Magazine Article | October 1, 2003

The Day The Lights Went Out On Peach Street

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Power failed and sales were stalled, but data was saved and help was a call away.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2003
Matt Pillar

I could rattle off a long list of reasons I'm glad not to be a retail store manager. I can now add 4:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, August 14, 2003, to the list. That's when the lights went out on Peach Street here in Erie, PA and in hundreds of other retail shopping districts all over the northeastern United States. In stores, customers became frustrated, and clerks panicked mid-transaction. Store managers sat in the dark stressing over lost sales as security guards escorted shoppers out the door. At corporate headquarters, VPs of IT and CIOs scrambled to find out why their Northeast stores just fell off the map, as CEOs became red-faced, demanding answers. Meanwhile, phones at vendor and service provider help desks rang off the hook with one repeated question resounding in the headsets of tech support personnel: Is my sales data secure?!?!?!

It was truly a dark day for retail. But, through the darkness shone the light of some picture-perfect examples of disaster management and recovery done right. Here are a few examples of tech success amid the distress.

UPS, Hosted Apps Save The Day
In Newburgh, NY, the CRS Help Desk reports it was able to provide uninterrupted service to all customers via its UPS (uninterrupted power supply) backup system and power fail phones. As one might expect, the retail software provider's call center experienced a significant increase in call volume on Friday, August 15 (the second day of the blackout), from stores affected by the power outage. Predetermined emergency staffing procedures and a sound backup power and telecommunications system served the company and its customers well.

Hosted applications also had a moment of truth (and in many cases, a moment of triumph). Long Island-based hosting services provider Network Information Technology, a business partner with Tomax' (Salt Lake City) hosted applications, reported no interruptions throughout the crisis, thanks to its backup power supply. It was just another day at the office for help desk employees there, as the hosted applications of retail customers throughout New York and as far away as Bermuda stayed up and running.

Celerant Technology sits in the heart of New York, but clients running its hosted RMS J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) software application did not lose data or sales functionality because of the outage. The company reports customers like City Blue, which operates 28 apparel stores in Pennsylvania, were not even aware the blackout was affecting the software provider's Staten Island, NY office.

Backup power also saved the day for Run.It Systems, a New York City-based hosted application provider that saved its customers from downtime by keeping the server on while the lights were off.

When the lights go out in your stores you may lose business, but God forbid you lose sales data. I hope your company escaped the outage with minimal losses. If not, I hope you'll carefully examine which store systems you're protecting and the level of protection you're providing. I know many store managers (and many CEOs, for that matter) who would thank you for it.