Monday, 23 January 2012

Availability Management: Get rid of the 'nines' and bring in the $$$s.

Availability management is at the core of customer satisfaction.  Without availability, no service is delivered and there is no service revenue.  However, due to the continuous changes in patterns of service consumption, the bottom-line business impact of service downtime ('unavailability' is not a word) will vary from one instance to the next, according to the volume of demand that has not been met, and the value of that demand - after all, not all customers are equal.

IT organizations need to define how service availability translates into revenue.  Availability has become a critical business metric that IT can use to improve service provision and drive increased revenue, particularly for ‘clicks-and-mortar’ e-commerce organizations where downtime equals lots of lost revenue.  Although availability management isn’t the most glamorous corner of IT, from the user perspective it is a key influence on customer satisfaction and thus business success.  If a service is not available, revenue will be lost, the brand will sustain damage and customers will look for other service providers.  Your competitors are only a mouse-click away, so customer loyalty is lost far more easily than ever before.

Why availability is a problem
Many IT organizations are still device-oriented departments, fixated with system uptime as the key availability metric.  These have a grand total of zero relevance to the business. For IT, a ‘five nines’ availability metric (99.999% uptime) may be seen as quite an achievement (about 5 minutes downtime a year), but if that 5 minutes of downtime falls right in the middle of the busiest business period of the year, the direct impact (lost revenue) and indirect impact (brand damage and customer attrition) is likely to be job-threatening.  IT managers who let this happen will have to answer tough questions on why IT wasn’t ready.  IT managers need to understand that downtime is not random, nor does it have a uniform cost every time it strikes.

The Nines - Crap film, crap IT metric

Work from the top down
In the ITIL 3 process map, Availability Management quite rightly sits in the Service Design Processes group, indicating that it is a critical part of the process of designing a service.  Designing high availability into a service is a good start, but there is always a threat of downtime during the operation of the service coming from external factors.  Downtime is always caused by a change of some sort - either a haphazard change applied by the service provider which has impacted the service in an unforeseen manner, or a change in the pattern of service consumption that has resulted in an overload.  Thus, the business needs to be aware of IT changes so they can veto badly timed changes, and IT needs to be made aware of marketing activity that will drive spikes in demand so that they can plan for capacity to meet demand.

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