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What the Google Calendar Outage Can Teach Us About Business Continuity

At least for me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as checking off items on my to-do list. The size or relative importance of the task isn’t the point. It’s the feeling of knowing that you were supposed to do something, and you did it!

But what happens when we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing? The world got a brief taste of what that looks like recently, after Google Calendar went down for a few hours on Tuesday. CNN described it as an “existential crisis”.

shutterstock_139655147-970x546                                  This is closer to rage than existential crisis, but stock photos can't quite convey an existential crisis. 

 

This got us thinking about business continuity, both because it is a lovely comparison and also because we never fully stop thinking about business continuity. Here are two key tenets of business continuity, demonstrated by the soon-to-be-infamous Google Calendar outage of 2019.



Hey..Remind Me of The Plan Again?: Before I was even aware of the outage, I saw quite a few joking references to the situation on Twitter. One of the great advancements Twitter has helped bring to the world is the ability to see the exact same joke over and over again, in a timely manner. Most people landed on some version of “No calendar, no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, guess there’s nothing to be done!” This was moderately funny.

Tongue-in-cheek jokes alluded to a less hilarious reality. Without the clear agenda laid out for the day, many businesses likely missed meetings or had to postpone tasks. In the business continuity context, where a school is working through its plan to resume operations, we can’t afford to miss any steps.

If your school has no business continuity plan, that’s the first step. You can go here to familiarize yourself.  It sounds basic, but make sure you have a clear plan to restore the critical functions of your school community. Think through, for example,  where you would reopen school if you didn’t have access to facilities. Write it down! Sure, in a non-stressful situation, we can probably remember most of what we need to accomplish without referencing our plan. However, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that if your school closes unexpectedly, you have about seven days to reopen before you begin to lose key members of your community.

So, as you design or review your school’s business continuity plan, think about what needs to be accomplished and how you plan to accomplish it swiftly. This conversation will lead naturally into our second key tenet, which is...

 

Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy (Redundancy, Redundancy): The reality of the Google Calendar difficulty is that not being able to follow the outline you planned to rely on causes severe challenges to your organization. Even when the plan is something simple, lack of access to it is damaging.  Once your school has a business continuity plan (great!), it will still need to be executed effectively in the case of an emergency. This will be a challenge no matter how prepared you are.

Frankly, one plan is really not enough. Our recommendation is that if an individual in your community is tasked with handling an important responsibility, there should be 5-7 “backup” individuals who can step up if needed (smaller school communities may need to start with 3).

For example, perhaps your school is forced to evacuate due to threat of fire. Depending on the swiftness of the evacuation, your school’s business officer may not be able to take with them essential resources like your school’s check stock. Heck, your business officer may be on vacation when the fire comes, and perhaps no one else on campus knows to bring the check stock with them or even where it is. In this scenario, without built-in redundancy, it’s very possible that we will have no way to pay staff, and thus no way to reopen school in an acceptable time frame.  

 

There are multiple ways to build redundancy. In our financial example above, we might identify both individuals who can fill the business officer role if necessary, but also additional avenues of making payroll. One preemptive step schools can take is by signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with local vendors who may be able to provide needed services in an emergency. An MOU is essentially a soft contract with a company that is not legally binding, but it is a tremendous resource in an emergency. You can download our free template here. The key section is really the last page of the MOU. That is where you put the phone number of someone at that company who will take your call during an emergency and know what you’re talking about.

Regardless of where your community is in the business continuity process, don’t let a Google Calendar outage hold you back. If you’d like to learn more about our school safety process, go here!

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