Daren Howell, expert in availability, recovery & continuity, Sungard Availability Services
A lot can change in ten years. A decade ago, who would’ve predicted that League One strugglers Leicester City would lift the Premier League Trophy, that a Brit would deliver two Wimbledon victories or that the country would come second in the Olympics’ medal table? Just look at the glorious comeback from card collecting game Pokémon, bringing augmented reality into the mainstream with a mobile app that has taken the world by storm.
Unpredictability has underpinned the past decade. Technology – along with both consumer and business responses to IT – has created new trends, expectations and demands.
We now operate in an ‘all-time’ society where customers expect 24/7 access to services. Even in our downtime, we expect uptime: how else do we order a taxi, read the news or plan our next meal? In this non-stop age a two-minute website outage could lead to both a loss of custom and ravaged reputation.
Today’s customers are almost unrecognisable from their mid-noughties counterparts, and in just ten short years, business operations have shifted significantly. Consider some of the biggest changes, and their ramifications so far…
The Mobile Revolution:
2007 marked the launch of the first iPhone. It’s now almost impossible to consider a world without smartphones and tablet devices. Since its launch, and the entry of more and more mobile devices to the market, businesses have become more mobile – whilst others have been conceived along entirely digital lines. The new flexibility this enables can better accommodate employee lifestyles, and, if deployed correctly, gives organisations access to a vast pool of talent. Access to skilled workers who may work in remote or virtual offices from any geography or time zone, and who previously may not otherwise have been viable recruits .
However, while offering great scope for improving business productivity, the mobile revolution has undoubtedly upped the ante in terms of availability. In the past decade the concept of the 9-5 working day has largely been eroded. The need to be ‘always available’ to customers can place employees under a great amount of pressure, if not handled appropriately by their employer. The need to have systems in place to meet consumer, client and staff demands for unfettered access to services and technology that underpins them places CIOs under vast pressure too.
The Cloud Hype:
The noughties witnessed the meteoric rise of cloud computing, creating new business models that transformed how organisations operate. In the same way that we may ‘consume’ TV on demand via Netflix, iPlayer, or other streaming services, businesses now also expect to consume technology on demand. The growth of virtualisation and cloud has also transformed the technology recovery landscape; in the past ten years we have witnessed a huge drop in the number of IT recovery declarations.
The recession of 2008 saw the markets toughen, placing businesses under greater pressure. The cloud was, and to some extent still is, viewed as a silver bullet to deliver cost reductions, improve flexibility, and facilitate scalability. Done correctly we can see the positive impact this has in bolstering the resilience and robustness of IT systems, explaining the downturn in technology based ‘disasters’. And it has been transformative for many organisations, whilst simultaneously giving rise to entirely cloud-based enterprises.
However, as with any hype, businesses must not follow blindly. Over the years our research has found that a lack of skills, and the view that the cloud is a cure for all things, has led to various complexities; 43 per cent of UK businesses found that the complexity of their IT estate has in fact increased since their initial cloud investment. As the cloud continues to impinge on corporate consciousness, organisations must choose the right solution to best suit their outcomes – be that pure cloud or the more commonplace Hybrid IT scenario that many organisations face.
The stakes get higher:
Even a casual glance at news feeds verifies the truth that digital disruption has moved up several gears. It is now the norm to be confronted with technology previously confined to the realm of sci-fi: 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, to name but a few. These developments don’t just aid business intelligence and bespoke consumer interactions, but are underpinning R&D in areas such as climate change and the creation of personalised medicines. This type of technology opens up a whole new level of analytics for organisations, allowing them to spot patterns in customer behaviour almost in real-time.
However, as technology has evolved, so have the threats. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and cyber warfare are getting stronger, and can render businesses unavailable. Cyber attacks and data breaches have risen to head-up the top ten threat list in recent years; now occupying first and second positions respectively. In today’s age, where information is king, these threats can not only harm a business’ bottom line, but also their reputation. And with personal ID theft very much a reality, customers expect a level of cyber vigilance from the organisations they do business with like never before.
We’ve looked at the tech developments that have affected availability, but there have also been other factors beyond anyone’s control that can impact business, people and processes. Over the past ten years there have been a plethora of examples, whether it’s the Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajoekull suspending international flights, the London Olympics creating a greater need for city wide resiliency, or the vagaries of the British weather which still manages to wreak havoc.
Thus, over the past decade, despite many advancements in technology, we have still seen the need for traditional workplace recovery. Weather, rail & roads, natural disasters, access to broadband – any of these factors still possess the power to create upheaval for businesses – and explain why workplace invocations rose 37% between 2014-2015. But with shared and dedicated recovery options, near/far solutions and the rise in remote working as enabled by mobile and virtual technologies, organisations have many means at their disposal to create people recovery solutions that maximise availability and productivity, even when disrution occurs.
The only certainty is uncertainty:
While a lot has changed already, this is just the beginning, with the pace of change only set to accelerate. Moreover, there are various other challenges for businesses to face: whether it’s managing legacy IT towards transition into cloud; having the right infrastructure in place to enable the technologies that will support business outcomes; or ensuring that true resilience, robustness and recoverability lies at the heart of technology and business decision making.
Looking ahead, the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty itself. Whether disruption comes from political, environmental, social or technological origins, businesses leaders can be assured it will come their way! The decision they need to make is to understand where their most likely exposures lie, and use that understanding to build in the solutions that will deliver the non-stop access to their businesses their own customers demand. The people, processes and technologies exist to help them achieve this. Recoverable production environments are not myth, but reality.
The means to weaponise IT to deliver competitive advantage, instead of being dragged down by disruption, is indeed out there. As are the opportunities and advantages an available business can command!