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RBS downtime – what can we learn?

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Many RBS customers were left red-faced earlier this month when their card transactions were mysteriously declined. Beginning at around 9.30pm, the fault stemmed back to the bank itself who, for the second time in less than a year, suffered a hardware glitch in the mainframe. The 2012 setbacks revealed that at least some of the support for the software in question was located in India. For an organisation serving 25 million customers, whose last blunder cost approximately £125 million in paid compensation, a second failing serves to highlight the dangers of support teams located a significant distance from the source of the problem, and the importance of keeping applications and hardware up-to-date.

With the number of account management platforms available to customers increasing, the support provided by banks must be watertight. 25 million people rely on the bank to look after their money, and this service must be available 100% of the time. Downtime in a bank, much like a data centre, has significant consequences for users, including bounced payments and incurred fees, with the ripple-effect of such occurrences reaching much further than the source. When downtime is experienced, damage can be minimised with effective ‘local’ support centres that are available 24/7/365, with communication between technicians and support aided through such close proximity. With RBS, this was not the case, resulting in many customers’ issues being exacerbated instead of resolved, and issues – and customer discontent – being prolonged.

The pertinent lessons to be learned from RBS’s double blunder are two-fold. 1) With legacy software and hardware not possessing the resilience that newer technology boasts, it is important to keep mission-critical applications up-to-date, perhaps through use of a Software as a Service solution that requires less capex than simply replacing all software/hardware onsite. 2) A good support centre, available every day of the year and any time of day, is central to any good service provider, whether a bank or an IT communications business. If generators are the lungs, and servers the vital organs, the support centre is the backbone; locate this 6,000 miles away from the rest of the organisation and you are left limp, unable to cope with the added demand downtime brings, with your brand and finances suffering accordingly.

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