A Keller ISD Success Story: Business Contingency Planning and Effective Crisis Management
Over the past decade, Keller Independent School District (ISD), Texas, has evolved processes for change, all grounded by a sound strategic planning process and a Baldrige continuous improvement initiative. As part of the Baldrige initiative, Keller ISD undertook comprehensive disaster recovery and business contingency planning.
“At Keller ISD, we do everything we can to prevent a network failure, but we knew it could happen,” recalls Joe Griffin, Keller ISD’s chief technology officer. “We also realized there is a significant difference between disaster recovery and business continuance. Even with effective backup practices, it usually takes days to get back online. And, we needed to be back in business within hours with our student information system and financial and HR system. So, we contracted for SunGard K-12 Education’s Application Backup Service a few years ago.”
Application Backup Service provides nightly backup of a school district’s SunGard K-12 Education software databases. In the event of a failure, this service allows districts to temporarily run the component systems from a SunGard K-12 Education Data Center remotely via the Internet.
When a district contracts for Application Backup Service, SunGard K-12 Education installs software on district servers that every night will compress and transfer backup data files to the company’s Data Center via a secure copy utility. Upon notification of a failure, SunGard K-12 Education will work with the district to diagnose and correct the problem. Within one business day of notification, SunGard K-12 will provide the district access to the last transferred data and application.
In November 2014, Keller experienced a series of drive failures that resulted in instability and unprecedented system failure. During the event, the district’s Technology team began seeing an anomaly during which backups began to fail. They were forced to shut down the network in order to prevent significant loss of district data.
Despite the failure, Keller ISD didn’t miss a beat. The incident, which could have been catastrophic, only minimally impacted daily classroom activities at the district’s campuses. The very next day, core business functions and data were available to district staff and educators via remote servers in SunGard K-12 Education’s Data Center. And just two weeks later, the network was fully restored with no data loss.
Griffin says this success was the result of the district’s effective planning and response.
“You can have the best technology in the world, but you have to anticipate the unexpected and be prepared to effectively respond,” he says. “Whatever you’re relying on may fail at some point. If it does, it’s your planning, reliable partnerships, effective communication, and transparency that will be the keys to your success.
“SunGard K-12’s team was fabulous. Everybody was prepared to get us back up and going. That level of commitment is something that goes beyond just accessing the software from the company’s servers,” says Griffin. “Application Backup Service is your insurance. It’s your lifeline. I would tell any school district that I wish that what happened had not. It could have been devastating. But thank goodness we weren’t impacted because we had Application Backup Service. I would encourage other districts to really look into it. I don’t care how good of a district you are, things happen. You have good intentions of backing up your data and having redundant systems, but it doesn’t always seem to work out. This is the way of the future.”
Looking back, Griffin advises districts that find themselves in a crisis to focus on these keys to effective crisis management:
- Focus on the Task. Griffin advises districts in crisis to wait until after the network has been fully restored to begin the analysis of what went wrong. “Everybody at Keller ISD was prepared to do what it took to get us fully restored. We were all committed to focus on the task at hand and debrief later,” he says. “I think that attitude made a huge difference.”
- Transparency with Your Community is Vital. Keller ISD was committed to complete transparency during the crisis. The day following the failure, district officials sent a letter to parents notifying them of the problem. In addition, Griffin says district staff made considerable effort to communicate with district staff, local officials, and the community. “Communication was key. We immediately told our staff and used School Messenger to send messages to our community,” says Griffin. “Campuses and the district took to Twitter and Facebook in an effort to keep families informed. From day one, everyone knew what was going on and was supportive of us.”
- Take Time for Reflection. After things have returned to normal, Griffin advises districts to reflect on the event and learn from the experience. “In our disaster plan, we listed all of our servers and knew what we’d bring up first,” he says. “As a result of this, though, we have created new criteria. There are learning applications that we moved up in the order of restoration.”
Visit SunGard K-12 Education’s website for more stories celebrating our customers’ success.