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IT infrastructure: The key to startup success

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Chris Ducker, senior director of global proposition strategy at Sungard Availability Services, explores why startups need to get IT infrastructure right.

Just as David once felled Goliath with a well-aimed pebble, so too are startup businesses disrupting their larger, more established rivals with one small, newly developed tool: digital-first apps. Appealing to the end-user – both internally with staff, and externally with customers – apps have transformed business operations, leveling the playing field and giving smaller businesses a chance to compete.

In the banking industry, for example, not only are apps changing the operating models of established banks but the market is seeing the rise of numerous new players – such as Mondo and Atom Bank – which are completely based on apps. Essentially, operating as a ‘virtual’ bank, they offer a more personalised and supportive user experience that is optimised for smartphones.

Why timing is key for your tech startup’s success

This is not isolated to the banking sector. Apps have been gathering momentum and are steadily changing the way our society and workforce interacts – from communication to shopping, healthcare to entertainment. Apps are now big business: statistics from App Annie revealed the Apple store saw over 100 million app downloads in 2015 alone, while Google’s equivalent store sold over 200 million. Clearly apps represent a serious opportunity for revenue, as well as crucial component in any modern business’ go-to-market strategy.

Apps vs applications

But apps only form part of the ecosystem behind the successful running of a business. Enterprise applications are also necessary; much more complex and multi-functional, they are responsible for running back end processes, as well as collecting, storing and analysing data. Both apps and applications need constant availability and robust security measures, one of the areas where they differ is in the resources needed to deliver against these demands. And while it is simple to keep an app up and running, the fact that applications require an enterprise level of infrastructure – and that these applications support the app – means that having the right infrastructure is vitally important.

And what happens if the infrastructure upon which they are hosted suffers an outage or disruption, slowing business to a crawl, or worse, a screeching halt? The loss in revenue, reputation and productivity can be severe and, for some organisations, terminal. To put the threat into context, the “EMC Global Data Protection Index”, a survey conducted by Vanson Bourne, has estimated that disruption due to downtime and data loss has cost enterprises across the world over $1.7tn. In the UK alone, these issues account for £10.5bn in lost earnings.

Yet despite this tangible impact, these issues still occur with alarming frequency. For all the hype surrounding the retail sector’s participation in Black Friday, last year saw several companies suffer high-profile outages. Currys PC World found that increasing the number of staff on hand and delivery vans on the road was insufficient when its customers faced sluggish loading times. Popular retailers Argos and Macy’s also suffered outages and disruptions to business due to high levels of customer traffic.

Many of the affected retailers advertised sales and deals ahead of the event, and after the traffic increases seen over the last few years, it was clear their IT infrastructure was going to be put under heavy pressure.

Building a strong foundation

Getting the infrastructure right is therefore critical, offering a strong and robust foundation from which applications can be delivered to an exponentially growing and enthusiastic market. It is, however, easier said than done.

When it comes to ensuring your organisation has the right infrastructure to support its applications, there are four key questions to ask…

Firstly, what are your performance demands? For example, if you’re simply storing databases then you don’t need resources required for mining and analysing data. Similarly, if you’re using the application to support a data archive, then performance is a far lower priority than if users are regularly accessing the application.

Next, what level of protection does the data require? Do you have the appropriate security protocols in place? Clearly employee details or financial results must be kept under heavy encryption but your organisation is unlikely to require the same level of protection for its canteen menu or Christmas party plans, for example.

Another question to ask is whether your organisation is operating in a field where compliance is an issue? If you require customers to share credit card data then you need an infrastructure than can support PCI DSS regulation. Additionally, are there any geographical restrictions placed on where your data must reside based on the regions in which your organisation operates?

Finally, what are your recovery needs? Should the worst happen, what applications need to be prioritised to ensure the organisation can move forward? Which can wait? It’s important to consider not only impact to revenue but also reputational damage, for example – prioritising the recovery of a customer on-boarding system over the existing accounts of current users is likely to do untold harm in the long term.

Ultimately, businesses run on IT and nowadays that means apps and applications – both traditional and agile. In the plainest language: downtime in these applications means the business does not function. Having the right infrastructure is crucially important to the future of all organisations, regardless of sector or size.

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