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System Availability is Merely Table Stakes

Let me paint a picture of a calmer time, a time of more control over IT, a time of much fewer users, a time of far less complexity. These were the days of the mainframe. Not familiar with the early days of IT? Perhaps some background is in order. In the beginning, mainframes ruled the world. Giant computer systems were nearly dominated by one company who used one protocol in an extremely controlled network, with basically “dumb” terminals at each end speaking to one another. All interactions were predicted and controlled. With full control over the computing landscape, the brand of computer, the network and the terminals talking to the network created a utopia for IT support. These systems were known to be available to users for weeks, months and many times, multiple years, without interruption (think ATM services, which are still today mainframe-based).

Let that sink in for a minute, systems available to end users for continuous years without outage!

The IT industry, like any other, has grown from its roots from which it brings along its traditions and norms. For example, the concept of availability is still the number one bragging point for IT services. In reality, it has grown to become a commodity service; today it’s an expectation. If you do a quick scouring of Google, you will see all the hosting providers of today bragging about their high availability services. Redundancy, failover, non-disruption, automated recovery, mirroring, clustering, load balancing, generators and so on. Within all of this tech lingo, there isn’t a single reference to an end-user; to the customer experience.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that IT has moved on. No, correct that…our customers have moved on. We need to remember why IT exists. IT exists to provide a service that creates value to a customer (you may use the term user, but all of your users are your customer). Yes, customers do expect a service to work 24x7x365 without fail and with exceptional performance and usability. Perhaps you are starting to get the idea now.

So how can you ensure your IT provider understands the IT of today and has continued to progress with customer demand? The following service distinctions and seven perspectives of digital quality should be your guide.

Today, I believe IT service has split into three distinct modules. When combined, they offer a continuous improvement service loop.

  1. Proactive – As a leading-edge provider you need to have tools and processes in place to predict and react in advance of any disruptive event.
  2. Operational – This is what we use to describe the day-to-day services that provide availability. Once again, these services are table stakes and expected.
  3. Reactive – How a provider handles an incident is a huge reflection on their core values and competencies. You should expect continual communication and minimal time to recovery. Major incidents require an incident report that describes root cause and includes excellent ideas for future prevention.

Building and supplying an IT service is about many things, not just availability:

  1. Functional – The product serves its intended use.
  2. Architecture – The architecture of your solution must be reusable, extensible, modular and fault-tolerant.
  3. Compliance – Do you have regulations you need to comply with?
  4. Performance – Can you scale? Can you respond when needed?
  5. Security – Are you best positioned against attacks or a breach?
  6. Supportability – Is your product maintainable into the future?
  7. User Experience – In the end do you offer an exceptional experience?

When dreaming up an elegant, easy-to-use, amazing IT service that is worthy of your brand, you need to engage partners that have your back in these areas. Sure, once you have launched your IT service into the world it should be rock solid and available, but an IT service is so much more. Only the savviest of partners will be able to work with you to deliver a fully realized IT service and strategy. The new table stakes in IT are offering a spectacular customer experience, in every way…not just some abstract availability number. Make sure you are working with partners that are leading this charge into the new frontier.

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