The University of Newcastle, Australia

The highs and lows of a hi-tech world

Friday, 27 March 2015

Nat McGregor, Chief Operating Officer, reflects on recent planned and unplanned IT events.

Nat McGregor, Chief Operating Officer

This week we experienced the highs and lows of the hi-tech world we live in.

Our planned disaster recovery on Saturday was an opportunity for us to test the many IT systems at UON and our preparedness to respond to, and most importantly recover from, a disruptive event.  Given how reliant we are on IT systems, this is something that every organisation should be disciplined about doing.

Our aim is always to bring systems back to being intact and fully operational within the shortest possible timeframe. I am extremely pleased to report that after Saturday's exercise we can be confident, in the unlikely event a disaster strikes, that critical data can be recovered and business applications restored. We were able to return to normal operations by around 4.30 pm that day.

The network outage on Monday was our unplanned, real-life test. As most of you know, we were without phones and computers for several hours across Callaghan, Newcastle City, HMRI, Tamworth and Sydney campuses. While our investigation into the cause is ongoing, we do know that the problem lay with the UON server that contains campus computer IP addresses for these sites. This is why Ourimbah, Port Macquarie and Singapore campuses were unaffected, and why off-campus access to systems was possible.

It was a challenging situation and of course the timing of the outage raised one obvious question – was it related the disaster recovery exercise? Our investigations will determine the answer to this important question.

An organisation-wide response

The outage activated our emergency response which brings together various UON leaders who have an active role in managing issues. Again, emergency response procedures are something every organisation needs to be disciplined about having, testing and continuously improving. 

From both a leadership and operational perspective, the management of the issue was highly effective. Using runners, SMS, Blackboard, social media and even our building wardens we were able to keep staff and students informed which meant that our IT teams were able to get on with the job of rectifying the situation without being overwhelmed by enquiries.

The level of professionalism of all staff was outstanding – whether you were at the front line or you were simply able to adapt and find another way of getting your work done.

Something to consider

Our use of critical incident SMS is highly effective. It is direct and quick. If you did not receive an SMS on Monday, you have not registered your mobile number to the University for Critical Incident Use (in HRonline). I strongly encourage you to do this. You will find the field under My Staff Directory Details, however please rest assured, your mobile number does not display on the staff directory and there are strict guidelines for use of the critical incident SMS.

If you have any feedback on the management of both events this week, I would appreciate hearing from you. You can email me directly at nat.mcgregor@newcastle.edu.au

I would like to extend my personal thanks and commendations to all involved at the business end and to all staff for their understanding and patience. Both events have been valuable learning experiences for the organisation.

Regards

Nat


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