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Business Continuity at Thomas Cook travel group.

Business Continuity Expo And Conference : 24 January, 2008  (Technical Article)
Techniques of business continuity used by Thomas Cook to prevent emergency communication problems as explained by UK Operations Director, Bob Boyce.
Thomas Cook Group plc is a leading international leisure travel group, created by the merger of MyTravel Group plc and Thomas Cook AG in June 2007. Each year more than 19 million people choose to travel with the Group, buying their holidays from a network of more than 3,000 owned or franchised travel stores, online or through call centres. It employs 33,000 people globally, operates a fleet of 97 aircraft and either through direct control or via franchise arrangements, also operates 46 hotels and other resort properties.

It is unquestionably a very sophisticated operation, with a portfolio of market leading travel brands across Europe and North America. Protecting the reputation of these brands is paramount and the Group insists on good practice and responsible decision making within all its operations. This is no more so than in the field of business continuity and incident management.

Four years ago, Bob Boyce, Director of UK Operations began a project to change the way information was distributed during an emergency. Boyce was looking for a solution that broke down the barriers of communication when he and his incident management team faced disruption during normal operations. The global nature of the company means that team members are located in different offices, creating obstacles of location and geography when accessing, updating and sharing information. This problem needed to be eradicated.

Boyce required a solution that facilitated real-time information management during an incident: software that could provide a platform for the rapid capture of information, its validation and quick distribution of the facts to those that need to know, enabling a more effective decision making process. Boyce wanted software that enabled members of the crisis team to confidently fulfil their business continuity obligations, safe in the knowledge that they were acting on all the relevant information available. Delivering the right information to the right people in this way could save lives, protect resources and maintain corporate reputation.

Following an evaluation of what was available on the market, Boyce decided to work with Solcara, an organisation his was familiar with through work that Solcara had successfully conducted with the Thomas Cook Media Relations Team. Together they implemented the Solcara Crisis Control Centre.

Acting as a virtual command and control facility, members of the Thomas Cook emergency procedures team, wherever they are (at the scene, at home, in the office, on holidays!) and with the appropriate privileges can record and distribute records pertaining to an incident. Information filtering enables the senior executives to quickly review and react appropriately to the facts, assess the impact and identify and prioritise the actions required to establish normality.

"To be effective it is important that it is easy to invoke an incident and that the team find the system easy to use," says Boyce. Solcara Crisis Control Centre has enhanced the existing emergency procedures at Thomas Cook, "by making everything easily accessible, ensuring everyone is up-to-date and thereby avoiding confusion about what's going on."

Information is posted in electronic status boards that are easily configurable to a particular incident type or division of the organisation. Each record posted can be categorised to reflect its type, or importance level - for example, 'requires action', 'information only', "draft", 'confirmed for distribution'. Security determines who can add, edit or view information on which whiteboards and in what states. "Invoking an incident takes seconds and entering data is simple" says Boyce; it has to be, for time wasted on setting up complicated systems in the golden hour could be critical.

"It is a very powerful tool and such is the functionality of the Crisis Control Centre that I am looking for other deployments of this technology within Thomas Cook," said Boyce. "I'm looking forward as well, to the enhancements other users will bring to the Control Centre, as part of Solcara's commitment to user-led development.

The Solcara Crisis Control Centre meets Thomas Cook's incident communication needs. Boyce advises that "when considering the implementation of an emergency procedure communication system, it is important not to over-complicate the process. Go for a best of breed approach selecting a group of tools for your purposes rather than stretching one tool too far."

It is impossible to mitigate all risks in the operations of business and the delivery of public services. When things go wrong, however, it is important that organisations have the best tools to help their crisis teams to speed up the recovery of the business, and to learn lessons so that bad practices are not repeated. Solcara Crisis Control Centre is helping Thomas Cook achieve this and is now an integral part of their crisis management plans. Its adoption has lead to the protection of corporate and executive reputation and will highlight any operational deficiencies that can be eradicated, thereby preventing the recurrence of past mistakes.

Solcara will be exhibiting at the Business Continuity Expo and Conference held at EXCEL Docklands from 2- 3rd April 2008 - the UK's definitive event for managing risk, resilience and recovery. This event will explore the solutions and best practice to ensure operational continuity and protect a company's interests before during and after an incident.
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