06/02/2017 11:49 GMT | Updated 07/02/2018 05:12 GMT

The Technology World's 'Groundhog Day' Challenges



For an industry that thrives on change, technology can be frustratingly stuck in a 'Groundhog Day'-style loop, where the same weaknesses seem to leave vendors, service providers (and their customers) repeatedly damaged and powerless.

A recurring range of issues grab the headlines, and with Groundhog Day just past, it's a good time to explore where some of the most stubborn issues lie, and how they could - perhaps - be tackled.

Security - IT's recurring bad dream

The regularity of security breaches and cyber attacks is becoming so extreme that we are fast becoming desensitised to their impact. Yet, the scale of the problem is immense. The IT Governance Blog has, for example, been analysing the trends and keeping a running total of how many data records are being leaked for several years. Back in 2015, the annual total was 480 million - an enormous figure, greater than the population of the USA.

Yet, despite security being a well-understood issue, recognised at government level and with many organisations competing to offer remedies, 12 months later the figure soared to 3.1 billion records leaked. A further twist is that these numbers only count reported data leaks - who truly knows what the actual total might be?

And don't forget, that's just one way of measuring the scale of IT security challenges. Part of the solution certainly lies in treating IT security differently. Governments can't legislate us out of the problem, any more than they can legislate away any type of crime. No single security software vendor can offer 100% protection, and no organisation is prepared to go public and claim they are totally secure.

So, taking greater responsibility for being secure is arguably at the heart of the solution. For some, more investment is needed. Businesses spend around 5% of their overall IT budgets on security, according to research house Gartner, despite it being among the top three concerns for IT executives. The logical conclusion is that spending priorities need to change dramatically to address the issue.

Consumers also need to be more rigorous in their choice of products and services, and seek out specialists who can prove they are as good as they claim. The days of treating security seriously only when there has been a problem need to end.

Service - the poor relation in a 'service provider' world

The service provider market makes up a huge part of the entire global technology industry - the hosting and infrastructure segments alone could be worth up to $140bn globally by 2019, according to 451 Research.

But as an industry, tech businesses in general and service providers in particular need to get much better at customer service. At best, poor service is a perennial source of frustration for customers. At worst, it has cost people their livelihoods.

Some of the worst offenders are 'service providers' themselves. Whether it's lack of proactive communication, customer case or responsiveness, the social media feeds of many in the sector are alive with justifiably angry customers.

Ultimately, some tech businesses choose not to emphasise service as a strategic part of their business model, so customers need to consider balancing cost against proven service levels and agreements that work for all.

Some of these businesses are very young, some have grown very quickly, and this undoubtedly can have an impact on service levels. But there's no doubt that great customer service is a win-win, especially in an era of savvy consumers who are increasingly focused on reputation.

Reliability - (down)time is money

Whether it's providing more reliable products and services that are less vulnerable to security threats, failures or human error, reducing downtime would address one of technology's consistently high cost weaknesses.

It's been making big headlines for years. Back in 2013, Amazon was reported to have suffered a 30 minute outage, estimated to have cost $66,240 per minute. A year later, Gartner carried out a study which estimated network downtime, "typically costs $5,600 p/minute, which extrapolates to well over $300K p/hour".

The problem remains reliably alarming - last year, the annual cost of IT downtime to companies in the US alone was estimated at $700bn. As an industry, IT could hardly be accused of not responding to the issue - an entire section of the market is dedicated to preventing, identifying and mitigating downtime. But, while it's unrealistic to imagine a world where businesses and service providers never have problems, the frequency with which these issues impact employees and customers remains far too high, and the response too weak.

For businesses and consumers alike, the tipping point often only arrives when there's a risk to their bank account. Changing that mindset to a proactive, preventative approach would go a long way to removing that familiar Groundhog Day feeling.