Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » IRIS Software’s CFO on how it stayed afloat during the floods

WHEN Princes William and Harry helped load sandbags at Datchet, a village near Windsor, during the recent floods, the press were out in force. Most local residents and businesses, however, had more urgent matters on their minds, such as how to save their homes and premises from the rising waters of the Thames.

We at IRIS Software were among them. Our head office is at Datchet and we were concerned about the safety of our staff and protecting our assets. But we also had to ensure that the people filing 2.8 million tax returns using our software weren’t left high and dry and without support.

The floods couldn’t have come at a worse time for IRIS – right at the peak of the personal tax season, as many of our clients, the accountants working for small businesses and sole traders, were using our software and all wanted answers to tax and technical queries. But we had given our business continuity and disaster strategies some thought and had plans in place. We were ready to act when severe flood warnings were issued.

Of course, we were concerned that our offices would become waterlogged. Although we are situated away from the river, we had to pump out the basement due to rising groundwater. The weather forecasts were relentlessly ominous so it was clear we needed to prepare. But the worst thing was knowing that some of our employees and their families were completely flooded and their homes were uninhabitable. We needed to give them support. It was an aspect of the floods that no plan or strategy could have pre-empted.

How did our plans fare? Despite the upheavals, we were able support our customers – and we even increased our technical support centre capacity. Statistics for January show we took 9,752 tax enquiries which were all answered after an average of two minutes and with a Net Promoter Score (NPS), a measure of customer satisfaction that links it to revenue growth, of 84. So what did we learn that we could pass on to others?

Our business continuity plan includes detailed procedures for employee communications, customer notifications and recovery steps. When you are making the plans, some of this may seem over the top but it makes it unnecessary to make decisions under pressure. We had plans in place to contact customers through web, social media and email in the event of an office closure.

We have full access to offsite disaster recovery suites nationwide which can be in place within four hours of invocation. Just having this plan in place meant we could sleep more easily, knowing there was some alternative.

It was only through using a mixture of private and public cloud infrastructure that we were able to keep our support centre running throughout the floods. Employees could work at home, carrying on as they would in the office. If needed, the cloud would have enabled us to bring in extra staff from other IRIS offices and then ‘switch them off’ again when conditions improved. Flood-stricken customers using cloud-based IRIS and KashFlow products and those with IRIS hosting services were able to work from home too. IRIS makes sure its disaster recovery procedures – and in particular, restoring of technical information – are fully tested off site several times a year.

Disaster plans are generic, covering a range of scenarios. We didn’t plan specifically for flood alerts. But each type of event throws up its own challenges that can’t be predicted. In this case, we captured the detail so we can be more prepared in the future. The majority of businesses will never have to translate their disaster plans into real-life action. However, at times of crisis, your customers may well be affected too and need support from you. It’s a double whammy – your staff need protecting, but business volumes rise too and you need scalability to maintain customer service levels. We proved having a plan helped keep the business watertight – in more ways than one. ?

Mark Lewis is CFO of Iris Software