Walgreens Prescribes Strong Business Continuity

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Business Continuity

The drug retailing giant uses business continuity to ensure that news, information and instructions reach the right people at the right time during emergencies.

Business continuity is crucial for any company. An interruption in service can undermine customer trust, along with bottom-line results. However, for the largest drug retailing chain in the United States, continuity is literally a life-and-death issue.

"People depend on their medication, and any interruption in serving customers in times of emergency or a natural disaster can have severe consequences," states Richard Dodd, director of business continuity and safety at Walgreens.

However, maintaining continuity across upward of 8,200 stores in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is no small feat. Although Walgreens has an IT disaster recovery strategy and infrastructure in place, the ability to reach store managers and other key employees immediately is critical.

As a result, the company operates a security operation center 24x7 to support stores when anything from a burglary to a natural disaster occurs. It also relies on business continuity firm Fusion Framework and xMatters, a cloud-based enterprise communications platform, to ensure that news, information and instructions reach the right people at the right time.

"In the past, our ability to communicate on a large scale was fairly limited," Dodd recalls. "Our security operations staff would have to stop whatever they were doing in order to communicate with team members, either across the enterprise or in regional or smaller groups."

In addition, the task required staff to manually cull mailing lists and look up phone numbers. The process was slow and prone to errors and glitches.

Sending Messages Through Multiple Channels

Now, with the xMatters software, lists are prepopulated using a direct feed from the company's human resource information system. "We have up-to-date lists with phone numbers and email addresses," Dodd explains. "We can dial into stores or send email or text messages when there's a need to do so. The entire process takes place within seconds."

What's more, the system can send out the same message across multiple channels to ensure that it gets through. "There is considerable level of redundancy built into the technology," he adds. "Wherever a person is [located] and whatever device they are using, they are likely to see the message at the earliest possible moment."

Walgreens recently used the technology to prepare for civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following a grand jury investigation into the death of Michael Brown. Dodd says that the company's intelligence sources reported that some unrest would occur regardless of the Grand Jury decision. It was important to inform store managers and others at 45 locations when the announcement would take place so they could take appropriate steps and reopen stores as quickly as possible.

The company also used the business continuity system to manage operations at more than 600 stores during major snow storms in the Northeast this past winter, as well as during hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather-related events over the last couple of years.

"In business, people are always looking at return on investment and financial metrics," Dodd says, "but for Walgreens, maximizing business continuity is just the right thing to do for our customers. We want to keep people safe and ensure that those who need life-preserving medication can get it without interruption."

This article was originally published on 2015-06-26
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.