example red = urgent, Amber = medium emergency, green = lower priority. In a hospital environment, organizations can setup code alerts based on the color of the code. For example code pink notifies staff that a child has been abducted.
Color coded pop-up alerts - EG Towers Watson uses SnapComms to issue a simple but effective set of color-coded IT outage notification templates so that users can automatically recognize whether the outage has just occurred, in being worked on, has been resolved or is scheduled.
How serious is the situation?
Most IT departments will have established protocols for categorizing the severity of an IT outage. Factors that determine the classification of an outage can include the number of users or customers affected and the degree of complexity surrounding the outage. For example, in a healthcare environment any outage that impacts on patient-care systems would usually be given the highest level of priority.
How SnapComms can help - SnapComms messages can have message recurrence settings. This enables you to repeat messages based on whether they have been read and also, if required, based on a time period prior to the outage. Reporting options allow you to view readership and identify which users have yet to see outage messages
The classification of the outage will determine what communications approach to take. This should be documented in advance, for each of the different types of outage that have been identified.
In addition to what needs to be communicated, the plan should incorporate:
The timing of notifications - the SnapComms platform allows you to set up messages in advance with publish and expiry dates. This allows you to ensure that messages are delivered at the exact time you require (based on local time zone of the user or absolute time). It is also possible to expire messages when the time of the outage has passed so users who have not seen the message during this time, for examples they were on holiday, do not return to a clutter of messages which are no longer relevant.
Who takes responsibility for issuing IT communications - the SnapComms platform allows delegated administration rights. Administrators can be setup with different levels of security and access to targeting groups and the types of messaging formats.
Who needs to know - the target audience - SnapComms allows you to set up targeting groups ahead of sending messages or 'on-the fly' for each message. The SnapComms platform automatically picks up network settings. It also allows you to set up targeting structures based on the options below.
Message targeting options:
Active Directory groups
Machine based targeting
Ways to reach right the people - the SnapComms platform provides a range of different communication tools depending on the nature of the communication and the user is being targeted. For example, in a hospital environment not users will have access to e-mail and they use a shared login, in this case the SnapComms platform can utilize machine based targeting.
For a mobile workforce, the SnapComms platform allows you to target mobile devices with mobile notifications.
Who is responsible for different situations? - It should be agreed who is responsible for preparing the IT outage notification; this usually comes from within the IT team. But in some cases, such as when a large number of employees are impacted, the outage is associated with a strategic initiative, or it is linked with a wider crisis or emergency situation, the employee communications function can play an active role in crafting and executing the communications response. For example if the IT outage is related to critical services and needs to be communicated to the entire organization, the communication should come from a recognized source (e.g. CEO, CIO, director of IT, etc.)
When to communicate - The IT outage notification plan should also be clear about the timing of any communications that are needed. For planned outages this is obviously easier and determined by the schedule and duration of the downtime and the types of users that will be impacted. For organizations with facilities in different physical locations, differences in time zones will also need to be factored in. Once the initial communication or announcement has been made, updates should also be issued. In simple situations this can merely state that the problem has been resolved or the outage is over; for more complex or unplanned IT outages then extra information should be provided as it becomes available or as a regular update.
How SnapComms can help - because the SnapComms solution allows you to set up IT communications in advance, they can be pre-scheduled to be delivered at the exact time there are required regardless of the physical location. Message scheduling can be specified by absolute time or by local time zone. Messages are delivered to users devices as soon as they are published but they are not displayed to the user until the specified time. This means that even users who do not have Internet access at the time of display will see messages if they have connected between the time of publish on the time of display. The SnapComms solution allows you to set up messages quickly and publish them. It even allows you to set up targeting groups on-the-fly which means that, as the situation changes, changing target users and groups is easy.
“The support team always provides the best and most thorough support. We use SnapComms daily and it’s changed the way communications have been sent throughout the company. We used to have an intranet site that displayed outages, but it never alerted anyone. Now we’ve been able to tailor different alerts depending on the severity, and even schedule them according to planning outages. Additionally, I think it’s helped our marketing department streamline some of their processes. Before SnapComms our marketing department would create an image, upload it to special location on a server and group policy would push the image to all the workstation. We also have a few televisions hooked up to a PC that displays current events. Previously the marketing team would have to make a powerpoint, upload it to another program and display it on the televisions. We’ve been able to streamline all this with SnapComms and no longer have to worry about uploading files to different locations. It’s really a great product and very flexible and easy to use. It’s crazy to think how we used to do things.”
Systems Administrator, Information Technology Department