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How to avoid website failure in a crisis

How to avoid website failure in a crisis

CEO of web application testing service SciVisum, Deri Jones, believes that website failure under normal circumstances is unacceptable.
The announcement that the Bank of England had provided emergency financial support to Northern Rock led to many of its customers logging on to the company's website to find out more and to withdraw their savings.

The sudden increase in the number of site visitors and transactions resulted in Northern Rock's website failing.

But for a company's website to cease operating at such a critical time as Northern Rock's did is unforgivable, and organisations must learn from it.

It's not surprising that when the news about Northern Rock and The Bank of England filtered through customers were logging on to Northern Rock's website.

The way people interact with their bank has changed. The majority of us log on rather than head to the high-street, so by not having the website available for customers to use, Northern Rock might as well have fired off a distress flair.

Lessons must be learnt from this if customers are to start trusting online financial services again.

It's not enough for companies to tick off a check list of: load-balancer, server farm, etc. businesses need to plan for - and be ready for - those traffic spikes that may be 100 or even 1,000 times more than their usual peak.

Many organisations successfully plan for massive increases in demand, and these organisations are better able to satisfy their customers.

The technology clearly exists to manage these spikes in demands - one only has to look at the media industry to see that they've been doing it for years.

Good preparation includes having 'light-weight' versions of web applications ready to run - so that customers can still 'do the job' even if there are less bells and whistles and features online.

Other solutions involve having third party contracts for spare capacity - although login-applications like those used for online banking doesn't lend itself so readily to this approach - all the users' details still have to be collected from the central databases uniquely for each user anyway.

Comprehensive testing is fundamental to ensuring that a website is capable of handling the strain of peaks in users and is something that good IT managers do on a fairly regular basis.

Businesses must also make crisis planning a central facet of their web infrastructure considerations - that way the IT department can stay ahead of the curve and help manage an impending crisis rather than adding to it.

Is website failure ever acceptable? No. At best it is tolerated by users, but even then it is likely the company will have damaged their brand or driven their customers to a competitor.

Is it too late for Northern Rock? This remains to be seen, but website failure at such a critical time is likely to be unforgivable in many of its customers' eyes.

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