Preparing for technology disruptions
Working with Technology Means Planning to Fail
Technology breaks. Fact.
Whether you’re a freelancer with a laptop and a bunch of apps or a large business with a dedicated IT department and a fleet of servers, a sudden technology failure or issue can disrupt even the most productive day.
Comparatively minor technical issues can still lead to major disruptions – particularly as most of us lack the skills to identify, diagnose and fix IT problems without a lot of fiddling and bodging.
Most people will have experienced the panic of working to an urgent deadline while beset with technical issues seemingly designed to cause maximum frustration. The computer begins running painfully slow, or the internet drops out in your area, or the hard drive with all of your work documents starts making a funny noise and can anyone else smell burning plastic?
Quoted by Douglas Adams in a brilliant and prescient 1999 article on the rise of the internet, computer scientist and technologist Bran Ferren defined technology as “stuff that doesn’t work yet”.
Adams also wrote that “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” And that’s the problem. Technology is a means to an end. The job isn’t the tech – it’s what we can do with the tech. But when entire workflows rely on technology, we don’t just want it to work, we desperately need it to. Otherwise, whole afternoons can be swallowed up with trying to work out why that page won’t load, that app won’t connect or that vital file won’t open.
So how can you protect your workflows, productivity and deadlines from being held to ransom by one random technical mishap after another?
If you rely on a single device, what will you do when it breaks down or is unavailable?
In IT jargon, this is known as a single point of failure (SPOF) – where if that one thing fails, the whole system or workflow shuts down. Complex IT systems are therefore designed with redundancy in mind, such as additional servers that can quickly take over when one suffers an outage.
Doubling up on each component is called redundancy because it means that while one is in use, the other is surplus to requirements – redundant. In a small business, this might mean having a spare (old) smartphone in the drawer or a local hard drive with your most important documents should Google Drive experience an extended outage, like it did in August, 2020.
If my desktop Mac decides it doesn’t want to play, I can switch to my laptop or tablet instead. If my cable internet drops out, I can easily connect to a 4G hotspot until normal service is restored.
How you plan for each SPOF scenario may depend on your budget and resources, but at least have a plan in place so you know what to do in the most obvious situations.
Be honest: sometimes the technology issue is really human error. Someone deleted the wrong file or hit the wrong button. Any manual process introduces the risk of someone making a mistake. No one’s perfect.
And then there are those outages or technical issues that happen when there’s no one around to fix them. What happens if the website is thrown offline in the middle of the night when the office is empty? Sometimes, an incident can last for hours just because it takes time for the right person to realise there is a problem and get onto the hosting company before they can reboot, repair or replace the faulty technology.
Automation is particularly useful in larger or more complex business infrastructures. With careful planning, some potential issues can trigger pre-programmed responses before you’re even aware something is wrong, like redirecting the website to a backup server to restore online services with minimal disruption to customers – or your campaign.
For small businesses, automation can keep some tasks running when you’re temporarily unable to access the services yourself. For example, if you routinely use social media scheduling, your posts to Instagram, Facebook and other networks can continue as planned even if you can’t get online.
Automation won’t prevent issues from happening, but it can reduce the time it takes to restore services, and it can notify you immediately of unexpected issues before they become problems.
Every business, no matter the size, should have a regular backup system in place. If you’ve ever had to recover a lost file or restore a misbehaving computer, you’ll know the immense relief that comes from having a solid backup.
Local backups are easy. Simply plug in an external hard drive and install the included backup software that most come pre-loaded with these days. And Macs are well known for making regular automated backups easy with the inbuilt Time Machine software.
But there are downsides. A local backup isn’t very helpful if an office fire takes out both your computer and your external hard drive.
Setting up a cloud backup is also reasonably simple. You may already store important files and documents on a cloud drive like G-Drive or Dropbox, making it easy to continue working when you’re forced to switch devices. Other dedicated cloud backup services like IDrive and Arcserve can securely backup multiple devices to a single account – including complete disk images, apps, settings and other data. Some services even include options to back up your Facebook, Instagram and Office365 data as well.
How you recover from an outage or other technical issue may depend on the quality of your backup and how often the data is synced.
When disaster strikes, any data captured or files created since the last backup may be lost forever. If your backup only updates every 24 hours, you could still potentially lose up to a day’s worth of work should the worst happen. So, set up a backup schedule according to how much risk your business can afford to take.
Technology, we’re constantly told, is the solution to our problems. Get this device, this app, this widget and you can be more efficient, more productive, more connected.
Except technology can create a whole new set of problems, which can just as easily make us less efficient, less productive, less connected. There will always be those days when even the most reliable and high-quality tech will let us down.
Yes, it’s ironic that resolving or avoiding a technology outage or issue usually means employing more tech. But that’s only because to work successfully with technology means never relying too heavily on any single link in the chain.
Ultimately, less time spent resolving issues or recovering from downtime means more time producing and benefiting from the work you do.
In short: to strive for the best, you also need to plan for the worst.