Don’t Let Old Man Winter Freeze Your Business Operations
With El Niño warming up waters in the Pacific Ocean, many meteorologists have predicted a mild 2016 winter season. But meteorologists said the same thing in 2010, during a similarly strong El Niño, before the Arctic Oscillation weather pattern interfered and dumped record snowfall all over the U.S.
Bloomberg Businessweek, remembering 2010, recently warned businesses not to get complacent about winter weather. Companies that don’t anticipate how winter weather could affect business operations face downtime, lost productivity and major revenue disruptions.
Anticipate Winter Weather Challenges
In February 2015, the northeastern U.S. experienced its snowiest, coldest month in a century. In the Boston metro area, snow fell 19 of 28 days in February, breaking previous snowfall records by two feet. Further north, in Bangor and Eastport, Maine, residents and businesses saw a whopping 132.5 inches of snow in just five weeks. Further west, in Rochester, New York, snow fell for 24 of 28 days.
Making matters worse, snow didn’t melt because temperatures were frigid. CBS Boston reported that in February, the city went 15 consecutive days without seeing temperatures above freezing. It wasn’t uncommon for the snow pack to reach three feet deep, hurting businesses not only by keeping customers inside, but also by disrupting distribution via truck and plane. IHS Global, as reported by MassLive.com, estimated every one-day shutdown in Massachusetts meant economic losses of $265 million.
Depending on their severity, snowstorms can bring power and broadband outages. Snow and ice also require constant facilities management — think shoveling sidewalks and roofs, making sure pipes don’t burst and breaking icicles to prevent ice dams. You can’t do much to prevent outages and open distribution routes, but these guiding principles will minimize your winter losses:
- Distribution of resources: When it comes to both IT and other business processes, set aside available resources beyond the immediate impact area. Give customers and employees access to important information, and make sure you could manage essential business functions from anywhere.
- Facilities operations: Uninterruptible power supplies, backup generators and backup heaters are essential in facilities that experience severe winter weather. Data center computers can run cold, but if humidifiers fail in freezing temperatures, condensation on machine components will damage CPUs and other components. Poor drainage could also lead to frozen and burst pipes, causing catastrophic moisture damage.
- Data recovery: A comprehensive hybrid data backup strategy, including both on-site and cloud backup, ensures you’re able to restore functions in case of severe infrastructure damage.
- Employee safety: Setting a telecommuting policy before winter hits can maintain productivity while preventing accidents and injuries. Encourage employees to work remotely in severe winter weather, ensuring at least partial productivity and keeping employees safe.
- Insurance: Evaluate potential risks to your business caused by winter weather, and purchase sufficient insurance protection. Consider potential property damage as well as potential liability issues (e.g., customers or employees slipping on icy sidewalks).
When customers are stranded indoors because of wintry weather, they often turn to online shopping. Internet Retailer, citing data from IBM, noted that when a large snowstorm hit the northeastern U.S. on Feb. 2, 2015, the percentage of online sales in the region increased to 24.6 percent, up from just 19.7 percent the previous Monday.
E-commerce isn’t a magic bullet; you have to plan for weather-related distribution and shipping delays. Weather forecasts, proactive route shuffling and customer communications will keep critical business operations going. For example, savvy organizations can:
- Capitalize on cold weather. Internet Retailer notes that retail companies can use automated email offerings to target customers by ZIP code. For example, customers who live in areas where the temperature falls to below 15 degrees, or where it has dropped by 10 degrees or more in the past 24 hours, could receive an automated email advertising cold-weather gear.
- Communicate with customers. Online grocer Peapod emails customers 24 to 36 hours before an impending storm, Internet Retailer reported. Customers can adjust their delivery schedules and pick up essentials in case Peapod’s delivery trucks are grounded.
Be Prepared for Winter Business Operations
Don’t let record-breaking warm temperatures in December make you doubt the power of Old Man Winter. Investing in business continuity and resiliency services keeps revenue running hot — even when it’s bitterly cold outside.