By Cyril Rocke
The behavior patterns of consumers, workers, and users of information technology have considerably changed in the past few years.
Now, people expect to have access to data or services 24/7 whether they want to buy something online in the middle of the day, make an airline or hotel reservation early in the morning, or make a stock market transaction at midnight. Even government websites are expected to have services available 24/7.
In the world we live in today, any type of downtime even a brief one can make the headline and would definitely create a negative image for a business.
Everything from businesses, enterprises, service providers, to airlines, banks, and brokers, is expected to run nearly 100% of the time. This is where we come in with a target of 99.9% or 99.99% in terms of performance.
To achieve that, you need an infrastructure consisting of several components:
1. Power supply 24/7 and 100% of the time. Given the Philippines’ unreliable power supply, make sure to have very strong backups such as gensets and uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
2. Redundancy in power supply and telecommunication. The country’s unpredictable weather that brings in rain, typhoons, and storms can wreak havoc on telecommunication links, which are mostly aerial, and cause power surges as well.
3. Troubleshooting strategies in place. A lot of incidents may happen either from difficult hardware, maintenance, patches required on the operational system, on the application, and so forth, not to mention the risk of security and hacking.
When you look up all these parameters, each of them is very different in nature and the range is very wide. That’s why IT infrastructure has to be outsourced and why businesses are moving into the Cloud.
To ensure that there is no downtime in 24/7 business operations, it is very important to anticipate risks and develop catastrophic scenarios and risk mitigation counter measures so you are always ready for anything. Take note that contingency plans have no value if they are not tested.
So make sure you identify key areas such as power, communication, network, and computing infrastructure or platforms then have people to cover all the critical tasks in each area, set procedures, processes, and compliance so that the critical components of different nature in various departments are tested and audited regularly.
Strong connectivity should likewise be considered. Since the Philippines is a group of islands, we are connected via submarine cables. Thus, the benefit of an in-country service provider like DataOne is that you won’t have to worry about Internet lines being suddenly disconnected because of natural disasters.
On the other hand, highly resilient data centers, infrastructure, and connectivity are useless without support on application issues, tuning, and configuration. And it is less expensive to have these in the Philippines than acquire support from the US and Europe.
The key is to have communication and processes as well as do’s and don’ts as preventive measures. In DataOne, we are very strict with access control and monitor who gets in or out. We take note of the movements of equipment and the procedures to turn on and activate a system because we know from experience that not following these creates the opportunity for an incident.
Thus, cloud service providers are like hospitals because we also handle potentially risky situations. The right protocols must be in place to identify concerns and the ways on how to eliminate them. It can be through the use of forms, proper communication, and proper transfer of information from one department to another.
Communication with other specialists or a client’s previous provider is similar to hospital endorsements that require sharing all pertinent information to avoid mistakes. Like nurses who sort out patients’ ailment before endorsing them to a doctor, cloud service providers are also pressed for time to isolate, identify, and resolve issues.
You either temporarily, or permanently, fix the concern. Either way, a particular skill set is needed to isolate issues.
Working in harmony
Few realize that it is very hard to operate a 24/7 business. It requires a lot of people as there should be a precise overlap of staff with the proper training and the right skill sets so that anyone can take over the job of the other and without creating any gap in the schedules.
This is why operating 24/7 is expensive and not advisable for a single enterprise to take on by itself. However, businesses can get all these, even in small quantities or fractions of servers for storage, because they are on the Cloud.
Companies like DataOne have different crews and teams to address all the different skill sets and areas of expertise needed for maintenance, including security team guards to secure the facilities 24/7.
We have a totally independent team that manages office environment such as air conditioning; a separate team that manages 24/7 everyday in a week, all year long, even during holidays; another team to manage the CPU network; and a different group that takes care of the servers and applications.
All these teams have different skill sets that should be available all the time. So to achieve 24/7 operations, there has to be at least five to six people for any given position to achieve the whole week cycle.
Ensuring customer satisfaction
Based on experience, small incidences can have very serious consequences. Any downtime or other type of incident with a service provider can have extremely serious cost implication. For instance, an online shopping platform with one hour of downtime will translate to loss of revenue.
Hence, we have to be very alert and look at what’s happening around the world and analyze those incidents to make sure that they will not happen here. For instance, risks such as hacking are evolving along with technology. Therefore, clients should be informed about DNS attacks, natural causes, and how we conduct tests or back-up data on another site.
We have to be really proactive and forward thinking. We have to prepare ahead and be very quick in adopting the countermeasures of best practices because customer loyalty is very important. Face-to-face interaction and personal commitment is significant especially during the first stages of provisioning.
We have long-term clients who have given us their confidence and trust. The reason is the level of support they get in terms of our quick response in providing them with the right answers. Incidents are bound to happen but the lines of communication must be transparent. Clients must be made aware that there is an issue but that it is already being addressed.
Building long-term relationship through commitment to serve
Customers eventually leave service providers that fail to meet expectations as this is more acceptable than putting their own reputation, profits, and the sustainability of their business at stake.
A service provider’s IT infrastructure or online presence is not something to gamble with. Your reputation is your capital and your customers are your best advertising. Happy customers will endorse you to other people that could be your next client. At DataOne, 95 percent of our clients are referrals.
So if you are a service provider for businesses, be always upfront and honest with your clients. If there is an incident or something negative about to happen, don’t cover it up or hide the reality from your clients because this will destroy your credibility. Customers are much more reassured if they know the truth. Tell them what’s happening and what you are going to do to correct it.
Being 100% upfront about the problems and taking responsibility for it will further strengthen relationships with clients. Be transparent to build trust in your customers. Both parties must be patient and welcome challenges so that issues are dealt together for a mutually beneficial relationship to work.
The author is the president and CEO of DataOne Asia Philippines