5 steps to the best IT outage communications

Neil Conchie
April 7, 2021 8:29 AM

An IT incident has the potential to cause serious harm to your business, whether it is through loss of data, a reduction in productivity, or reputational damage. Read on for our top tips and to learn how effective communication can make all the difference when it comes to an IT incident.

1. Make sure you have a plan

Thinking that an IT incident is never going to happen to you is foolhardy at best, so having a plan to deal with an IT outage is imperative. By having a plan, you are giving yourself the best chances to operate efficiently, reduce the cost of the downtime, improve your overall recovery time and help to reassure your employees and stakeholders.

The first part of your plan is to work out what constitutes an incident, and to understand what the impact of these incidents could be (it’s a good idea to conduct a business threat assessment if you haven’t already!)

By having a clear definition of what constitutes an incident it becomes easier for you to ensure that you are starting your communication processes for the right incidents at the right times.

Part of your plan must also include training your team, which allows them not only to recognise current and upcoming threats but also ensure that they know the processes for dealing with an incident should one arise.

Knowing the incidents that are likely to arise and how they will need to be resolved allows you to create template messages providing information about the incident, possible workarounds, and any expectations of updates.

Part of your plan must include practicing it to ensure that it is efficient and effective and making any changes required to ensure you are as prepared as possible for an incident.

2. Identify your incident response team

Whilst it may be that your incident response includes many of your IT team, it is important to ensure that you have identified the key people in your team who will respond directly to the incident.

The first position to appoint is the Incident Commander, who will be the overall authority on the incident response, and who will have the responsibility of managing the incident from start to finish which includes any follow-up required after the incident.

The other important position to appoint is the Communications Lead who will work closely with your Incident Commander to ensure that information about the incident is passed from a single source of truth to all employees and stakeholders through the right channels. It may be for smaller incidents that the Incident Commander can fulfil this role, but it is best practice to have a person who has this role defined.

3. Have defined channels and messages ready

By having communications channels defined before an incident, you can ensure that you’ve already worked out which channels are going to work best for your internal and external teams, meaning that important messages are going to be received by the right people at the right time, via a channel that is meaningful to them.

Some good practice includes creating a central ‘hub’ or status page accessible to everyone affected so that they can keep track of the incident (this is also important as a single source of truth), use channels meaningful to your audience such as mobile devices or push notifications and providing the right information at the right time.

4. Communicate during the incident

As soon as you know there is an incident, you must start your communications process. By acknowledging the incident early you can avoid speculation, provide a workaround or alternative arrangements quickly, and ensure that everyone is aware of the situation. As well as improving productivity, this will go a long way towards ensuring that morale and reputation stay high during and after the incident.

Regular communication and updates throughout the incident also ensure that your employees and stakeholders feel informed whilst ensuring that productivity remains as high as possible, despite the downtime, and helps to quell any panic that might be circulating as people feel reassured that the incident is being taken seriously.

All communications must be concise, and at a level that is appropriate for your audience. Whilst stakeholders and management might need more information, the majority of your employees don’t need all of the details, just enough to help them remain informed and productive.

6. Digest any learnings

Whilst IT incidents can cause huge problems for a company, they can also provide a lot of opportunities for learning and growth. Once the incident is resolved, looking at the causes and the response/resolution will help you to amend your plan for the future.

Could the incident have been prevented?

Was the response adequate?

Are different workarounds required?

These are just a few of the questions you can ask which will help you to shape the incident responses of the future to ensure that you respond as quickly and efficiently as possible whilst minimising downtime, increasing productivity, and reducing the cost of an incident.

As we’ve discussed, communication during an IT incident doesn’t just start with the incident itself, and having a plan is just as important to your overall communications as the messages sent themselves.

How would you deal with an IT incident? Would you add anything to our 5 top tips?

If you need help communicating with your team during an incident why not schedule a demo and see how Klaxon can help you?