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Leading HR software provider Cascade has introduced a creative new approach to planning for the unknown, following the first in a series of disaster recovery training events.
To ensure that their level of customer service remains uncompromised, the company has launched a long-term learning and development programme, testing staff to the limit to ensure they have the skills required to cope in the event of a disaster.
With the monthly training events designed to prepare and test all areas of the business for various unexpected situations, the first session examined how a disaster impacting on Cascade’s hosted service would be managed.
The company recreated the worst-case after-effects of a major data centre loss, which could occur for example following a large fire where the servers are stored. Then it was over to Cascade’s disaster recovery team, made up of a number of specialists from technical experts to customer service personnel.
Dan Edwards, Cascade’s software development director explains: “This may sound like an extreme way to train our staff but we need to ensure we are resilient should the worst happen.
“25% of our clients opt for a hosted service because of the many benefits this option brings; not least the increased inbuilt resilience of all data being replicated, and located at separate geographical sites. If we weren’t fully prepared thousands of people could be without a HR and payroll system!”
“Many companies prepare disaster recovery instruction manuals but few test these paper-based strategies to check that they work in reality. This is why we have focussed on our hosted systems during the first training session to ensure that if a disaster did occur we would be able to deal with it with little or no disruption to our customers.”
To recreate the random nature of a disaster, team members and servers were drawn from a hat so that, just like in a real situation, there was no time to prepare specific equipment and no opportunity to accommodate for staff being ill or on annual leave.
Services to the chosen servers were then turned off so that staff could begin the recovery operation using a ‘dummy’ client. During this process the challenge for the team was to obtain data from the backup server, transfer it to the mirrored data centre and assess whether any data had been lost, all whilst maintaining clients’ Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
The team successfully resolved the issues within their 2.5 hour target, meaning that if the disaster had been real, clients’ SLAs would have been fulfilled with time to spare.
“This exercise has proven that should an external disaster occur in one of our hosted data centres, it would not result in a catastrophe for our clients. Very few of them would find it feasible to implement this level of disaster recovery planning on their own premises and so for our hosted service clients this gives the peace of mind that their systems and data are safe,” says Edwards.
In addition to the practical opportunity to plan for the unexpected, these training sessions are providing staff with the chance to further develop their skills base. Cascade will therefore be holding monthly disaster recovery training events to look at other areas of the business and different types of disaster situations. The next will focus upon how the business would cope without a customer service desk.
Knowledge gained from each training exercise will be passed on to clients so that they too could cope better in the event of a disaster.
“This exercise proved that even during the most extreme, unexpected circumstances we have the skills and capabilities to succeed in providing the highest level of customer service and protection. However we will continue to practice regularly until our disaster recovery procedures become second nature, and we shave even more time off our resolution processes. That way, our staff will be fully prepared should they ever have to respond to the pressures of a real disaster, when there will be no room for slip ups,” Edwards concludes.