Understanding the Essentials of Availability of an IT Support Service

The availability and need of IT support services is unquestionable, and when the services aren’t there in time of need, the customer isn’t going to be really pleased. This is why a widely accepted measure of service availability is often taken as a KPI.

IT staff works relentlessly to ensure the availability targets are met and state figures proving when reporting to customers. However, in the quest to ensure that a 99.999% of availability is met, often IT service organizations lose sight of the core purpose, providing a genuine value to customers.

The issue with percentage availability

One of the easiest ways to determine the availability is through two numbers. You fix the agreed service time (AST)—the length of time that should available over a particular reporting period. Then you can calculate any kind of downtime (DT) over that period, and here we have the formula.

Availability = (AST – DT)/AST x 100%

Consider the AST is 100 hours and the DT is 2 hours, hence, our availability would be:

(100 – 2)/100 x 100% = 98%

Although collecting the numbers and calculation for this equation is pretty simple and straightforward, but the issue is that it is still unclear what the availability percentage is informing us.

Even worse, from the customer’s perspective, you might be trying to convincingly report that you have met the agreed goals, but it is likely that the customer will be entirely dissatisfied.

Remember, customers will only be inclined to listen to the availability percentage if it correctly supports their needs or business processes, while a fraction of the percentage won’t be doing that.

This is why a purposeful availability report is required with figures that describes the core needs of the customers. For instance, the ability to withdraw cash from ATM, sending and receiving emails.

Defining the availability targets

Any user needs to do the following two things if he/she wants to measure, document, and report the availability for the benefit of their organization.

  • Understand the context by talking to the customers
  • Think very keenly about the array of practical concerns you will cover, i.e., what will be the measures, how the data will be gathered, and how the documents will be documented and reported.

Talking to customers

Prior to doing anything in your task, foremost, you need to understand the reason why customers demand availability, and what are the repercussions in case it is not answered to them.

The above knowledge will allow the user to design realistic goals considering the budget, staffing and technology limitations.

Putting it simply, professionals need to communicate with customers in a way to ensure that they clearly understand their needs. Further, if possible, equally communicate from their end to the customers that being available, all the time, is obviously going to cost more than initially thought. Coming back to the big question:

What is the thing you want to talk about with your customer?

A discussion about the influence of downtime would be a great start. Consider asking the following questions:

  1. What are your business processes that require the most protection from downtime at the moment?
  2. In what way does the length of downtime impacts your business?
  3. In what way does the frequency of downtime impacts your business?
  4. How downtime affects your organizational productivity?
  5. How downtime affects your organization’s customers?

Professionals pursuing ITIL foundation level certifications learn how to talk with customers as one of the most important topics, besides acquiring a general awareness about the significant features, concepts and terms applied in ITIL service lifecycle.

Critical business operations

Majority of the IT services support various business operations, some are critical and others are less significant. For instance, an ATM machine may provide the statement printing and cash dispensing service. Here the cash dispensing activity is important, however, it won’t be a major issue if the machine is unable to print statements.

Apparently, you’ll be talking to your customers and try to land on the same page regarding the significance of different processes for their business. Consider the following scenarios and their impact:

  • Sending and receiving emails are not available, a 100% degradation of service
  • Reading public folders is not available, a 50% degradation of service
  • Updating public folders is not available, a 10% degradation of service
  • Accessing shared calendars is not available, a 30% degradation of service

Similarly, you can always draw a table suggesting the business impact after losing a vital, or less vital, IT function.

Therefore, the above scenarios tell us where the IT firm needs to invest its focus more with respect to each function catered.

Duration and frequency of downtime

As a professional, you need to learn how the duration and frequency of downtime affects the customer’s business.

As we stated above, the percentage availability figure doesn’t inform us much. For example, if a service that should be available for 100 hours registers a 98% availability, it means there is a 2 hours downtime. However, this could either indicate a single 2-hour downtime, or several chunks of shorter intervals.

It is important to note that relative impacts of one long incident and several shorter incidents will be different, obviously depending on the customer’s nature of business and respective operational procedures employed.

Consider the example of a billing run that requires two days to conclude and must be restarted after any outage. The billing will be critically affected at the hands of each outage, however, an outage that lasts longer might be less important.

On the other hand, an ecommerce portal might not be worried by a 1-minute outage, but the same online store will experience some real loss of customers in case of a 2-hour outage.

When you are aware of the likely impact, you will have a much clear idea on how to place infrastructure, applications, and procedures for providing a quality customer support; design purposeful targets; and create ways to document and report them in a suitable manner.

Again, ITIL foundation certifications can help you understand the significance and ways of service availability for a business’s customers, and what improvement are required in place.

Amjad butt

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