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Fighting fires: How to speed up your IT response time

IT ‘fires’ are no small thing. They can range from things as small as a piece of software not working for a few computers, to an event as big as a server being hacked, as well as everything in between.

The downtime they inflict - when businesses cannot serve their customers - costs time and money, with IT teams scrambling to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

Firefighting is the name given to the emergency allocation of time and resources by businesses to stem the flow of problems before it starts eating into earnings and profit margins. As in real life, there is an assumption that IT fires are random, or unpredictable, yet over reliance on emergency procedures can reflect poor planning, or organisation.

The high costs of IT fires

It is key to a business’ success that IT fires are kept as infrequent as possible. According to TeamQuest’s 2016 Global IT Management Survey, it takes a team of eight IT professionals an average three hours and 16 minutes each to put out an IT fire; businesses are afflicted with roughly six such incidents every week. That means that businesses lose around 156 hours per week to IT incidents that, with proper planning, could be avoided.

In 2013, the average cost of data centre outages was $690,204 per incident. With so much time and money being hemorrhaged from businesses every week, month and year, it’s clear that IT departments the world over need to focus on boosting their firefighting capabilities. There is simply too much at stake for it to be ignored.

Worryingly, IT managers are all too aware that they and their teams could do more to prevent damage caused by IT fires and outages. The survey also found that IT teams spend just 10 per cent of their time making active improvements to businesses’ IT systems. This is likely why just 17 per cent of IT managers also report that their teams are able to optimise their functionality with proactive, automated actions. Scarily, 56 per cent of IT managers say that their operational maturity functions chaotically when it comes to ensuring system health and security.

Elsewhere, cloud outages are also wreaking havoc on businesses’ processes. With IT managers saying that the majority were preventable (67 per cent) or due to improper IT health and risk management (58 per cent), it’s clear that IT departments the world over need to properly consider their forward planning for risk.

Prevention is better than cure

This lack of preparation is potentially very dangerous for a business’ success. With many IT departments self-identifying as having chaotic maturity - that is, learning about problems after they have experienced them - there is a clear need for change in routines and attitudes.

Rather than preparing for potentially business-crippling issues ahead of time, chaotic maturity waits for a problem to wreak its havoc before establishing processes to minimise the impact. IT departments need to constantly be thinking about the people, processes and tools that they have at their disposal to ensure that outages and downtime don’t cripple business.

In the first instance, IT teams should instigate processes for proper systems’ health management in order to improve. In total, more than 96 per cent of IT managers that reported having thorough systems in check for IT health management and optimisation have gained benefits from this.

Thorough analytical assessment of IT systems data - asking when and why something will break - can help prevent problems from occurring in the future. In fact, our study found that 36 per cent of IT managers said that they had also benefited from conducting hypothetical “what if” questions to work out where and when something could go wrong.

Answering these hypotheticals can be aided by using data and past experiences to inform future decisions. Businesses and their IT teams can establish data metrics in order to make more informed predictions about the potential problems that could affect the overall organisation. Once these checks and balances have been set up, IT teams can exploit this goldmine of information to get raw data on a company’s IT performance.

Data is the first line of defense

Data can also be used to properly assess how they use their capital - people, processes, and tools - effectively. IT teams can use data to build inventories of all that they have in hand in order to build the defenses they need. This information can be used to establish where holes need to be filled, or how resources can be reallocated as and when necessary.

The ultimate goal of using data in this way is for businesses to be able to perform prescriptive analytics, i.e., suggest actions and preventative solutions based on the metrics that your IT team has accumulated. While it can take a long time to reach this stage - over three years from when a business first begins building useful datasets - this is where an IT department and their business become one.

Instead of merely fighting consecutive fires, IT teams with higher maturity levels can channel their inner Smokey the Bear and prevent these incidents from blighting businesses in the future.

Paul Hesser is the CEO of TeamQuest

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