Last Saturday I found myself watching a film called 'Stealth', which for those fortunate enough not to have seen it, is about a next generation fighter jet developing a mind of its own and trying to destroy the world. It's definitely not a classic.
I share this with you for two reasons; firstly so you can avoid the same mistake of watching it, and secondly because, as my mind wondered, it did get me reflecting on our growing reliance on technology and the more realistic repercussions when things go wrong.
Sectors such as finance, media and healthcare have become increasingly reliant on technology to the point where any downtime would have a catastrophic impact on their operations.
A client of ours in the finance sector told me recently that if his trading floor suffered any IT failure, he calculated the cost to be £100k a minute. And what would the total cost have been if the lights hadn't come back on during last years' Superbowl, where each 30 second advert nets broadcasters $3 million? On a much more serious note, the impact on a hospital if the technology fails is unthinkable, with the potential to adversely affect so many patients and staff.
Then there's reputational damage to consider. Back in March of this year, Microsoft's Outlook webmail service went offline for 16 hours, apparently due to an overheating data centre. Customers are unforgiving when events like this occur, and rightfully so, so doing everything possible to avoid these incidents is a worthwhile and vital investment
For these companies and many others like them, technology is the vital organ that allows the rest of the business to function. If it dies, the business dies too. More and more of our clients have centralised the hardware that runs their business. They've gone from having an IT server located in every office to having one, or at most a handful of IT hubs supporting their entire operations. It's why we established our MITIE's Resilience business, because a level of expertise is needed above and beyond the usual engineering service to work successfully in such a critical environment.
So if your business is reliant on its technology infrastructure, what are the things you should consider and the measures you should put in place?
The first consideration should be regarding your people. According to the Uptime Institute, a global data centre authority, 70% of reported data centre outages are directly attributed to human error. Do you have the right people with the right skills in place to keep your technology up and running and to react quickly when an incident occurs? You need to ensure your people have gone through rigorous training and have experience in critical environments. No technology or process will be effective if the right people are not in place.
The second consideration is management systems and processes. Our mantra is profile, mitigate and manage. Profile the risks, mitigate against them, and manage the process. Profiling the risk is about understanding the importance of every piece of equipment, where the weak points are and where failures could occur. You can then mitigate against this by removing single points of failure, ensuring you aren't overloading at any point, and having critical spares ready to go when failures do occur, to name just a few.
However, there is always a balance to be struck between risk vs. cost, so the risk of an incident will never be totally eradicated. That's why managing the environment remains an on-going process and you need the right people and procedures in place to do this.
The third consideration is engineering. By this I mean the electrical and mechanical systems that power and cool the critical environment. These systems need to be well designed, maintainable, and flexible to the future requirements of the business. Ensuring every component is kept in optimum condition and replaced before it fails is key to avoiding any incidents of downtime.
It was always inevitable that as technology improved, our reliance on it would increase, and we have reached a point where technology is no longer just an aid; it's a vital organ for many organisations. As with any vital organ it's important to do what we can to keep it incident free, because the knock-on effect when things go wrong can spell disaster for everything relying on it.
Pete Mosley is Managing Director of MITIE Technical Facilities Management