How Thomas Cook Kept Their Shutdown Quiet

Thomas Cook’s unexpected shutdown has initiated yet another corporate earthquake, due to the disruption of technology. It’s not uncommon to see major players suddenly vanish within the world of business.

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Blockbuster, a leading provider of at-home entertainment, lost stores across the United States in years gone by, with its popularity replaced by that of Netflix. Between these losses however, which effect thousands of loyal employees, we’re left wondering ‘How on earth did they keep it a secret for so long?!’.

To help you better understand how Thomas Cook kept their shutdown quiet, Michael Muchmore, Lead Software Analyst at GuruSquad, shares his professional insight with CEO Today.

A major issue companies face in the wake of closure is both who and how many people in senior management are aware of this imminent development. In every instance, there will be IT professionals who are aware that operations will seize. This can go undetected but regardless, when a company of Thomas cook’s magnitude closes its doors, they have responsibilities from compliance through to liquidation. Keeping their news quiet may be crucial, but this privacy must not come at a detriment to the rights of their employees or customers. All of the procedures enacted by Thomas Cook must have adhered with relevant regulations, paying due diligence to the handling of their data whilst their customers remained none the wiser and beyond.

With offices across Europe, if not the world, Thomas Cook’s data is spread out, although most of their critical files will be centralised in one of their several data centres. However, even when localised, the process of keeping critical corporate data safe is becoming an increasingly difficult task. In the case of Thomas Cook predominantly, the news of their closure means that thousands of employees will lose their jobs. As such, one of their most significant causes of concern with regards to keeping this news quiet would have been the actions of their employees. Quite concerningly, employees take or send sensitive information outside of a company with alarming frequency, especially when they feel they have a personal stake in recent events. Whilst not always malicious or intentional, these actions can cause irreparable damage to a company’s brand or their plans for a quiet, respectful shutdown. Meanwhile, with data growing exponentially larger companies may not even realise that data has been sent or taken outside of the company. For Thomas Cook, this revelation could have initiated a negative, time consuming media backlash.

To eliminate this risk, Thomas Cook would have been required to replicate all, or at least most, of their data from regional offices, sending these copies back to their data centres where information is carefully guarded and kept in sync. Meanwhile, private documents regarding the closure would have resided in these data centres, with access restricted to key stakeholders.

Essentially, the vital information surrounding Thomas Cook’s closure would have been kept succinct and confidential. These documents would have been created, modified and replicated in core data centres, with access being limited. By replicating important files, Thomas Cook were able to ensure that nothing critical to the business’ proceedings or clients could have been lost; taking responsibility for the data they’d collected, this procedure would have demonstrated their efforts to remain organised. Similarly, replicating data would have helped to prevent word of the shutdown from spreading… instead of transferring documents, which may have sparked intrigue among employees, silently replicating files would have allowed those who knew of the company’s closure to access critical files without raising any alarm.

The need for data replication during difficult periods can be traced back to the tragic events of 9/11. Every business in the Twin Towers experienced a serious disruption to operations. However, 95% of the businesses that were able to bounce back and recover, with some achieving this in less than three weeks, were those who had some form of continuous data replication to another location. Thomas Cook will have most likely replicated their data as a safety precaution, whilst they attempted to secure crucial funding from investors. These efforts were obviously unsuccessful, although these protocols continued to fulfil their aforementioned purpose of maintaining privacy.

Replicating and transferring data back to Thomas Cook’s core data centres would have been a magnanimous, time-consuming task. As a result, it’s likely they invested in software that helped to do this remotely. If specific employees were to spend all of their working hours on undisclosed tasks, this certainly would have made fellow employees curious. For example, we developed GS RichCopy 360 to enhance data migration, file backup, file modification and disaster recovery efforts, making these processes much more efficient and successful. Thomas Cook would have been able to remotely send documents to certain centres, being notified of their arrival and any modifications that have been made in real-time. Instead of having to chase for updates and sensitive information, those with access could locate these files at the click of a button, whilst being sent automatic notifications if important information had been changed by any employee. Monitoring during this period would have been pivotal to overseeing a cohesive and efficient closure, something few businesses of this size could achieve without technological assistance.

To keep their announcement quiet, it’s also likely that Thomas Cook would have encrypted their data during transit. This engages major security measures as information crosses potentially untrusted areas, better securing their own information in addition to that of their clients.

As Thomas Cook quietly planned for their saddening closure, those aware of this end would have replicated vital information, transferred all relevant documents back to core data centres securely, encrypted private information and limited the number of employees who were aware of this news. In doing so, they lessened the risk of this information being leaked to the press, as they inevitably hoped to make a polite and compassionate announcement; once the details of this development had been finalised and all necessary arrangements had been made.

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