Procurement 23 June 2017

How to prevent IT downtime affecting your micro business

IT downtime
Having a plan to protect against possible IT failure should be standard

When was the last time you considered what you would do if your company’s IT systems crashed? Here, chief technology officer at Air IT, Sam Reed, tells readers why its important to prepare for IT downtime.

Do you know how IT downtime would affect your business and how quickly you could get back up and running again?

Given how reliant we all are on technology, having a clear plan in place to protect against possible IT downtime should be a standard part of running any business.

IT failure can harm your reputation and lead to significant revenue losses. Already in 2017, we’ve witnessed the widespread effects IT failures can have when the NHS and British Airways (BA) computer systems were brought down. As a result, BA is expected to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to customers.

Common causes of IT downtime

The BA incident was reportedly caused by an engineer accidentally disconnecting a power supply at a data centre and then reconnecting it without following proper protocol. In a statement issued shortly after the incident, BA’s chief executive Álex Cruz said this resulted in an exceptionally strong power surge that rendered their back up system ineffective.

Human error and power outages are both common causes of computer downtime. Poorly managed network changes, so-called “acts of god” such as floods and fires, and failure to replace outdated infrastructure also commonly cause problems.

Then of course there are cyber-attacks, like the Ransomware attack which locked NHS staff out of their computers, as hackers demanded payment to let them back in.

Protecting your small business from IT downtime

Luckily, there are a number of protective measures owners can take to prevent a business falling victim to IT downtime. Even if the cost of protecting your business seems expensive, it is worth it if you consider the losses you’d experience without a functioning IT system.

According to the latest research, 77 per cent of businesses experienced IT downtime in the year to March 2016, and 46 per cent suffered a negative financial impact after four hours without internet connectivity. A recovery time calculator tool could help you work out what IT downtime would cost you.

Legislative penalties can also add to your costs. Companies which don’t comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is coming into effect in May 2018, will face strict penalties.

The law will require any companies (except those in the US) that collect the personal data of EU residents to have a disaster recovery plan in place and ensure they test it regularly.

If you do experience problems, a disaster recovery plan is essential for helping you get back up and running quickly. The plan should cover all aspects of your network, from your hardware and software to your data and connectivity. It should be accompanied by a well thought out business continuity plan to make sure your most crucial functions are protected.

Fundamental to any disaster recovery plan is ensuring your system is backed up using solutions like cloud storage, which is becoming increasingly popular. You should get into the habit of testing your backup to make sure it works, in the same way you would carry out a fire drill to make sure your evacuation procedures work.

In the wake of the NHS incident, the National Centre for Cyber Security issued a statement saying: “Most importantly for ransomware, backup the data that matters to you, because you can’t be held to ransom for data you hold somewhere else.”

One of the best things you can do to protect your business from IT downtime in the first place, is to invest in technology to identify and stop any problems before they happen.

Use anti-virus and anti-spam software to help prevent cyber-attacks. Using a series of innovative 24/7 monitoring tools can also allow you to act early to mitigate or prevent any issues, if vulnerabilities are spotted.

This includes tools for tasks such as systems monitoring, end user monitoring, application performance monitoring (APM), error detection and log analytics.

Automating tasks like updates to software and security and even your compliance verification and reporting can also help. One of the reasons companies fail to stay protected is their reliance on humans taking action.

If you think your business could be at risk from a period of IT downtime, then taking the steps outlined here should help you get some crucial protective measures in place.

Sam Reed is chief technology officer at Air IT.

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