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The Sleepless Nights of Global Operations

The dull vibrating drone stirs me first. It's the middle of the night. It's always the middle of the night.

The race is on to untangle myself from the pillow and the sheets and fumble my phone to silence before its shrill shriek shocks the whole house to a rude awakening.

As I struggle to peel my eyes open, I think "how bad can it be?"

As our operation moves in to new geographies, we find ourselves with brand new problems – the time zones are not kind to our beauty sleep, and now we watch international news through a filter of self-interest.  So, how bad can it be?

The Wheels of Progress

As the Bangalore Metro neared completion excitement rose across the whole region – a mass rapid transport system to complement India’s most modern city.  However, the excitement I felt was different – as one of the Metro stations neared completion an excavator went through one of my data lines.  No worries, I thought, we always build resilient connections – we will struggle by on our back up pipe until it is repaired.

No.  That is not how it happened.

That is the day I discovered that Tata, our telecoms provider, had built our resilient data line parallel to our main line.  As the excavator tore up the earth it was also a victim.  Simultaneously.  For two days we ran with 15% of our operation “in the dark”.  We sorted our resilience once that horror came to light!

Shaky Foundations

We had a challenge to launch a massive new product quickly.  1500 skilled, technical support people were required within 9 months.  That was how we found ourselves in the Philippines for the first (and only!) time.

I clearly remember the pitch talking about Manilla.  The reality turned out a little differently – Lipa City, over an hour south of Manilla and a region with a claim to fame as an earthquake hotspot. Reading up about it I was assured that a major earthquake only hit every 50 years.  Unfortunately, the 50 years was up about 6 months after we opened the site.  All our people were safe but operations were horribly disrupted.

Feeling the Heat on a Cold Day

Boxing Day 2011.  Midnight.  I am full of trifle and port.  The persistent beep of text messages arriving instantly snaps me out of my contented slouch.

“There is a fire in Mumbia – the building has been evacuated.”  Now, normally this wasn’t a problem as Mumbai was less than 10% of my capacity but over the Christmas holidays, late at night, Mumbai was 100% of my capacity.
How bad can it be?  Global communication is always tricky but in the middle of a fire evacuation, in the middle of the night, on a major holiday we had hit a perfect storm.  Within 3 hours I knew everyone was safe, within 5 hours I knew the fire had originated in the floor below ours.  But, it was 8 hours after the original text message before I knew that we would be able to open the next morning.  I never slept.

The Winds of Change

The world was transfixed.  They sat watching with a combination of awe and trepidation as the Arab Spring spread like a virus across the Middle East.  But I couldn’t think about the emancipation, the change of the regime or the bravery of the protesters.  As I sat in a hectic incident room, all I could think about was my damaged fiber deep under Tahrir Square and the police lines that kept back the engineers who could repair it.

Others had for more poignant reasons for change in the Middle East.  But I needed change quickly!  If positive thinking does indeed have an impact then I have no doubt whatsoever that I willed a few minutes from the end of Hosni Mubarak’s reign.

Sleepless Nights

All of these incidents caused me sleepless nights but paled into insignificance on 26th November 2008.
Starting in a new geography is tough, but it is also great fun.  Building great offshore operations takes a huge amount of time and commitment from both the customer and the vendor.  As we build, and tune the operation we also build deep and lasting friendships. 

Watching the TV from the UK as the evening of November 26th developed, I could tell that the terrorists who landed in Mumbai were ruthless and determined.   It quickly became apparent that there was a significant loss of life.  As all communication with India was confused and patchy I had my longest sleepless night thinking about people in faraway places.  I was blessed that no-one I knew was involved but it was a timely reminder that we must remain vigilant in offshore locations.  They are normally really safe, but still, they are a long way from Disneyland.

Dealing with new regions is always interesting and often exciting.  If the vision and strategic direction are strong then you will succeed where you choose to locate.  But you can’t think about your new location like home – whether it is weather, or natural disasters, or time zones – there is a whole additional layer of complexity to keep you busy.  And awake!