18 thg 3, 2024

Managing downtime: How to minimize disruption and maximize efficiency

  • Connect and support people
  • In January of 2023, a contractor was trying to fix an issue in the database of the U.S. Federal Aviation Industry. They accidentally deleted a file. The result? A failed Notice to Air Missions system and a nationwide air travel stop that led to more than 10,000 delayed or canceled flights.

    What would happen if a critical system in your organization failed? Downtime can happen anywhere, so when it does, you and your team need to be prepared.

    Read this article to find out more about the causes and the true cost of downtime, and what you can do to avoid it.

    What is downtime?

    Downtime is a period during which a device, application, system, or network is unavailable or not operational. That means it can’t perform its primary function. In a business context, downtime usually causes a disruption for employees, customers, or both. This results in a loss of revenue, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

    To give an example:  

    Imagine a supermarket where the point-of-sales (POS) system fails unexpectedly (POS systems are used to document sales and process payments). The cashier staff can’t do their jobs effectively because they can’t accept payments.

    The customers become frustrated. They have a shopping cart full of groceries and they don’t have time to wait for the system to come back online. So, they abandon their shopping carts and go to a competitor supermarket.

    They discover that the pasta assortment is much better, so they decide to do their shopping there in the future. Even though it only takes the first supermarket 30 minutes to get the POS system running again, it will take months to win these customers back.

    The difference between planned and unplanned downtime

    When it comes to downtime, it’s important to differentiate between planned and unplanned downtime. 

    Planned downtime

    Planned downtime is time scheduled for maintenance. This requires the technicians to take a device, app, system, or network offline for a specified amount of time. All users who may be affected are usually informed in advance, so they can plan accordingly. 

    An example: Your bank notifies you that your online banking will be unavailable due to maintenance on Thursday, between 6 and 9 am. 

    Unplanned downtime

    Unplanned downtime is a period during which a device, app, system, or network suddenly becomes unavailable. This can be because of an unforeseen event, like a power outage, or due to ineffective monitoring and maintenance. Users aren’t informed of the outage in advance and typically experience a disruption in their workflows. 

    An example: A welding robot in a car manufacturing plant malfunctions unexpectedly. The outage disrupts the entire assembly line.

    Common causes of unplanned downtime

    Clearly, unplanned downtime is something to avoid. To minimize unplanned downtime in your organization, you need to know what can cause such unforeseen outages. Here are some of the leading causes of downtime:

    Hardware issues 

    Hardware like laptops, mobile phones, servers, or industrial equipment can malfunction unexpectedly. This can happen if they have faulty components, are outdated, or are being used incorrectly. Downtime can also occur when hardware is broken, lost, or stolen. 

    Software issues 

    Software issues like failed operating systems (OS) and unavailable third-party applications can lead to unplanned downtime. Another common cause for disruptions is malfunctioning software integrations.   

    Network issues

    Network errors are among the leading causes of IT downtime, according to the Uptime Intelligence 2023 Annual outage analysis. Many network errors are caused by network misconfigurations. 

    Other errors occur due to faulty network hardware (like routers and cables) or spikes in network traffic. Network-related outages can also be linked to technical issues on the network provider side. 

    Cybersecurity breaches

    Malware and hackers can cause downtime by disrupting critical systems and deleting or modifying important data. When a company experiences a cyberattack, it needs to contain the breach, remediate the damage, close security gaps, and restore lost data. This can mean additional downtime.   

    Environmental disasters 

    Natural disasters like storms, floods, fires, and earthquakes can cause damage to the hardware in offices and data centers. They can also damage the infrastructure, leading to power outages and other problems that result in downtime. 

    Human errors

    According to Uptime Intelligence, human error plays a role in 65% to 80% of all reported outages. It’s normal for humans to make mistakes when operating software and equipment. 

    Errors are more likely to occur when the staff lacks necessary training or resources. They’re also more prone to making mistakes when they’re feeling tired or overworked.

    The true cost of downtime

    In 2022, IT downtime cost 70% of businesses more than USD 100,000 and some businesses up to USD 1 million (Uptime Intelligence). These losses include direct costs, opportunity costs, and reputational costs.

