Downtime is a term used to describe when a service is unavailable to its intended recipients. While downtime can be planned months in advance, it typically is not and is often an unwelcome surprise. Most downtime events are unplanned and caused by a failure or are triggered on short notice and occur as a result of an attempt to fix a service that is not performing at its optimal level.

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Signs & Symptoms

Unplanned downtime is the number one cause of financial harm yet most IT leaders don't understand the signs and symptoms of an environment that has too many. One might think to themselves that we are having too many outages but can't necessarily put a stake in the ground to change the situation. The constant unplanned work and lack of resources keeps the cycle going. Understanding the signs and symptoms can help one to justify serious action is required.

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Man or machine? A study by Gartner concluded that 80% of unplanned downtime incidents are caused by people and are usually rooted in the change management processes. The IT leader's most important function is the ability to implement continual change which is the reason it is critical that change management is management sanctioned. Change management must be the backbone of every IT department's culture.

Although humans are well trained in technology, they are not trained very well in processes. Unfortunately, most companies processes are weak. In addition, people naturally like to take short cuts. When the shortcut habits are combined with a poor change management culture, unplanned outages occur frequently. These types of "Cowboy" cultures are the high powered IT leader's worst nightmare. Getting a grip on change management and following standard operating procedures are the first areas they focus in on as "new" IT Director.   

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Diagnosing the causes of an unplanned outage can be very complicated. Especially when complex ERP systems have so many technology layers to consider such as the operating system, servers, database, presentation layers, application code, network, and on and on. Each one requiring a subject matter expert. Consistently following a methodology to get the system back up and running is critical. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a process used not only to identify the what & how of a problem but also the why. Understanding the why allows the IT team to put a fix in place so the event does not happen again. The idea is to reduce the incident to a single occurrence.

Although finding root cause is very complex, diagnosing an environment prone to downtime is fairly easy. Asking some simple questions will give one the ability not only to diagnose the probability of downtime occurring but also to see if the proper measures are in place to limit its effect on the business. 

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The treatment of an outage is just as important as the prevention. Sometimes the way the team treats or responds to an outage can cause more damage than the outage itself. Having everything in order in advance is very important.

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Not all unplanned outages could have been prevented but one can reduce the frequency and the duration of the outages thereby reducing financial impact upon the organization.

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Carlos Corral

Carlos Corral Allari, Inc.

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Ravi Madhavan Allari, Inc.

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