For a large retailer in the news recently, 90 minutes of system issues likely cost it approximately $50 million in lost sales. Initial reports showed that the company was unable to process credit card transactions because of an error that occurred during a normal maintenance cycle. Obviously, that’s bad news for a retailer — and that cost doesn’t include the kind of long-term or short-term damage to its brand that’s common in these scenarios.
There’s a lot at stake with any company when its systems go down, so it’s important to have plans in place if it does happen — but even more importantly, it’s even better to avoid down systems altogether.
The Wrong Approach
When systems do go down, you don’t want customers feeling trapped or frustrated. Do you do what many retailers do — encourage your customers to stick around and tell them that the system will be up shortly?
With this approach, you risk having them wait an extremely long time, resulting in them posting negatively on social media or leaving and not wanting to come back to your store again. Do you simply close down until the problem is fixed, hoping to not scar your customers and save future business?
Knowing the Cost of Failure
Well, the best answer is to build your systems to not fail. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly, but with the right partner it is possible. With the robust and complex networking of today and the multiple systems that rely on it, there are ways to build out your network and ensure that your back-end systems do not have single points of failure.
First, determine the cost of an outage. What is the cost for a single nonfunctioning register or payment system? It probably isn’t too critical unless you only have one or two registers. Build up and determine what is the cost for a single location or store to be down and unable to take transactions. This can be as equally devastating, as any store, in the era of social media, can quickly make the news based on how you deal with an outage.
From there, look at the overall processing power and cost for all of your locations to be down. This is your baseline. This is how you align and determine the risk to your business, which allows you to decide the amount you want to spend to prevent the potential risk.
Getting Ahead of Failure
There are a few key areas to focus your efforts to eliminate the risk of an outage.
The network: Building out a resilient network is crucial. In-store connectivity must provide access while supporting the traffic from secondary systems and customer phones. You need to ensure that your stores can securely connect to back office and internet resources. By combining multicarrier-enabled networks and Ethernet/MPLS networks you can ensure that your transactions are able to get to their destinations. And when you introduce solutions like SD-WAN you can control and prioritize traffic to secure the success of your most critical transactions.
The applications/processes: You can have the most robust network in the world, but you also need to ensure that your system for transacting or receiving data is available. You don’t need to go the route of completely committing to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Application as a Service (AaaS), but having a blend of solutions that can failover either to a secondary cloud or to an on-premises solution will provide higher system uptime. In fact, building out solutions like these allow for controlled downtime and provide easier maintenance windows.