Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Ann-Marie Walter-Allen | Business IT resilience: Beyond disaster recovery

Published:Wednesday | April 1, 2020 | 12:20 AMAnn-Marie Walter-Allen - Guest Columnist
Ann-Marie Walter-Allen
Ann-Marie Walter-Allen

Mobile connectivity and social media have created a hungry monster that businesses are trying hard to feed.

Today’s consumers demand an always-on experience, and they want to be served immediately, or else they find an alternative.

It’s no wonder CEOs are consumed with digitally transforming their businesses. Information technology is front and centre for service delivery, and COVID-19 has heightened its importance more than ever before.

Businesses are now looking at possible ways to have their knowledge workers perform their work from home. Many are finding it challenging because their organisation is not digitally transformed. So if your business hasn’t yet ventured on this journey of digital transformation, time has caught up with you.

If you wait any longer, you run the risk of being unable to function in a post-COVID-19 world. But simply digitally transforming your organisation is only one half of the equation.

Let’s look at this more closely. So you have gone to great pains to digitally transform the core systems of your business. You have purchased and successfully integrated all the applications that your IT team has identified that will make your systems work efficiently. As a result, your business processes are running quickly and smoothly. Congratulations!

But are you ready when your system fails? We all know that system failure is not an ‘if’, but rather a ‘when’. To be truly digitally transformed you also have to be IT resilient. That means that even in the face of a system failure, you are able to continue operating.

Normally, top-level executives, or C-suite, would say that their IT team does a backup – that is, creating and storing copies of data so that they can be accessible in case of a system failure. Most companies back up once per day, usually at the end of a workday.

In businesses of yesteryear, this would have been the gold standard. During that period, customers had no expectation of doing business after 5 p.m. Nor were the number of transactions at the level that they are today.

Let’s work through an example. So your IT team backs up at 6 p.m. today. Work starts at 8 a.m. the next day but the system failed at 4 p.m. today. You have now lost almost eight hours of system work as well as information. If your business has a high rate of transactions, this could be in the thousands of transactions.

Even if you are able to restore the system to your previous date – that is, 6 p.m. yesterday – it will take you hours or days to organise and re-enter the data that was lost so that the system can be ready for normal operations.

Let’s look even deeper still. During the time that your IT team is restoring normal operations, your staff, who are dependent on those systems, have essentially been twiddling their thumbs; yet you still have to pay them for that time. How much has that cost the company?

Presumably, if your system is down, your customers are unable to transact business with you, and possibly, and more dangerously, your customers are now upset with your company and have decided to consume someone else’s services. The costs, the real dollar costs, can take on a cascading effect.

The cost of downtime is not only the cost to resume normal operations but you will also realise productivity loss, opportunity cost of lost business, as well as possible damage to the brand. In fact, research has shown that many small businesses never recover after a significant system failure.

So in today’s context of being ‘always on’, recovery is not good enough, because being down is no longer acceptable. Businesses must think in terms of continuity, where your systems and applications that service your critical processes are able to continue operating even when there is a planned or unplanned interruption – that is, upgrades, virus attack, acts of God or plain human error.

This new always-on mode in the global economy has taken root. Customers expect it. Economies are thriving from it. Businesses are quickly transitioning to it. We all have to retool for it.

The takeaway for the day is that in today’s world, business no longer have the luxury of being down.

CEOs have already recognised the importance of business resilience. Now the C-level need to jump in and put in the resources to ensure IT resilience, because it resilience is at the very core of business resilience.

Ann-Marie Walter-Allen is chief marketing officer at Info Exchange Limited.