How to Ensure Your Technology is Secure, Stable and Scalable
Your business operates in the digital economy where success is predicated on your ability to compete in a high-velocity environment. Selecting, deploying and maintaining the right technology platforms will determine whether your business will thrive.
There are four primary areas you should focus on to maintain the efficacy of your technology foundation:
Data is at the core of every business and your inability to protect it will be the end of your business. Outside of more regulated industries like finance and healthcare, security is unfortunately not one of the top priorities. For a company that operates on tight margins, investing in security is seen as non-revenue generating, serving merely as a risk-mitigating insurance policy.
Would you be able to convince your CEO to invest $100,000 to prevent the 10 percent likelihood of a cyberattack resulting in $1 million in damages? Or, is it easier to make the argument for a $100,000 investment which has a 75 percent chance of generating $150,000 in revenue? Flipped around, the former has a 90 percent chance of throwing $100,000 down the tubes, and the latter has a 25 percent chance.
The problem with applying an expected value analysis to security is that there are too many qualitative variables required in the assessment. What you should acknowledge on is that a security incident is a low-probability, but high-cost event. And it’s possible for that cost to be catastrophically high. Can you really quantify the cost of exposing all of your customer data?
If your technology doesn’t work when you need it most, what good is it? When a new customer tries to buy something from your website and it doesn’t work, it’s very likely that you’ve lost him forever. The most timely and unfortunate example is HealthCare.gov.
The digital centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act is supposed to permit Americans to sign up for health insurance online. The problem with the website is that, since it launched, it has intermittently not worked for users, displaying a multitude of cryptic errors or transferring invalid information to healthcare providers.
The lesson here is that the consumer has very little patience for a lousy online experience. In our digital economy, we have come to expect websites to work with the certainty of flipping a light switch or starting a car. When Gmail goes down for several minutes, there is a collective aneurysm on Twitter. A population that reacts like this is not going to tolerate substandard technology, so you better make sure your digital infrastructure works all the time.
Your business objective should be growth and the digital infrastructure supporting your operations must be able to scale and accommodate the resulting increase in demand. If you have an infrastructure that is based on physical servers, you’ll need to be extremely accurate with your load estimates. In this situation, it’s better to overestimate the potential impact of increased business, than to underestimate. In the digital world, when you find yourself faced with the latter, you have no recourse in the midst of a traffic surge.
Imagine a three-lane highway that has three cars driving down it. Once you add a fourth vehicle to the mix, you start seeing congestion. At the end of a football game, ten thousand cars get added to the highway, and the result is a major traffic jam. Physical servers are fixed assets like highway lanes, which function perfectly under normal conditions, but are unable to expand and meet high demand.
Your ability to ensure security, stability and scalability at a single point in time is critical, but it’s more important to be able to sustain this over the long-term. The apropos and often overused analogy here would be that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, because you need to serve your customers today, tomorrow and in the future.
The digital business environment is fluid and dynamic, with regular traffic peaks and valleys. The nature of viral content is that it is unpredictable. Like a tsunami, it’s difficult to spot until it’s too late to respond -- when it’s about to break on your shores. Handling the scale of a massive traffic spike and sustaining that over a period of time is how you can take your company to the next level. That surge is likely exposing your brand to a massive new consumer base.
Digital infrastructure is the foundation on top of which many of you will build successful businesses. The potential for, and magnitude of your success is contingent upon the quality of this foundation. It has to be secure to protect your critical assets and data. It has to be stable and provide expected functionality for your customers. It has to be scalable to respond to the increasing demands of your success. And, it must sustain these traits over extended periods of time.
As an entrepreneur, your business should succeed or fail based on the merits of your ideas, not the technology used to support your operations. Your digital infrastructure should be secure, stable, scalable and sustainable, allowing you to focus on your core business.
Tom Cochran is the deputy coordinator for platforms at the U.S. Department of State. In this role, he is responsible for the global infrastructure supporting U.S. embassy web sites and a network of 700 American Spaces for public diplomacy and engaging foreign audiences. His most recent previous positions have included chief technology officer at Atlantic Media and director of new media technologies at the White House.