Withstanding shocks to your IT infrastructure
From accounting to inventory, manufacturing control systems to contactless point-of-sale, businesses today are entirely dependent on IT. Even a short-duration systems failure can cause significant damage, and long outages may threaten a company’s existence.
‘Resilience’ defines the ability of an IT system to withstand shocks. For example, what happens if your network fails, or your data centre floods, or ransomware encrypts a core database, or the fuse blows on a critical router?
Technical challenges can be solved with technical solutions. Companies can reveal and remedy weaknesses by using sophisticated analysis, management and monitoring tools, and deploying robust backup and recovery procedures to cover almost every scenario.
But for even the most comprehensively resilient IT infrastructure, human factors play the dominant role, both in the cause and resolution of issues.
Human factors in IT resilience
Human causes of IT disruption include employees’ and hackers’ behaviour. While hard to predict and difficult to defend against, the consequences of human actions are essentially technical issues with a non-technical root cause, and a well-organised IT team will have systems, plans and responses ready for action.
Whether the IT impacts are caused by people, hardware or software, let’s assume you have – as far as is commercially acceptable – laid successful plans for operational resilience.
Except when an issue arises, what happens if the IT team is not there? What happens if key players are ill, have left the company, or are on holiday with no cover?
Particularly for companies with lean IT departments, the structural human-factors risk is compounded by the compartmental nature of skills. If your database expert is away, does anyone else in IT possess the relevant knowledge, familiarity and expertise?
Structural human resources challenges may be easily the weakest link in your IT resilience chain. For businesses facing constant cost pressures, funding gold-plated IT team resilience by doubling-up on roles, training, and resources is not an option. To increase human-factors IT resilience, how do you add resources cost-effectively?
Managed services and IT resilience
In essence, the aim is to increase resources and capabilities when you need them without increasing general overheads. You might think of this as ‘people backup,’ creating strength-in-depth that supports your lean operational team.
Many companies rely on specialist providers for IT support, from network monitoring and management to complete IT delivery, service and maintenance. Generally these are seen as outsourced IT contracts, which can provide very good value to larger organisations in particular.
IT service companies retain a very large pool of skilled resources that are shared cost-effectively across the members of the club. If a customer suffers an IT issue, the service provider can call on strength-in-depth at short notice, bringing skills and experience from multiple environments and scenarios.
Day-to-day operational experience helps the customer company and the service provider to develop a close working relationship that can be invaluable when it comes to IT resilience. A large pool of consultants that already know your systems can step in at short notice, and step away when the issues have been resolved.
While you may know your weak spots instinctively, a planned approach will probably deliver greater benefits.
At Northdoor, we follow a simple methodology that uncovers resilience issues, from hardware through software to people, processes and security. There are almost certainly technical areas that we can deliver cost-effectively, and the operational knowledge we gain will help us to help you improve IT cost-efficiency, raise performance, and enhance resilience in every dimension.
The impact of IT outages is often stated as “80% of businesses affected by a major IT incident close within 18 months”. Even if the stat is only half-right, resilience should be at the top of every IT manager’s agenda.