IT upgrades and the Christmas change freeze

The BBC is today reporting that a number of glitches with the Royal Mail’s website are causing disruption to customers in the run up to the pre-Christmas posting cut-off dates.

The problems are affecting apps on the website that allow customers to calculate the prices of letters and packages. The problems also appear to be affecting services that allow customers to pay for postage online and print out smart stamps.

Here’s what the Royal Mail says about it:

A Royal Mail spokesman said that the shutdown had been caused by a shift of online services to a new server – a process that had been ongoing for 18 months…He said the migration problems had not been anticipated before Christmas.

I can imagine the Royal Mail has a lot of unhappy customers at the moment. It seems that online retailers and mail order businesses are being particularly hit, as they use the systems when fulfilling orders. They are presumably having to use the Royal Mail’s compeititors to fulfil those orders, which won’t be good for the Royal Mail’s business.

It is for this reason that most businesses operate a “change freeze” on their IT systems around their busiest times of the year (for example the run up to Christmas for any retailer, Valentines Day for online florists etc, bank holidays for banks providing ATMs and transaction processing). No matter how much planning is done, IT projects often encounter unanticipated problems, and once the damage is done it is very difficult to pedal back to the previous release.

It is therefore just sensible practice to ensure that no system upgrades or modifications take place during or in the run up to those key periods.

Note that this doesn’t just apply to your internal IT systems, but also those of your key contractors and suppliers. Do your contracts make sure that your contractors don’t implement major changes at the time when you are most reliant upon them?

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December 2011
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