5 Tips: How to drop IT downtime and boost productivity

By Mike Ross

June 4, 2018

For every 20 staff, your business loses one full-time employee worth of productivity to IT downtime every year. *jaws drop* Could you please pick that up off the floor? It’s an OHS issue. Besides, soon you’ll have solutions to some of the leading factors that are stealing productivity from your business.

Businesses use technology to supercharge their productivity; to get more done in less time.

In fact, you – in this very moment – are no different.

Right now, you’re reading this article to learn something new, then get on with your day. You can do this because you’re connected to the internet, and the internet likely pushed this article to you from one of many social networks.

20 years ago, you would need to find someone with the right knowledge in your local area, plan a catch-up and hold a conversation. 100 years ago, you would probably send a pigeon and hope for the best.

Not really, but you get what I mean.

Thanks to technology, you can take less time to get smarter, then use all that extra time and smarts on more interesting and valuable things – and it’s no different for your business.

So with this in mind, what’s the impact of technology failure? The answer is simple.

When technology goes down, so does productivity

But not all hope is lost. The good news is that there are safeguards you can put in place to mitigate the risks of IT downtime.

1. Implement Change Management

Change Management exists as recognition of the fact that as humans, we are imperfect. It’s somewhat lofty goal is to protect our business’ from an inevitable human error that – in an IT context – can tear your business to the ground in seconds.

This is because your business’ IT systems are really complex and with this complexity come reasonable odds that something will go wrong. Remember, there’s only one successful outcome and all other outcomes point to failure. For example:

  1. The change is implemented poorly and stuff breaks.
  2. The change is implemented perfectly, but it unexpectedly affects some other random thing and stuff breaks.
  3. The change is implemented perfectly, but it’s not the change you wanted.
  4. The change is implemented perfectly, it’s the change you wanted but not the change you actually needed.

The complexity of IT has meant that, until recent years, auditing every miniscule change has been somewhat difficult. More recently however, tools have been built that autonomously track and audit change.  With this in mind, there should always be a Change Management system in place, no matter if your business has an in-house or outsourced IT function (with a Managed IT Service provider).

Change Management works because it shows who made what change when and – by the method of reduction – what should be reverted to fix a problem caused by change.

2. Get Better IT Security

IT security is in the spotlight at the moment and with good reason – the threat is mounting. Any security breach will cause your business significant pain and downtime. From DDoS attacks that will shut down your network to Cryptolockers that will render your files unusable.

There’s a lot of depth and nuance to IT security – it’s a whole field of expertise on its own – and while there’s nothing you can do to stop intruders from attempting to compromise your business, there are measures you can put in place to make it really hard for them. Simply speaking, think of these measures as follows.

Front-line Defences

These are the barriers you put in place to prevent an intruder from getting into your network. These include things like:

  1. Staff Education (really important!)
  2. Firewalls
  3. Web filters
  4. Anti-Virus software
  5. Anti-Spam software

Note: Next-Gen Firewalls are not just firewalls, but also include Web Filtering, Anti-Spam and Anti-Virus. For more on Front-line Defences, check out our article “4 IT security threats you can fix for your business now“.

Trench Defences

These measures are those you put in place to minimise the damage an intruder can do if they make it through your front line.

The most valuable Trench Defence is the way that your files and user permissions are structured. This is because intruders often gain access to networks with existing user accounts.

If your business has a loose permission structure where everyone has access to everything, the damage an intruder can do is enormous. If your business has a tightly designed permission structure – where access is granted on an as-needed basis (usually in accordance with role seniority or responsibility) – the potential for damage is lessened significantly. This is because the laws of probability are on your side; if an intruder gains access to your business, they are more likely to do so with a lower-level user account, since there are more of them.

3. Plan for Failure

Yor IT systems are made up of countless components and the complexity of your IT (that we mentioned above) is a result of the fact that these components are heavily interconnected and reliant on one another. This means that your business’ IT is only as resilient as the weakest point; so when one component fails, the others are often rendered useless.

We call these vulnerable components “single points of failure” (SPOF). When our engineers design new IT infrastructure they look out for them and put mechanisms in place to take that SPOF status away and bolster the infrastructure as a whole.

First of all, warranties are great and you should absolutely have them for everything. But warranties don’t help at the moment your primary server drops off the face of the earth, taking staff productivity with it. The best way to mitigate the SPOF risk is to purchase secondary components that spring into action when a failure occurs. In engineering-speak, this is called “redundancy“.

But the problem here is obvious. Like any insurance policy, the greater the coverage, the greater the cost. The unfavourable economics of redundancy is one of the great advantages of migrating to the cloud (hint: it’s cheaper). But for businesses with more traditional infrastructure, the answer lies in balancing two factors:

  1. Make investments that are appropriate for the size of your organisation and the sensitivity of your data (your budget and risk profile).
  2. Understand the cost of IT downtime to your business so you know how much to invest in redundancy (build a business case).

4. Plan for Power Outages

The technology systems that operate your business uses electricity. Unfortunately for you, this would be fine except for the three certainties in life; death, taxes and power outages (unless you’re in South Australia and Tesla has your back, but I digress).

When the power shuts down, so does your workplace productivity, but something equally as insidious occurs too. Imagine what might happen to a giant truck if it slammed the breaks as it’s hurtling down the highway at 110km/h. The tyres shred, the brake discs melt, the gears fry and if the driver is lucky, they can keep the 18-wheeled beast on the road and away from surrounding motorists.

It might sound dramatic, but similar events can occur to your IT systems when the plug is pulled. What does this mean for you? Well, in a best-case scenario you need to replace a couple of components. The worst case is that you lose all your data.

To overcome this risk, businesses install Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) devices – smart batteries that turn on when the power goes out. But simply having a UPS doesn’t always mean you’re protected.  The more infrastructure you have, the bigger your UPS needs to be. The bigger your UPS, the more capacity it will have to keep the power on. Think you’re protected yet? Think again. Your UPS must also be configured to automatically and gracefully shut down your systems; protecting both the physical components and your precious files.

5. Get Another Internet Connection

One of the most common single points of failure (SPOF) is your internet connection. We’ve all experienced an internet connection failure before, it’s frustrating at the best of times and catastrophic in all others – particularly if you use the internet to connect two or more sites together.

With this in mind, there are two things you must have in place:

  1. SLAs with your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
  2. A second (or third!) internet connection.

SLAs keep your ISP honest and hold them to account so they fix your outage quickly. But SLAs are like warranties in that they’re both absolutely necessary and absolutely useless at the moment your connection drops.

Low and behold, here we are discussing redundancy again (picking up on a theme here?). This is why it’s critical to have more than one internet connection – each with a different ISP, of course.

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