We recognise that pandemic response requires activities that go beyond normal Business Continuity Planning, for example the assessment of third-party services used in business-critical processes and the potential mass quarantine of local staff.
We want to reassure all customers that we are well prepared and, will monitor advice by the government, reacting accordingly in the best interests of both our staff and customers to minimise disruption. All processing services are housed in twin, tier 3, ISO27001 accredited data centres with high levels of redundancy. Effective immediately, all planned and future non-essential travel by staff is cancelled, and meetings will take place remotely. All core staff are able to work remotely for as long as necessary, and we have plans in place to mitigate reduced staffing levels. If home working is identified as essential for all staff, support will continue remotely and will be available via email, online helpdesk, social media and LiveChat.
Finally, we’d like to emphasise how our corporate structure is different to many other larger Direct Debit providers in a way that helps you, our customers, in this difficult time. As a fully privately-owned company, we are well-placed financially with significant reserves in place to protect our business and service to you in the period ahead.
All directors will keep a daily watch on the current advice from Public Health England and the UK Government and will call an immediate meeting of the senior leadership team if anything changes that impacts the business.
Key suppliers for processing of Direct Debits have been assessed for their own preparedness. In line with our existing Disaster Recovery plans, we limit our critical path services for core payment processing to a minimal number of suppliers, with appropriate redundancy.
Our only sole supplier in the critical payments processing chain is Bacs itself. Their preparations can be found on the Bacs website, https://www.bacs.co.uk/
Subsidiary suppliers are Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Mail for various services.
Other suppliers are used to provide submissions, anti-virus, security etc. but these can either be removed from our processing chain if required or are locally installed and updated in a controlled manner, so are unaffected by acute events.
Payment processing continuity – data centre resilience
All our customer-facing processing services operate from two, separately owned, tier-four data centres, and upon closure or failure of the primary data centre, our Disaster Recovery procedures will be enacted to ramp up critical services on the secondary, which can all be done using remote access if needed.
The only physical presence needed at our data centres by SmartDebit staff is in the case of hardware failure replacement. We operate at least dual redundancy for critical systems, so in the worst case scenario of no available staff or no access, we can run on reduced resilience. If no SmartDebit staff are available we also have the option of current ‘remote hands’ contracts with the data centre. This is part of our existing Disaster Recovery preparation.
Our data centres, where payment processing is performed, have dual power and dual data connections from different suppliers to ensure maximum continuity of service.
While our Customer Support offices cannot be connected in this way, we have thirty minute Uninterruptible Power Supply on all main systems, so can handle fluctuations in power.
Support operations continuity – office services resilience
As defined by our Business Continuity Planning, key staff required to operate core processing services can all work remotely from our offices. This is tested regularly and many staff work remotely on occasion as a matter of course.
SmartDebit operates from two separate offices, so operations can continue in either one if an outbreak happens in the other.
All core staff can be enabled to work remotely if needed. The only on-site requirement is to support office server physical hardware failure.
We have extended remote access over the last few weeks to provide nearly all staff with remote corporate devices and VPN capability. We have also installed remote support, chat and communications tools. Shortly, this will cover every staff member.
Note that in the case of full dual-office shutdown, or remote working requirement of all staff, direct customer contact and support channels will be email, live-chat, helpdesk and social channels – the complexity of extended remote call routing means that telephone support would not be offered during this time.
While corporate systems and communications have extended capacity to handle full remote working, we recognise that domestic internet may be under considerable load if most office-based employees in the country need to work at home. As such, we will attempt to retain at least some office-based staff to cover core operations. Note that core payment processing can be carried out with a very small number of staff, either on- or off-site.
If infection spread becomes significant, we will split staff between our two offices and remote working to ensure the greatest separation of employees.
In the case of full dual-office shutdown, Customer Support communication channel advice will be provided on the SmartDebit website and from within the Pulse portal.
Regular communications are being carried out with SmartDebit staff to highlight government and Public Health England advice and emphasise the company’s commitment to both their wellbeing and the continuity of business.
Staff are encouraged to self-isolate if they fulfil any of the risk criteria advised, and will be fully supported by SmartDebit in this.
As a smaller company we are able to discuss individual travel plans and risks with all staff in a sensitive way.
We have advised staff to carry out all customer and supplier meetings by phone or virtual meeting space if possible.
We recommend physical distancing guidance at the level laid out by Public Health England for external meetings.
We have provided extra notices and supplies such as additional soap and sanitiser to aid in increased required hygiene requirements.
We have arranged with our cleaning supplier to carry out a deep-clean in the event of office-based infection being discovered.
As a privately owned company that is not affected by stock market cycles or short-term price impacts, SmartDebit is well-placed to focus attention on commercial continuity and customer interests without external interference.
SmartDebit holds significantly more working capital and cash reserves than mandated by the FCA. As such, temporary cash-flow fluctuations are not a significant risk to operations.
We also hold reserves to afford out-of-budget expenses required to support emergency Business Continuity requirements.