UK business continuity managers consider potential impacts of BT strike

Get free weekly news by e-mailWhile BT staff decide whether to support strike action proposed by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), UK business continuity managers are considering the potential impacts that a strike could have, and whether any additional contingency measures are necessary.

The CWU ballot closes on 5th July and strike action could follow shortly afterwards. The main impacts would occur should a fault happen with business telecoms services. Engineers may be in short supply or may be completely unavailable in some areas, resulting in severe delays in service restoration. The result could be long-running downtime of BT-based telecoms and Internet services.

As advice and information on contingency solutions becomes available it will be posted here:

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Information from GemaTech

Here is some information from Paul Wayman, GemaTech Government Sales, ex BT engineer, ex CWU member.

“The strike will affect many BT and non-BT customers in many ways. With the complexity of how services are now offered, both contractually and physically, it is worth all organizations checking into their own arrangements.

“It is worth saying that if your organization has no telephony faults during the strike, the impact for your risk register is low. However, any number of small issues may cause severe impact and should be duly noted in your risk register.

“CWU members range from service desk call handlers, technical centre specialists, through telephone systems specialist and to frontline engineering and telephone exchange technicians.

“As an example, the loss of telephone lines may mean a longer wait for repair, no opportunity to divert those calls during a repair and therefore a loss of service for the public when trying to contact your organization.

“BT management has engaged with its managers to help out in the field, which should reduce the impact, as will BT partners, where possible.

“Finally, it must be noted that GemaTech has offered its Portable Recovery Unit to BT for use during the strike, but is thus far awaiting a response.

The following are some questions to ask of your telecoms professionals.

Is your telephony supply from BT?

Your organization may have a direct relationship with BT, probably through BTGS, or BT Retail. It might have an indirect relationship through what is known as a BT Wholesale partner. Both have reliance upon the standard core BT network.

Your organization could have a direct relationship with Virgin Media, Cable and Wireless, KCOM, or Global Crossing, which could mean there is no reliance on the core BT network, but if it has a relationship with these that utilises the core BT network to deliver services, there is a reliance on BT.

Where is your telephone exchange in relation to your important buildings?

The BT exchange serving your organization is likely to be close to the organization. There is a way to find your serving BT exchange and to see how it relates to your organization. It is not 100% accurate, (but there are very few anomalies to worry about):

1. Go to this website
2. Type in your number
3. This will find your exchange. If the query shows “no results” it is not a direct or indirect relationship with BT. Do not be fooled though, some bits may be managed by BT.
4. Take the postcode and input this into multi-map and select the aerial view. This will show the exchange. You can now get an idea of the risks associated with current development, flood risk, distance etc from your main buildings.

If the cables fail between the telephone exchange and your important buildings what will be the effect?

If the cables are severed due to building works, flooding, theft or they simply incur a fault, what is the impact of that on your organization? Are they feeding a Police Force Control Centre, an essential Council service or a SCBU in a hospital? In some cases cables feeding one building pass through a telephone system and feed other buildings, such as through a voice over IP (VoIP) network or a network that is not VoIP. A call to a County Council may be delivered to one town first but answered in another.

You will need to understand the way the various services in the various buildings may be impacted upon by the loss of any cable or telephone system within your estate. You will also need to find out which are the numbers you need to keep going through any eventuality and do your best to protect them.

Which company services your main telephone system(s)?

This could be BT, or may be another company. If BT, the obvious problem exists, where it may not be repaired within the usual service agreement.

If not BT, problems may occur when testing lines, and rebooting lines after the telephone system is up and running. This usually requires the use of a BT computer accessed system, or a visit to an exchange.

Will BT be able to divert my calls, if a failure occurs?

A computer system is used to divert calls. This is likely to be managed by a CWU member and therefore should be considered a potential problem.

Be Prepared

To be prepared for such an event is key. The strike, of course, is not the source of the problems, simply something which will slow down the repair process. The protection of key services should figure high on any risk register and something put in place, in advance, to protect against any loss.

Those organizations protected by GemaTech’s managed recovery services are unlikely to face any issues during the strike.

From a BC manager:

One business continuity professional with close links to the telecoms sector has advised about the issue of outsourcing dependencies, citing the contract agreement between BT and Virgin for BT Openreach to run Virgin Telephone Exchanges. UK business continuity managers should check whether their telecoms provider has any dependencies on BT and what contingency measures and SLAs are in place for any outsourcing agreements.


Firms considering their contingency plans for the imminent BT strike should consider joining Urban Wimax by signing up and installing a small Wimax antenna to their roof top.

Hundreds of London based firms that take their business continuity seriously use Urban Wimax to establish independence from the BT network.

This will give them access to high speed symmetrical breakout to the web that will share no single points of failure with their other Fibre or copper based services.

Companies suffering installation delays on fibre links should also get in touch, as Urban Wimax can deploy services rapidly, with no need for digging.

Advice from Star CEO John Adey:

"Companies, who are concerned about the possibility of BT strikes after the ballot on July 5, should ensure that they have a contingency plan in place now. The majority of the UK’s businesses - whichever broadband provider they use - are reliant on BT for the last mile of the network. If they have a problem with their service during the strike and have no alternative service in place, this could have an impact on their business as the time for repairs to the line could be longer than usual."

"For companies that are reliant on a single Ethernet connection, it would be worth installing an ADSL line as a back-up service in the event of failure of the primary service. This can be installed within about five days and – if they act now – businesses could give themselves more peace of mind."

"We would like to emphasise that there is no need to panic and that at this stage it is unclear if the strike will proceed and how widespread it will be. However, for companies who are looking to minimise the risk of any potential disruption, it is advisable to review their options and take sensible precautions if their business would suffer were they to lose connectivity services."

Cloud Net advice:

“We believe that small businesses should be thinking of contingency plans to ensure that they have a back up phone system if the strike does take place.

“In response Cloud Net has announced a business phone package aimed to ensure that small businesses have working phone systems if a BT strike goes ahead. In the case of a strike, business owners whose lines develop a fault could be left with no telephone lines or broadband.

“Cloud Net is offering a back up phone system which can be activated in case of a fault developing on a BT line.

“Cloud Net is offering BT subscribers a special package at £47.50 per handset + VAT set up cost, including a free phone, and set up to any telephone number, a powerful internet based switchboard, and the ability to cancel the contract immediately with no termination fees.

“Cloud Net will only bill rental charges (£8.50 per month) and call costs from the date a BT user starts to use the system. This means if BT strikes small companies will have a complete back up plan in a box waiting to go, preconfigured, for a low cost with no commitment.

“Cloud Net can either transfer existing BT numbers to Cloud Net or can set up a divert from BT and when the strike is over, BT users can switch back to BT should they wish to.

“David Hill, chairman of Cloud Net says, “Industry accepted estimates demonstrate that on average a customer experiences a serious fault every 18 months which means that the network will degrade at the rate of about 8 percent a month. That is after month one 92 percent will still function and 84 percent after two if no fixes are implemented. We believe that small businesses should be thinking of contingency plans to ensure that they have a back up phone system if the strike does take place. If they leave it too late, they made end up scrambling around for a phone system which is not reliant on BT.”

“BT employees have until 5 July to decide whether they will go on strike for the first time in 23 years. The strike which can start as early as 12 July may have catastrophic results for BT users, whether consumers or businesses.

“Unless a consumer or small business uses companies like Cloud Net, Virgin or Cable and Wireless, they could face being without phone or broadband during a strike.

•Date: 22nd June 2010 • Region: UK •Type: Article •Topic: Telecoms continuity
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