If you happen to be up in the middle of the night, and you decide to pay your bills or check your bank balance, chances are you have run into a snag. You may receive a message stating that your banking services are not available because of backup or scheduled maintenance activity. Every night, the bank backs up all of its data from the day, so that nothing will be lost. And every so often, on a scheduled basis, it performs IT maintenance and housekeeping tasks on its systems, so that it does not experience downtime.
All of this mainly occurs automatically with no need for human hands on the activity. And, except for very unusual circumstances, the companies do not experience downtime during most common customer usage times. With certain exceptions though.
The Downtime and Its Cost for Businesses
Downtime can be defined as any stoppage in operations that is unplanned. It can be the result of many things, including poor maintenance. Planned downtime, such as that of the bank example above, is known as proactive IT maintenance and does not fall into this downtime meaning, because it is scheduled and controlled.
How much does unplanned downtime cost? First, the cost can be a loss in production time, delays in order fulfillment, and even overtime for employees. In dollars, there are estimates that downtime may cost collective billions among enterprises every year and between $301,000 and $400,000 for every hour that an IT system is down.
After an IT failure in 2017, thousands for British Airways passengers were affected. The company’s CEO further estimated that this downtime has cost company £80 million ($102.88 million) in direct losses. Such outrages also cast a negative effect on your brand reputation and customer loyalty, further trimming your potential profits.
Given this liability, it only makes sense to determine how to reduce downtime and then put measures in place that will accomplish that reduction. It doesn’t matter whether your business is product or service-related. You have an IT infrastructure in place – hardware and software – that performs many of the operational functions of your company. All of your systems run with the help of technical support from an IT department. And there may even be 24/7 IT infrastructure monitoring in place. But if that department is reactive rather than proactive, then “breakdowns” will still result in unplanned downtime.
The solution, of course, is for companies to adopt a proactive IT maintenance function – one that is built into their overall IT operations and that will serve to reduce unexpected downtimes. Here are five ways to do just that.
1. Send Your IT Operations to the Cloud
The obvious benefit in terms of IT maintenance is that you no longer have to rely on on-premises hardware. While you certainly want to maintain some of your data centers, when critical operations are housed in a cloud server, such as AWS, then some of your downtime risks are reduced. And you still have security and 24/7 IT support, especially since all of your functions can be accessed from any device by authorized remote support members. You also retain round-the-clock access to your software and data – that’s how cloud infrastructure works.
You can also set up automatic maintenance functions and alerts when something is amiss. Your only decision really is whether you want a dedicated, a public, or a shared cloud server. Part of this decision, of course, will be the need to stay on budget. An expert support team can help you line up the best “candidates” for migration to the cloud to unlock the most benefits and cost-savings.
2. Set a Regular Schedule of Maintenance – Patch, Update, and Upgrade
If you have developed your own software for your operations, then your IT department “knows the drill.” There are always “holes” that can make that software vulnerable to hackers or bugs that are discovered after that software is in operation.
And, if you are using purchased software, then the same issues can apply. Developers of that purchased software are continually adding patches to reduce vulnerability, providing updates to a current version, or offering upgrades to a new version. They do these things on a regular basis. And except for a new upgrade, the patches and updates are based on either regularly scheduled maintenance or the reporting of an issue by a user. Microsoft, for example, has a Patch Tuesday every other month. Updates and patches are usually automatically delivered, or, at the very least, you are alerted to download them.
If you set up a regular schedule of maintenance on your proprietary software, you can ensure that any issues that have been reported since the last maintenance date are fixed and that you are addressing new vulnerabilities that you have learned of and can “patch” any holes that may leave you vulnerable.
Any schedule of maintenance must have flexibility, however. If anyone in the organization reports a serious issue that is impacting performance or productivity, then that issue must be addressed and not put off until the next scheduled date.
3. Conduct a Risk Audit
This is another factor in taking a proactive approach to reducing downtime. In fact, it is one of the most effective measures you can take.
Basically, a risk audit looks into the future and predicts obsolescence of both hardware and software, identifying at what points they will probably result in productivity and performance issues, including unplanned downtime.
A regular replacement/upgrade schedule, based on the risk audit, will keep your IT infrastructure up-to-date and can be built into a budget, avoiding unplanned expenditures. A good analogy is the types of replacements and upgrades that can be planned for a house. Roofs last about 20 years; major appliances perhaps 15; mattresses about 8 years, and so on. The same applies to software/hardware.
4. Train and Listen to Your Employees
The biggest part of training employees relative to downtime reduction is to drive home the importance of reporting any issue they may have with your IT functions, no matter how small it seems. For example, if someone in the customer department is experiencing a slowdown in load time of customer history, it can be a problem with the software, that individual PC, or a potential breach. These must be reported as soon as they are experienced.
The other aspect of this is ensuring that tech support is always available and that someone will listen when issues are reported and then respond to them quickly, no matter how small they may seem at the time. Creating a designated team in-house may be troublesome though as it means additional workload on your IT staff. So consider the benefits of switching to a managed IT support provider.
5. Partner with an Outsource Technical Support Partner
You may have a range of vendors, and you may not have the IT staff to develop the stages of intimate knowledge required for maintenance and troubleshooting all the issues. Instead of working on your core business goals, your staff will be “siloed” with day-to-day maintenance chores, slowing down your pace for product development.
Outsourcing technical support to an experienced service provider means that your teams no longer need to deal with system orchestration, and can focus on innovations instead. You, in turn, have greater peace of mind, knowing that your infrastructure is monitored 24/7/365, and no issue will fly under the radar. While this comes with a price tag, you have to weight that against the impact of downtime on your bottom line.
Reducing downtime should be a goal of any organization. There are many reasons for unplanned downtime but neither of them should come as a result of failed maintenance schedule and forgotten updates to your IT infrastructure.
Originally published here.