The Woolworths Outage Is A Lesson In Business Continuity Planning

The Woolworths Outage Is A Lesson In Business Continuity Planning
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Yesterday, Woolworths supermarkets around the country had to close their doors as the result of a massive IT outage. An IT issue resulted in point of sale systems going offline which meant products couldn’t scanned and the all important collection of money couldn’t be done. So, what can we learn from this?

There’s no doubt that Woolworths will be analysing the chain of events and the cost of their systems meltdown. And, as a result, they will add more processes and systems to reduce the risk of this happening again.

All of that is important but this is a good opportunity for all IT leaders to take stock and ask their businesses some important questions.

But there’s one I think is worth focussing on.

Can your business identify the things that, if they failed, would stop them from carrying out their primary business function? In retail, the most critical function is the ability to exchnage goods for money.

Yesterday, that function broke down for Woolworths.

So, today ask your business whether they are prepared for a similar incident. And then practice scenarios around that incident to ensure you’re ready for it.


  • Turns out they had applied an update … during the day?! I worked in IT for 20 years and unless it was absolutely essential, we never applied an update during the day. We also tested it on one computer, then a small site, and when it was confirmed after a couple of days that all was well – we rolled it out everywhere.

    • We were the same. We had a patch Tuesday were changes were made in the evening to ensure minimal disruption. And the changes weren’t allowed unless they’d gone through our test environment and been approved beforehand (usually a week minimum).

      It’s interesting that the digitization of their systems usually makes life easier – tracking stock, accounting, etc can all be combined into one system and streamlined. But it’s events like this one that show the downside, one screwup takes out the whole chain. Got to wonder what the financial cost is going to be?

      Little surprised they don’t have some sort of fallback. I know they can manually type a barcode into the registers if necessary. Surely they could have done that to at least process some transactions? Yeah it’d be super slow and frustrating, but surely better than completely closing the stores?

      It also shows how close to chaos humans are. The stores close for a couple hours and people are milling about wondering where their next meal will come from.

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