While it might sound counter-intuitive, there is a perception that technology often works best when compromises are made. Users might have to put up with an irritating side-effect but do so knowing that the overriding advantage brings many benefits. Planned downtime is a great example of this where a system might be unavailable during an upgrade but offers more advanced features once completed.
This planned or scheduled downtime is a reality that customers endure every so often. They do so because online banking, for example, remains far more convenient than going into a branch, even if the website disappears every so often for routine maintenance or the mobile app is inaccessible as new functionality is introduced.
However, times are changing with consumer expecting better round-the-clock availability from their service providers. The compromises people are prepared to make for helpful or exciting innovations begin to disappear as they want more and will accept less inconvenience and delay in getting it.
This translates to changes required in service delivery. The digital world has seen consumers become increasingly impatient about downtime. If availability is not instant, they are likely to move to a competitor. Brand loyalty has become an antiquated concept when competition is so rife in every sector.
It means that something businesses had always considered routine is suddenly a big issue for consumers. While planned downtime was once an acceptable excuse for a lack of service or at the very least a necessary evil, decision-makers are soon going to have to turn to new backup and support innovations to ensure that the promise of ‘always on’ means exactly that.
Every so often you will come across an article or social media furore about a local bank that is performing routine maintenance with customers unable to access any of its online services. Granted, this is hardly unique as all banks and consumer-dependent businesses with a substantial digital presence perform ‘scheduled maintenance’ from time to time. The difference now is that people are less forgiving of the more egregious examples of it.
For businesses, the thinking behind planned downtime sounds reasonable. A bit of disruption for a greater good. Better online services for all. However, from the consumer’s perspective it is about losing access to a vital service they want to use at a specific moment in time. Suddenly, planned downtime does not look like quite such a reasonable prospect.
Even when the eventual aim of it is to safeguard consumer finances, it is hard to escape the feeling that the average customer has a hard deal in not being able to do so much as check their bank balance, pay an electricity bill or access essential services for any length of time. And it is increasingly arguable that businesses who plan downtime should spend more time looking for ways to keep a viable minimum number of their services open.
Keeping essential services running
Planned downtime is not just applicable to the business or financial communities. Any industry, sector or organisation that provides a service that may be deemed ‘essential’ has to start thinking about how technologies can ensure their customers are able to access everything they need to – especially when it is as simple as isolating one server for backup or maintenance, so that another can keep things going.
Just think of the public sector. When the Gauteng Department of Education launched a new online admission process last year for Grade 1 and Grade 8 learner school applications, the resultant downtime quickly led to a lack of faith in the provision of online services. This is likely to negatively impact any future online endeavours run by the Department or government.
To counteract this, any organisation, be it in the private or public sector can use emerging solutions that allow vital work to take place in the shortest time possible, to minimise inconvenience to customers. For example, using backup data to sandbox a particular production scenario. This has the dual benefit of keeping vital systems online for longer, and producing more accurate results than a standard, one-application sandbox that would not account the intricacies of an actual live IT network.
This kind of approach to maintenance brings downtime in line with consumer expectations, in that unless disaster strikes there will not be any. But it still ensures that systems are well-kept and fully up-to-date.
As recently as five years ago, people would accept or understand unplanned downtime as part of the digital experience. Innovators were trying to do interesting things to make everybody’s lives easier. And if that meant a little disruption every now and then, so be it.
But gradually expectations change. Better tech generally breeds more impatience and less willingness to wait for a service. Scheduled downtime starts to make headlines. And, eventually, it becomes an issue which is worth switching providers to avoid.
For businesses, the consumer desire for better and more consistent service has big implications. First among which is a new meaning for availability that does not include the phrase ‘planned downtime’. However, it is going to need business and public sector leaders to adopt a new evolution in technology to make it a reality.
By Claude Schuck, regional manager for Africa at Veeam