Posts Tagged ‘Service Interruption’

Communicating Status Updates

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015
Good Communications Practice

Good Communications Practice

One of the most challenging aspects of managing your operations through a service disruption is communicating status updates to all of your stakeholders. You need to first identify the key stakeholders who will require timely updates from you. These may include employees, the families of employees, customers, service providers, suppliers, board members and other advisers. Then you need to have a plan in place ready to execute with little or no warning when something unexpected interferes with your normal operations.

I came across a great example of this when I went to the online database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I wanted to check the status of a trademark application my company had filed (three trademarks have already been registered to Prisere LLC!) but was unable to do as the USPTO computer systems were down. The website of the USPTO had a message announcing that a major power outage at its headquarters had occurred the day before, resulting in damaged equipment that required the subsequent shutdown of many of USPTO’s online and IT systems. These systems included the filing, searching and payment systems, as well as systems the patent and trademark examiners use across the country. At the same time, the USPTO was unable to receive documents by fax.

The website announcement was regularly updated to advise site visitors as to the status of the work underway to restore systems availability. It also advised of the measures the USPTO had implemented to ensure that all applicants were treated fairly and not disadvantaged for the fact that the systems were down. Specifically, the USPTO would consider every day that the system was down as a “federal holiday within the District of Columbia” such that these days would not count as business days towards which applicants had to meet deadlines.

I expect that within a few days of publishing this blog, normal operations will be restored, such that a link to the announcement will no longer be available, so I captured it as a screen shot to accompany this post. This is a great example of good communications practice. Service disruptions are aggravating for everyone: undoubtedly for the IT department of the USPTO that was working around the clock to resume regular operations and for the patent and trademark examiners who could not perform their jobs until IT access was restored. In addition, the individuals and businesses checking on the status of their filings would likely be concerned that their applications were at a disadvantage for the days that the system was not operational. I was particularly impressed by the creative way that they treated the days of service interruption as federal holidays. It is a much better approach than to waste time and effort trying to address each individual applicant whose filing deadlines occur within the time that the IT systems were down. And every applicant received the same treatment, ensuring transparency and fairness.

The USPTO proactively anticipated these issues and addressed them, minimizing stress for all concerned (although it was surely very stressful for the IT department!). They managed expectations by being clear and straightforward about what had happened and why and what was being done to correct the problem. I wanted to share this as I find it to be a great example of good communications practice during a disaster – in this case, a power outage causing an interruption of normal operations. Kudos to the USPTO for their skilled management of a difficult situation!