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News

The Importance of Enterprise Information Availability

Vision Solutions : 12 May, 2010  (Special Report)
Alan Arnold of Vision Solutions explains the power of information availability and the recovery of business value from unprofitable downtime
Over the last few years, every business has faced an onslaught of challenges: global economic volatility, fierce competition, customer churn, mergers and acquisitions, rising security concerns and waves of regulatory compliance issues. Meanwhile, stakeholders continue to demand that top executives increase profits, lower costs, expand market share and grow revenue.

To solve these issues, much has been demanded from you and your IT executives. The most successful organisations have been able to harness these complex, often competing, initiatives into a larger, strategic vision supported by emerging technologies. When properly aligned with that vision, information technology becomes a potent force for solving business pain throughout the organisation, creating competitive advantage and driving shareholder value at every level.

Some businesses have been more adept at this alignment of interests than others. And more will be demanded in the next few years. Users always need more: more data, more data sharing, more applications, more processing time, more reports and more access. Customers want more choices, more convenience, more access points and more flexibility. Shareholders want to see more value, higher profits, greater efficiencies and more return for every penny spent.

Your organisation may be dealing with some of these challenges today; others may pose long-term obstacles to your business strategies or growth. You need the ability to ensure that IT can and will continue to deliver on your goals. That's why it's important to make 'information availability' a key issue in discussions with your IT executives.

Information availability means accessibility—having data, applications and systems working exactly as they should when you need them. Any interruption or interference (downtime) that makes your information or applications inaccessible or inaccurate adds delay to your go-to market processes, supply chain, analyses and decisions. Most importantly, downtime prevents immediate action from your customers, employees and business partners.

Even the most highly effective information-driven organisation inevitably suffers some form of interference to access and information flow. While some unplanned downtime results from weather or other disaster, most happens because of hardware or application failures, human errors and security violations. Surprisingly though, studies show that planned interruptions (downtime) caused by routine daily/weekly backups, system upgrades, performance tuning and batch jobs create 70-90 percent of interruptions for most businesses.

Whatever its cause, downtime adds no value to your business goals. It's the equivalent of turning out the lights and sending everyone home. This downtime interferes with and delays the forward movement of your strategies and reduces the profitability and return your shareholders expect.

No doubt your organisation uses large volumes of data and multiple, complex applications. Each requires some level of maintenance to keep it running efficiently, and that requires downtime. Of even more concern, in the case of an unplanned event, such as system failure, a majority of surveyed Fortune 1,000 C-level executives said that on average restoring access and availability to critical information systems would take 9-12 hours. Such an interruption could result in revenue delays and potential losses for a single occurrence.

Profitability goes beyond simply doing more with existing resources. It means being able to use and deploy every available technology resource at any time to empower your people with the tools they need to do their jobs. This level of availability can deliver an immediate boost to productivity and profitability throughout the organisation, especially one moving toward a more mobile, ad-hoc workforce.

By eliminating downtime from your information processes, you can immediately leverage existing staff and technology to do and deliver more even as you continue to focus on cutting costs and alleviating profitability pressures. Accessible, real-time information and systems powered by an information availability solution speeds collaboration, buying, marketing and daily interaction as well.

For example, removing employees from entrenched silos of operation with simplified, continuous access to cross-enterprise data has been effective in telescoping decision-making, enabling real-time collaboration, and realising the full value of enterprise applications.

As your organisation works to achieve a 360-degree view of its customers, access to the most current customer information at any time becomes even more important. Interruptions in customer service processes, CRM application functions and data exchange delay routine business activity. Long term, these interruptions can impact your market share and brand value. Information availability solutions ensure that your customer-centric strategies can continue no matter what. Information keeps moving, applications keep working and customers and employees continue to interact.

As customers migrate to Internet-enabled services, any interference in their ability to interact with you online risks losing their loyalty and share of wallet. As many organisations have realised, Internet services enable the migration of simple, labour-intensive activities to self service channels.

The Internet enables more effective cross selling of services to your existing customers and new revenue sources. All contribute to increased profitability and growth strategies as well. Delay and inaccessibility create barriers that will drive customers to competitors. Information availability, however, gives you the on-demand, accessible, optimally available customer face you need to delight customers and build their loyalty.

