The energy sector is uniquely positioned in terms of its communication requirements. Offshore operations, maritime integration and onshore offices are all elements within a tightly meshed chain. One link in the chain breaks and the integrity of the whole organisation can be seriously damaged.
But what if something as simple as the inability to access your own office space brings this house of cards down striking at technology and means of communication? This is where the importance of workplace recovery plans (WPR) are vital in keeping the energy industry afloat during a crisis.
Solid communications are at the heart of health and safety, and safety is absolutely imperative for the energy sector. Ensuring the wellbeing of staff is the priority, but with all media eyes monitoring any issues intensely, being able to respond to offshore emergencies is critical.
If a crisis onshore disables communications with ships or rigs, a company may not be able to respond or assist if an incident occurs offshore. This risks lives, and if the media sees danger offshore, combined with chaos onshore, the situation can disintegrate very quickly. Fighting back and regaining trust after such episodes takes many painful years.
Continuous flow of information between offshore and onshore is imperative and not just for health and safety of employees and revenue generation – but to fulfil licensing obligations and enable correct taxation. Something as simple as being denied access to your onshore office because a fire or flood has made the premises inaccessible can break the chain. Offshore operations can be seriously impacted by a breakdown in communication like this and of course by their very nature, disasters are unpredictable. Control of many offshore operations takes place onshore and has to be monitored and reported onshore.
Take the issue of rate of flow. Flows from the field have to be monitored onshore for health and safety, tax purposes, supply and demand, security of supply and trading rules to name a few reasons. Onshore operatives need to be able to alert their colleagues offshore of any potential problems so that immediate action can be taken to remedy any issues. However, if the onshore link in the chain can’t get to his or her workstation then none of this can happen. It is imperative that they have a workplace recovery (WPR) plan in place. Having data stored off site is crucial – but this secure data storage is only useful if relevant staff have the opportunity to access it and a desk to sit at while they do. Workplace recovery offers all the tools needed to get back to business as usual.
So, what should energy companies look for in a workplace recovery package?
Asking a provider for a documented timetable of just how quickly you can move staff to the work place recovery centre. How quickly do they guarantee to acknowledge your request? This should be a guaranteed turn-around time of 30 minutes or less to agree your access time and the numbers of workstations you require.
Within two hours you should be in a guaranteed position to have staff inducted at the workplace recovery centre, be issued with security passes and have a room and desk allocation. Within a four hour time frame, you should have undergone a full handover and have a signed checklist – ready to conduct ‘business as usual’.
Access to Data
A workplace recovery plan providing the desks and hardware required should never exist in isolation. Ideally you will be in a contract with a provider which provides secure off site data storage in their own centre. This gives immediate and full access to everything required to be backed up and running in this new location.
Check what you are actually paying for. Just what level of internet access will you have? How secure is it? Is it wired or wireless? Can all your telephone calls be diverted to one point and how quickly can this take place? Are you paying just for workstations or does the workplace recovery centre offer meeting space? Will your staff have access to catering facilities? Do you have car parking spaces guaranteed? Are these bolt on costs or part of your agreed package?
Any form of emergency plan needs to be tested. You should ensure that a provider builds in at least one testing day annually for you and your team – and you should check if you can build in additional testing days if required.
Review and Scalability
Your workplace recovery partner should offer you a regular review of your requirements. In the space of just a couple of years an organisation’s risk exposure can multiply significantly and what may have started out as a modest requirement for a set level of desks can escalate. Without a regular review you can be over exposed at a time of crisis. Check just how scalable your contract is – can you build in additional space if required either on a project or an on-going basis?
A dictionary definition of disruption is that it is an ‘act of delaying or interrupting continuity’ but workplace disruption – whether this is due to environmental factors or simply denial of access to work place buildings- gives rise to huge areas of risk for the energy sector. According to a recent IT survey, 74% of firms and public sector organisations in nine European countries said they were ‘not confident’ that they could fully recover their computer systems or data after an IT failure. Part of this is due to them not being able to provide workspace for staff to ‘get back to business’.
Managing continuity of the workplace and associated operational risks should be of concern to all businesses regardless of their sector. However, energy sector businesses may be far more at risk in this highly regulated industry which has such a high reliance on data and uninterrupted communications.
Graeme Gordon is CEO of Internet For Business (IFB) and a director with Scotland IS – the trade body for the information and communications technologies (ICT) industry in Scotland.