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Firms need to be ready for Black Friday

Companies must invest in safeguards and respond swiftly to downtime to prevent severe losses during lucrative retail season

The increasing importance of data adds three very real risks to companies - downtime, compliance and security.

Intelligent handling and analysis of data in real time is a given requirement for a modern business in an increasingly competitive environment.

With Black Friday and the retail season upon us, what can we expect from retailers this year?

December is considered the most important month for retail locally. However, according to Department of Statistics Singapore, December 2018 was a dismal month for retailers. The volume of sales fell by 6 per cent year-on-year.

On the other hand, Black Friday reportedly boosted sales. This promotional period is becoming more popular as consumers do their Christmas shopping in November instead of December.

In the past five years, Google Trends shows us that consumer interest on Black Friday has more than doubled.

In Singapore, the percentage increase is a staggering 222 per cent - making it both a lucrative but also highly strenuous time for retailers.

Locally, the number of transactions on this important retail day increased by 511 per cent.

An average Singaporean consumer will spend over $165 during the Black Friday sales.

Let's look at the risk of downtime and the implications that it could have on retailers during this critical trading period.

The 2019 Veeam Cloud Data Management Report found that, on average, IT decision makers from the retail, distribution and transport industries said their organisation had experienced six unplanned outages in the last 12 months, lasting an average of 77 minutes.

The same study also found that 73 per cent of firms admit to not being able to meet consumer demands for uninterrupted data access and services, which costs the typical company $140,000 for every hour of downtime.

This astounding figure highlights the devastating effect that business downtime can have on productivity, competitiveness and consumer confidence.

Last year, Singaporean e-retailers once again experienced downtime during this peak shopping period, leaving shoppers frustrated and disappointed.

Consumers just don't care about things such as load-balancing servers and uptime percentages - what they care about is a seamless experience from browsing, through ordering, tracking and fulfilment.

If a site is not available when a customer wants to make a purchase, chances are they will simply move on to the next one. And with new e-commerce platforms taking on incumbents, competition is heating up.

An hour of downtime can have dire consequences on a retailer's bottom line any day, but during Black Friday and the December holiday period, the impact is even more severe.

The same is true for transport and distribution companies, with demand for next-day and even same-day delivery services significantly higher than average.

SENSE OF URGENCY

If organisations have an outage, they need to restore data with a sense of urgency.

The recovery process needs to be able to protect personal information so that the company remains compliant, all the while protecting the organisation and its processes from security threats, such as malware or ransomware.

Given the growing importance of Black Friday, the stakes are too high for retailers to sit on their laurels. Retailers must look at what investments they need to make in their digital platforms to ensure that they are open and available at all hours on Black Friday.

Data is vital to a modern competitive organisation and so any investment in the cloud must focus on reliable data availability and mechanisms to protect data. The intelligent use of data unleashes a superpower of competitiveness. On the other hand, downtime, non-compliance and security threats pose a very costly risk to businesses.

The writer is head of systems engineering for Asia and Japan at Veeam Software. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.

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