Enormous amounts of data are being created and managed by organisations all over the world. As you read this, you may not even be aware of how much of your own data has been collected, stored and used today, this week or this month.

By Kate Mollett, regional manager for Africa at Veeam

The increasing importance of data adds three very real risks to companies – downtime, compliance and security. Over and above these risks, operating off of clean and safe datasets has a direct impact on the much-touted innovations of the fourth industrial revolution: artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Intelligent handling and analysis of data in real-time is a given requirement for a modern business in an increasingly competitive environment.

Let’s look at South Africa specifically. Every day on our city’s roads one cannot help but notice another delivery vehicle or motorcycle delivering goods from various online retailers. The uptake of online services in this country is rapidly increasing.

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 Stats SA December 2018 was a dismal month for retailers.

The volume of sales fell by 1,4% year-on-year; the first negative annual growth rate since February 2017. On the other hand Black Friday boosted sales to 2,9% year-on-year in terms of volume. Referred to as the Black Friday effect, 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 South Africa, the percentage increase is a staggering 9 900%making it both a lucrative, but also a highly strenuous time for retailers.

Locally, the number of transactions on this important retail day increased by 2571%. In South Africa, every third transaction is taking place during November. An average South African consumer will spend over R1600 during the Black Friday sales, primarily on clothes, electronics and shoes.
Let’s look at the risk of downtime and the implications it could have on retailers during this critical trading period. The 2019 Veeam Cloud Data Management Report found that 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% of organisations admit to not being able to meet consumer demands for uninterrupted data access and services, which costs the typical company R300m a year. This astounding figure highlights the devastating effect business downtime can have on productivity, competitiveness and consumer confidence.

Last year, South African e-tailers 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 of the transaction. They need to have confidence and trust that services will work as they are supposed to, every time, all the time – while protecting their personal data.

If a site is not available when a customer wants to make a purchase, chances are he or she 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.

If organisations have an outage, they need to restore data with a sense of urgency. We have already established that consumers need, and demand, an always-on service that works. 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 when it comes to safeguarding their online infrastructure. Retailers must look at what investments they need to make in their digital platforms to ensure 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.