An information availability software solution ensures that information and applications remain as accessible and available as needed. That means they continue to drive revenue, profitability, productivity and compliance at acceptable levels no matter what planned or unplanned events occur.

Most organisations define uptime along a continuum that allows multiple hours of downtime with significant data loss all the way to real-time, 24/7 uptime with zero data loss. Depending on your business operations, an availability solution can completely eliminate interruptions—both planned and unplanned—or at the very least minimise the impact they have on your financial picture.

The first step in determining your organisation's optimum availability starts by taking an inventory of your information systems and your underlying systems and data needs, then determining the level of availability required by each to support your business goals and comply with current and future regulations.

For example, any loss of EDI-fed supply chain data would seriously impact a manufacturer's ability to deliver on time and may result in monetary penalties or loss of future business. However, the applications and systems that analyse that data internally may tolerate the occasional few minutes of downtime provided these events are infrequent and they result in zero data loss. In contrast, your PBX traffic accounting system may tolerate more downtime and possibly loss of hours' worth of data.

Deploying an information availability solution means working with your IT executives to find the right combination of business and technical solutions to liberate the unrealised value of current downtime from critical information processes, and minimise acceptable downtime and data loss for non-critical data and applications so they can deliver the maximum return for your organisation.

Above all, the goal of any information availability solution must be to transform any non-productive, non-profitable downtime into the optimum level of value-producing business uptime. What this optimum level should be depends on your business. The process of deploying an information availability solution will identify for your organisation the optimum accessibility for your data and applications that will produce the greatest results for your users, customers and partners and generate the greatest return for the organisation and shareholders. In addition, with the right availability solution, the organisation receives the protection of a disaster recovery solution—a value-add business asset to mitigate the effects of unplanned interruptions and other disasters.

If your organisation can minimise or eliminate planned downtime, it can free up specific, measurable (currently unrealised) potential that can immediately support your business strategies. Realising the value of turning your organisation's downtime into value-producing uptime requires careful analysis of how the effects of inaccessible data and applications affect the productivity of your business strategies.

The goal should be to identify where any planned downtime interrupts or prevents business analysis, buying or selling decisions, achieving on-demand customer service, or complying with or responding to regulatory requirements. As part of this research, it helps to have a complete understanding of current disaster recovery processes and how continuous availability can replace or support those processes.

As your organisation handles the multiple challenges of competition, market share, productivity and profitability, your one overriding task is to return value at every level of every business process. In the past, most businesses have operated more or less effectively with a certain level of non-productive downtime—whether required to maintain systems, applications and data or to produce daily analysis reports.

Unfortunately today's emphasis on driving ever-greater productivity and profitability through faster, more cost-effective business processes means that downtime becomes an obstacle to improving future performance and delivering value—the two essential conditions that will make your business competitive and profitable today and in years to come. No matter how large or small your organisation, information availability software solutions can help you solve these issues.

This squeezes out delays and latency from business processes and speeds up the ability of the employee, customer or partner to act. The power of information availability offers the opportunity for your business to breakthrough current productivity and profitability barriers by providing the optimum accessibility for your data and applications for the greatest results—and value—for your users, customers and partners. And that will deliver the greatest return for business. The power of an information availability solution lies in its ability to transform any non-productive, non-profitable downtime into the optimum level of value-producing business uptime.

Alan Arnold is the EVP and CTO for Vision Solutions and is responsible for the global technology and services strategy for the business. Alan joined Vision in 2000, and since joining the company, he has served in a variety of positioning including EVP of Technologies, President and Chief Operating Officer of worldwide operations.

Prior to joining Vision Solutions, Alan was a senior technology executive in the management consulting practice of Ernst & Young. Alan served as the firm's subject matter expert for IBM technology and e-commerce solutions, and was one of the founders and managers of the Ernst & Young Advanced Development Center (ADC). Prior to E&Y, Alan worked at StorageTek (XL/Datacomp) as the National Director of Technologies, and prior to this, he worked in several other companies in technology and management roles.

Alan is recognised as an expert in advanced technologies, business process improvements and managed availability solutions. He has authored or co-authored five books on technology and business topics that have been published worldwide. He has written numerous articles for some of the leading publications in the industry, and has had his work presented to the United States Senate Technology subcommittee and State of California.
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