How long can your business last without IT?

Last month saw Amazon’s S3 web server go down and cause havoc across the internet.

When S3 started reporting ‘high error rates’ and quickly went from AmazON to AmazOFF; angry customers took to the Tweetisphere to vent their disappointment and frustration at being cut off from their favourite websites. High-traffic platforms like Spotify, Trello and Snapchat were among the casualties.

*Back in 1998, a wise man, Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab predicted that, like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not by its presence. Today, this prediction is evidently even more profound than expected.

There is no longer a real gap between online and offline as digital becomes engrained in our everyday lives. We live in a world where anything less than permanent connectivity causes all sorts of upset in both our personal and business lives. The S3 outage affected platforms we rely upon to keep us entertained, namely Spotify and Netflix. No access to movies and music for a few hours is not a hardship but as the global reaction illustrates, the deep dependence on IT is what we’ve become accustomed to and therefore expect.

In light of S3’s outage, it got us thinking; what would happen if a business was without IT for a prolonged period of time and how would it survive? Tony Ball, Director at Ashdowne Oil and Chemical Ltd. told us,

We use Sage ERP, on an in-house server supported by a cloud-based back up to run our business processes. From generating picking lists, to raising purchase orders, our system runs pretty much seamlessly. We also rely on Sage to allow accurate and timely conversion of materials from one unit to another; without this we would undoubtedly lose money on converting bulk product to retail-ready product.

We asked Tony how long his business would stay afloat without IT. He said,

Without IT, we could hobble through manually for about a week. It would however, be a major inconvenience long-term; we’d need to increase our workforce by about a third, there’d be a greater risk of human error and there would be questions over Ashdowne’s ability to maintain high service standards and meet client demands.

Depending on the nature of the business, some may require a more rigorous business continuity plan. For instance, a business that deals with sensitive data or is providing services to a public-sector client, may be under increased pressure to get back up and running in the shortest possible time. We spoke to the CFO of a leading UK-based Market Research agency; he told us,

As a Market Research agency, we’re dealing with a lot of customer data and it’s crucial we have continued access to this in order to service our clients’ needs.

We have a robust business continuity plan which includes a disaster recovery site. If our IT systems were to fail, we wouldn’t be out of action; our staff would continue working from the disaster recovery site until the central issue had been fixed. If we were without a disaster recovery plan in a force majeure situation; we would be out of action for a couple of weeks, client contracts would cease and we would very quickly go out of business.

It’s clear that a fully functioning and trustworthy IT system is integral to the smooth running of many modern-day companies. From cost-saving to streamlining business processes, IT has many advantages and can help you to maintain a competitive edge.

But keeping your IT system and your business going in the event of a disaster means some forward planning and asking some pertinent questions. What constitutes a disaster for your business? How long can you survive without critical applications? How much data can you lose and still be able to trade?

Asking these sorts of questions puts you on the right path to developing a disaster recovery plan that can you implement should the worst-case scenario strike. Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in that position, but just in case, putting some thought into this now might be the smartest thing you ever do!