Server Down: The Impact of Downtime on an Enterprise and How to Bounce Back

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By: James O'Brien|

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It’s the kind of news that no enterprise leader wants to hear: A mishap has brought the company’s server down. Customers are locked out of services. Orders are left in limbo. The backlog begins to build, and the associated costs can quickly add up.

For example, a report from The Data Center Journal pegged the cost per minute of unplanned server downtime at $7,900. The same study found that the average annual downtime for a business is 86 minutes — meaning a company can face nearly $680,000 in downtime-related losses every year.

Additionally, in a world of social media, the consequences aren’t restricted to the business suffering the interruption and the clients dealing with the fallout; the incident is also likely to become public knowledge. Customers typically ask questions when they find a server down, and they won’t hesitate to post about them, note the event in online reviews and even file complaints.

Defining the consequences of downtime and having a plan to remediate issues when they happen are crucial steps for every enterprise that wants to protect its customers and sales. The following strategies and approaches can help IT and business leadership prepare.

Tell Your Customers if There’s a Server Down

Unplanned downtime begins with confusion. It’s not enough for an enterprise to tweet and post about the downtime itself; specifics are crucial. When IT can’t offer estimates on the time frame for a — which is the business’s optimal proactive social response — then details about what steps are underway and any updates on incremental progress help to convey that the enterprise is deeply involved and cares about the user experience during the unplanned outage.

Take Ownership: Future Customer Confidence Depends on Accountability

Once you’ve specified what you can about the unplanned downtime, own the parts of it that you need to own. Consider a recent example from the world of e-commerce, as reported at All Things D, in which a retail giant explicitly owned its in-house mistake. Customers may find their confidence shaken by a lack of access or even vanished data, but they will never stabilize their trust in a company that appears to dodge responsibility for their inconvenience and loss.

Offer Compensation When Appropriate

Experts in reputation management such as Mike Rowan, co-founder of RatePoint, take note when companies stricken with a server down get their proactive response right. In fact, they’ll often go to social media with kudos for IT departments that offer the appropriate balm to ease consumers’ wounds during a server crash. That counts for a lot in terms of remediating damaged reputations and confidence among the general public and industry.

Take a Proactive Risk Assessment Role

Data analytics drives deeper understandings of product life cycles. When it comes to servers and the services they help enterprises provide, IT can prevent downtime by illuminating patterns and probabilities of component failure. This predictive approach is based on analysis of historical data that shows the circumstances and time frames under which servers start to break down.

Evaluate the Benefits of Third-Party Management

Having a server down, as a recent IBM white paper noted, can draw critical company resources into a time-consuming focus on crisis management. A key way to minimize this kind of resource drain is to transfer elements of IT support and management workload to a service partner. If your enterprise is light on data analytics, third parties can provide that workaround, and if a breakdown does occur, they’re on hand to augment support to customers and vendors, rescue interrupted orders and amplify the efforts of in-house IT teams working on the problem.

Every server down is a liability when it comes to customer trust. Responding with transparency, ownership and appropriate compensation helps retain customers during problem times. Instituting a proactive and aggressively supported team to deal with incidents going forward is also a key step in managing and mitigating the damage that downtime can do.

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About The Author

James O'Brien

Freelance Writer

As a journalist and writer in the branded content space, James O'Brien covers business, technology, social media, marketing, film, food, wine, writing and news. The Nieman Journalism Lab has called his work in the custom content space "sponsored content done right." He has written for major regional newspapers, and he has managed and edited established, startup and turnaround newsrooms in varied markets, from community papers to major-city dailies. He consults for firms and businesses — startups to seasoned — on the creation of effective content strategies and the establishment of practical editorial calendars for enacting them. O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in Editorial Studies from the Editorial Institute at Boston University, where he researched and edited Bob Dylan's other-than-song writings. He is engaged in a bibliography for Oxford University Press, covering writings about filmmaker John Cassavetes. He is the author of "The Indie Writer's Survival Guide." His short stories and poetry are published in numerous journals and magazines.

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