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    // Podcast

    Availability is table stakes: What COVID-19 showed us about the relationship between consumers and digital services

    August 7, 2020 | 12 minutes


    55% of consumers abandoned a company during COVID-19 because of IT issues. John Beattie, Principal Consultant at Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS), joins IT Availability Now to discuss what this means for businesses, and how they can avoid damaging their short- and long-term relationships with customers.

    This episode also dives into which digital services grew the most during the pandemic, how consumers struggled to maintain everyday life due to technical issues and concrete steps businesses can take to improve availability.

    Brian Fawcett is a Senior Manager of Global Sales Engagement at Sungard AS. With over 15 years of experience in a range of industries, he specialises in forming enterprize-wide global talent and learning development programmes. Brian has enriched corporate learning culture by matching organisational vision and core values to curricula, leading to application and impact.

    As a Principal Consultant at Sungard AS, John Beattie works closely with organisations to implement third party risk management programmes, and reduce operational risk by establishing new business continuity and disaster recovery programmes or transforming existing ones to improve effectiveness.

    The full transcript of this episode is available below.

    BRIAN FAWCETT (BF): Consumer use of digital services more than doubled during the pandemic. But consumers are also more demanding. More than half of them switched service providers or service levels due to technical issues they experienced during lockdown. If your company delivers digital services, you have to be thinking about availability. I’m your host, Brian Fawcett, and this is IT Availability Now, the show that tells storeys of business resilience from the people who keep the digital world available. Today we’re looking at new data from a survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Sungard Availability Services. It shows the big jump in use of digital services during the pandemic and how consumers have no patience for outages and other technology disruptions. To dig into the data and what it means for businesses, I’m talking to John Beattie, Principal Consultant at Sungard Availability Services. He’s been working with enterprises throughout the pandemic crisis to reduce risk and keep their services available. John, welcome to the show.

    JOHN BEATTIE (JB): Thank you Brian, it is a pleasure to be with you today to discuss this important topic.

    BF: So tell us John, how has COVID-19 affected consumers’ use of technology?

    JB: We’ll obviously we’ve all become very dependant on technology, both for work and in our personal lives, with the use of technology skyrocketing during the pandemic for sure. The use of digital services has more than doubled during the pandemic lockdown. Let me quote a few statistics resulting from the survey: grocery delivery is up 139%, telehealth is up 154%, prescription delivery has increased by 200%, and seven in 10 of respondents said they’re likely to continue using digital services after the pandemic. As a result, there is certainly a new level of expectation around digital service availability – we expect it to be there. It is important to note Brian that respondents also identified an average of six technology-related issues since entering self-isolation. Three-quarters of respondents say they’ve struggled to maintain their normal life due to technical issues, and 55% changed providers or reduced service levels due to issues they’ve faced while staying at home. These new behaviours are becoming engrained in us, and there’s an expectation of “always-on” availability. Just like you expect when you turn a light switch on, you expect that light to go on. People expect digital services to be available when they want them.

    BF: So the data is saying consumers expect more in terms of availability, what does that mean for the businesses that provide those services?

    JB: Well, the expectation for availability has certainly increased quite a bit, and there’s no turning back. This is our new reality. If businesses don’t provide it, consumers will go somewhere else, typically to a competitor, of course. Let me share a personal example with you. Early on in the pandemic, my internet was having issues and I really couldn’t work from home as a result. I Instantly started thinking about whether another provider would be available. So I did find a competing provider that offered a month-to-month service and no set-up fees, so no long-term commitment. So now I have two providers, with the new one there just in case my primary one fails, so I’m ready for whatever my ISPs throw my way. We’ve also seen data from our survey that consumers, just like me, are impatient when they experience outages, especially with services they’re increasingly reliant on. Ultimately, if digital businesses can’t ensure availability, they’re going to lose business in one of two ways. First, they might lose an order. If you can’t buy coffee from Amazon online, you might just go buy it somewhere else, but you’re not likely to terminate your relationship with Amazon as a result of a single disruption. Secondly, businesses might experience the loss of a relationship. If you do have a problem with your internet service provider, like I did, you might change providers and of course that’s more consequential to organisations. But I can assure you, when my current commitment is up with my current internet service provider, I will be considering a switch based on my recent experience.

    BF: Yeah and we know in this economy, companies can’t afford to lose business or relationships. So what can they do to ensure customers get the service they expect?

    JB: Well, there’s certainly the technology resilience piece, and that’s something that many organisations think about, making sure the technology continues to be available. But many organisations are reimagining resilience programmes overall, and that includes people and third-party service providers as well. You need the availability of people to make sure services stay available, and they can trouble shoot issues and keep things running as planned. But you also need to make sure your third-party service providers are, at minimum, just as resilient as you and that they will be there for you, especially if you’re highlight reliant upon them to deliver the services that you offer. One thing that should be looked at is concentration risk. That’s when you have all of your eggs in one basket. Let me share a couple of examples. If you have all your tech support people working in the same building or all your technology physically in one place, you need to look at diversifying. Companies are now looking to separate people with the same skills and knowledge across different locations so if there are any disruptions of any kind, their operations in one geographic area, they have others who can keep things running from another area. This goes for your venders too. If all your venders are in the same city or region, you should consider distributing those clusters as well. You want your technology, skillsets and vender services spread out for greater resilience.

    BF: Great recommendations. So let’s say you have the technology, people and processes in place. You’re paying attention to your venders and concentration risk. For organisations that are already doing well and have been able to handle the surge in technology use, what else should they be doing?

    JB: Well there are a lot of companies that have weathered the COVID-19 storm pretty well and others have scrambled to find stability, but we’re all operating in our new normal. But there are a few things to be thinking about and to watch out for. There could be a drop in demand for digital services as businesses reopen and people want to get out and about and return to their normal activities. So for example, people will be walking into banks again, so maybe the use of mobile banking may not see the same peaks it did during the height of the pandemic lockdown. And there are other disruptions that are likely to come our way later this year, well beyond COVID-19. We’re already seeing an increase in hurricane activity - East Coast, West Coast, Gulf States, etc. We’re approaching wildfire season in California, and protests may continue and even spread across the nation. So there’s a lot more disruption potentially coming our way, and possibly compounding by the stay at home orders that many areas are still experiencing. But in all these situations, you need to think about ways you can reduce the concentration risk of your technology, people and third-parties because that is a major issue that organisations I’ve been working with are all facing. Ultimately, it comes down to refreshing your overall business resilience programme to make sure it reflects what’s important to your business and helps you weather whatever disruption may come next.

    BF: And that’s a really important point. So in terms of high-level takeaways:

    • Consumers are more reliant on digital services than ever before and that’s only going to continue
    • They have little patience for outages and they’re more than willing to switch who they do business with
    • Which makes business continuity is even more essential to survival
    • And as companies look at business continuity, they should be thinking not only about their technology, but their people, processes, venders and their concentration risk

    JB: Exactly, Brian. Now is the time for organisations to reimagine resilience and determine what improvements you need so that customers never experience any disruptions in the services you’re providing.

    BF: John Beattie is Principal Consultant at Sungard Availability Services. John, thanks for coming on. I appreciate your time.

    JB: It was my pleasure Brian.

    BF: You can find the show notes for this episode at Please subscribe to the show on your podcast platform of choice to get new episodes as soon as they’re available. IT Availability Now is a production of Sungard Availability Services. I’m your host, Brian Fawcett, and until next time, stay available.