    Direct costs

    • Emergency maintenance: Labor and equipment costs to fix the problem that caused the outage and recover lost data
    • Material costs: Costs for replacing devices, equipment, or components, as well as inventory losses or write-offs (depending on the industry) 
    • Regulatory fines: Fines, penalties, litigation costs, and settlements due to violation of service-level agreements (SLAs) or government regulations
    • Customer compensation: Financial compensation of customers who experienced a disruption

    Opportunity costs

    • Loss of revenue: The revenue lost due to missed sales opportunities
    • Loss of productivity: Reduced efficiency because employees couldn’t access essential IT tools and had to resort to manual workarounds

    Reputational costs

    • Loss of customer trust: Unhappy customers reduce their orders, engage in negative word-of-mouth, or look for alternative providers
    • Damage to brand image: Negative press affects how people perceive your brand, so you may miss out on revenue and new skilled talent
    • Decreased employee satisfaction: Unproductive workdays can lead employees to feel dissatisfied and start to look for jobs outside your company

    How to minimize downtime in your organization

    Hope for the best, but plan for the worst! You want to avoid downtime when you can, but need to be prepared in case it does occur. Here are some strategies to minimize downtime in your organization: 

    Stay ahead of problems with remote monitoring

    Make sure your organization has a comprehensive remote monitoring solution in place. This helps you be proactive in identifying potential issues, like unusually high CPU usage, interrupted processes, or missing software patches. 

    A consistent monitoring solution also tracks the health and the usage of the assets in your IT infrastructure. It alerts you when your attention is needed. This way, you can respond to small issues before they cause any major problems.  

    Perform preventative maintenance remotely

    Planned maintenance can be annoying for employees and customers. But it’s nothing compared with unplanned downtime. So, make sure you perform regular maintenance on your devices, machines, networks, and systems. This reduces the risk of an outage. 

    There are digital solutions that help you speed up the maintenance process and minimize disruptions. For instance, you can conduct maintenance faster by accessing PCs and mobile devices remotely. Augmented reality (AR) powered video calls let you guide the staff on site through complex repair processes. 

    AR-guided workflows can also empower on-site staff to conduct routine maintenance independently. And digital solutions that let you automate repetitive tasks like software patching free up your time, so you can focus on the more complex tasks.

    Data backups, backup equipment, backup power

    Despite your best efforts to prevent it, unexpected downtime can happen to anyone. That’s why you need to be prepared. Choose a cloud backup solution that automatically backs up your files and data. You should be able to restore these files easily in the event of a disaster. 

    Make sure you also have backup devices and equipment available. This helps you ensure operations can keep running when your regular equipment fails. 

    Power outages are a leading cause for downtime (Uptime Intelligence). So, consider investing in backup generators or another alternative to your usual power source. 

    Invest in your team

    When it comes to unplanned downtime, you need a team of skilled professionals who can get to the root of the problem and solve it, quickly and reliably. That’s why investing in your team is key to minimizing downtime. 

    Attract experienced IT professionals, provide them with continuous training, and find out what it takes to keep them happy. Your training programs shouldn’t focus solely on enhancing technical skills. They should also help technical experts learn to cope with stress and high-pressure situations. 

    Have a disaster recovery plan in place

    When unplanned downtime occurs, the worst thing you can do is waste precious time arguing over what to do. 

    A disaster recovery plan (DRP) can help your team avoid this scenario. To develop a DRP, follow these steps:

    • Start with a detailed inventory of the hardware and software in your IT ecosystem (you can automate this step)
    • Identify the key stakeholders and work together to identify critical hardware and software, as well as the most serious threats and vulnerabilities
    • Ensure you have measures in place to keep critical infrastructure running and data backed up in case of an outage
    • Organize regular staff training so everyone is familiar with standard recovery procedures
    • Test your DRP regularly to assess its performance and identify areas for improvement  

    Learn from past experiences

    When your organization experiences unplanned downtime, take the opportunity to evaluate and enhance your disaster recovery strategy. Document the issue that caused the outage, the areas affected, and the measures taken to fix the issue. 

    More importantly, figure out what could have been done better and use this information to update your DRP and staff training material. You can’t change the past, but you can save money by preventing similar incidents in the future!

    Want to be more proactive about downtime?

    Discover TeamViewer’s remote monitoring and maintenance solutions today.