Author - Jim
- February 14, 2004
Picture your business today without software applications. It's hard to imagine, isn't it? But maybe you should try and not for the reason you may be thinking. Think about how hard it would be to run your business if your software applications weren't working and then build a plan to provide total application availability.
There Business Today without Technology?
Software technology has become embedded in the almost every aspect of business
today. Whether your business is being conducted purely electronically, like
an online store, or along more traditional lines, like a transportation company,
somewhere in your current processes there are probably crucial software components
keeping the business operating effectively and in control. Although some may
argue whether the business world has gained the required amount of productivity
and benefit from application systems, few companies today could operate effectively
without these systems.
Failure For Want of a Nail
Beneath the software applications lies a complex series of technology layers
that must be working together in order for businesses to effectively use their
software applications. In a very simplified case, there are application and
operating system software components, client and server hardware, communications
channels and a plethora of supporting devices and peripherals all working together
to provide the end solution to the business. And this doesn't address the application
servers, integration software, security, and numerous other things that must
be working properly in order to keep everything in working order. When you think
about the complexity, it is amazing that systems are available as much as they
So what is considered "system failure"? One definition that we could adopt it that system failure means that the business in not being supported by the technology as intended. System failure isn't always as cataclysmic as it sounds. As the old adage "for want of a nail, the ship was lost" suggests, a very simple problem can have big consequences. Consider a modern shipping and transportation company. If the shipping and regulatory documentation can't be printed because of a bad scanning device or a broken label printer, the shipment can be delayed. And with the increasing reliance of today's business on uninterrupted supply chains, that one delayed shipment can have far reaching impact.
Total System Availability
On the flip side, "Total System Availability" means that the business will be supported, no matter what. Down to the weakest link, the system will be available to support the business. To accomplish this level of availability might include implementing restorable networks, redundant machines, data restore capabilities, and even field replacement of peripheral devices. Every potential interruption must be covered with a back up plan.
You may instantly be thinking about catastrophic events like terrorism, earthquakes or floods. But the disruption to the business does not need to be catastrophic to be significant. A power outage, a problem with the network, a dropped printer, or even a lost handheld device may be the difference between supporting the business or not.
I'm Scared - How Much Insurance do I Need?
Now that the hard sell is over, do you really need total availability? Total
availability may be a misnomer. There is no feasible way to prevent every potential
problem. The responsible approach is to carefully weigh the business risks of
unavailability (lost productivity, lost revenue, damaged customer relationships,
regulatory issues, etc.) with the cost of providing increasing levels of availability.
Let's explore an example where total availability is warranted. Consider an online brokerage firm. If no transactions can be processed, then no transaction fees or commissions can be generated. Because the system is down, the business is down. No revenue is flowing in, and there may even be penalties for unavailability. If you are not available for the transaction the customer wants, when he wants it, he will likely go elsewhere - maybe just once, or maybe for good. The investment in total availability for this company must recognize the significant risk of a break in service.
Also, not all business functions and their associated technologies should be treated the same way. If the same brokerage firm were to lose availability of its word processing functions for a period of time, the loss of productivity might be acceptable. If not to the person that needs to get a letter out right away, then surely to the business as a whole.
Define the level of "Total Availability" you need and what you're willing to pay for it. Carefully examine potential areas for failure and weigh the risk of the failure against the cost. Define the areas that need "total availability" and those that need "appropriate availability" based on business needs.
Be sure to address the seemingly small failures that can have big impacts. Not all system failures are catastrophic events.
Partner with someone that understands. Examples of companies providing services for enhanced availability are IBM, DecisionOne, and HP. Find a partner that can help you develop and implement a plan that meets your specific needs.
you run your business without software? If not, then develop a plan for total
system availability, or at the minimum, appropriate system availability. Evaluate
the critical areas of your business and determine where loss of application
support will hurt the business, and then ensure that you have applied the appropriate
level of prevention and recovery down to the weakest link. For want of a nail
Brown has over 15 years of experience in management consulting and
application software focused on the manufacturing industries. Jim
is a recognized expert in software solutions for manufacturing and has broad
knowledge of applying enterprise applications such as Product Lifecycle Management,
Supply Chain Management and ERP to improve business performance. Jim
served in executive roles for software companies specializing in manufacturing
solutions before starting his consulting firm, Tech-Clarity Associates.
can be reached at email@example.com.