Retailers: Prepare Now for Holiday Outages

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In the age of fast shipping and one-click ordering, a single technical glitch can be detrimental to retail sales. A server outage during the holiday season could be a critical issue.

Target is a prime example, considering the brand experienced multiple technical outages in 2019. The retail giant’s in-store registers and online services were down for a few hours as recently as September. Target’s payment-processing system was down for more than a day in June.

The June outage cost Target an estimated US$100 million in sales and left customers feeling frustrated with their shopping experience. Shares fell 2 percent after the incident.

Target’s blackout was nothing new for consumers and retailers alike: Almost 96 percent of IT decision-makers worldwide experienced at least one customer-impacting outage in the last three years.

Just last Thanksgiving, J.Crew, Ulta, and Walmart experienced outages lasting from as little as a few minutes to several hours.

Unifying All Employees and Services

Looking internally at the employee experience during an outage, workers could be unable to access a production server to check out customers or log information. This can lead to employees submitting hundreds of IT tickets for the same issue. At the same time, employees have to communicate with upset customers and field questions they can’t answer — like when service will return to normal.

Since retailers often rely exclusively on their internal systems to process payments and orders, an outage of this magnitude is a major problem for businesses. Without preparing both the front- and back-end teams, it’s difficult for retailers to communicate between online and in-store systems and resolve issues quickly. It’s crucial to have a unified IT service management (ITSM) solution in place that can equip retail IT teams with the tools to identify and resolve the issue quickly and get employees back up and running.

To prepare adequately for the holiday season, retailers must align with their IT departments and employees to put a unified strategy in place. On the back end, a robust ITSM solution facilitating change management can help control technical infrastructure proactively to prevent issues.

Incident and problem management processes can be the key to getting systems back up and running quickly when there is an issue while also facilitating communication with all employees to make sure the entire organization is aligned.

So, how does ITSM come into play for retailers?

At the center of any retail outage are the retailers’ customer-facing employees who are on the frontline should a software glitch occur. Employees are not only hit with complaints from customers but also unable to use the technology they need to do their jobs, potentially resulting in hundreds or thousands of tickets being sent to IT service teams about the issue.

With more than half of retailers saying they experience a decrease in employee productivity during an outage, it seems next to impossible to recover lost sales and keep employees productive during a major technical glitch.

When multiple departments are involved in a company-wide outage, it’s even more difficult to address tickets, get systems running again, and keep employees productive while IT is fixing the issue.

To better handle a technology outage, it’s beneficial to have all employees and departments connected to the same platform and service tools. This includes integrating business critical applications into the service desk, like IT monitoring tools.

For example, if an IT monitoring tool is integrated with the ITSM solution, a monitoring alert that a network or system is down can trigger a ticket automatically at the service desk, providing IT service teams with immediate visibility into broader IT issues and enabling quicker resolution.

ITSM solutions can also provide powerful technology asset data to the IT teams dealing with incidents like this. With IT asset management, IT can discover, track, and manage the technology assets that employees and the business rely on.

When incidents occur, IT can align impacted assets with the incident, creating a digital trail of any issues a specific device or piece of software experiences. This helps identify problem devices and equips teams with the data they need to be proactive in terms of technology upgrades and preventing future issues.

When it comes to communication during an outage, employees could be in the dark in terms of what’s actually happening. With an ITSM solution, service teams can quickly communicate through a company-wide portal announcement exactly what the issue is and the steps being taken to address it.

Leveraging Smart Technology

As retailers invest in new tools and smart point-of-service systems for their front-end employees, it’s important to strengthen systems at the back end as well. Smart technology, like artificial intelligence (AI), can streamline consumer-facing processes and experience. Likewise, this technology can benefit workers and IT technicians alike on the back end.

For recurring issues on the frontlines, workers can turn to their ITSM solution and its service portal for quick access to resources. As workers start typing in their issues, AI can guide them to relevant self-service solutions articles or service request forms that make it easy for them to provide IT support with all the pertinent details IT needs to troubleshoot.

In the event of an outage, teams can be prepared with a knowledge base article about how to communicate the issue to customers.

For IT techs, this same technology, along with automation, can streamline processes significantly, keeping incident queues organized, guiding them to one-click solutions, and identifying multiple related incidents that are indicative of a bigger problem.

If a technical glitch were to occur, having smart technology to increase the resolution speed and consolidation of tickets can only help the IT team get things back up and running more quickly.

By having business critical tools, systems, and applications connected to the service desk, IT teams are better able to identify broader issues impacting the entire organization and can more efficiently communicate with key stakeholders and employees.

Putting It All Together: ITSM

Resolving an outage quickly and efficiently, with minimum damage, is a challenge for retailers. Even if stores think they’ve learned their lesson after last year’s Black Friday issues, online traffic is increasing each holiday season.

It’s no longer enough to assume your website can handle a sharp increase in traffic or assume your system can be back up and running in no time without a clear plan in place. Even an outage that lasts only a few minutes can cause a steep loss in sales and customer loyalty.

This holiday season, retailers must align their departments with a streamlined IT service management strategy to ensure they are equipped with the right tools to anticipate and resolve a potential service outage.

With strong IT service management, retailers can develop effective and consolidated communication within their organizations and streamline the resolution of service issues. By providing IT technicians with the best tools to organize tickets and field them to the right person or team, they can resolve service outages more quickly and efficiently.

At the same time, a cohesive ITSM strategy gives all employees the best knowledge and resources for how to handle an outage, uniting the entire organization under a single message. With the right solution and plan, retailers can gear up to handle service outages that might occur this holiday season.

Matt Cox is senior director of technical operations, ITSM, at SolarWinds.

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