Assessed for success: The strategic role of the system impact analysis

Unplanned downtime and unexpected system outages can limit productivity, impact end-user satisfaction, and cost your company money. A system impact analysis (SIA) can help companies strategically identify IT issues and reduce total risk.

According to recent IDC survey, businesses experience more than 40 hours of unplanned downtime per year across servers, storage, networks, and facilities. In addition, companies reported 48 hours of downtime each year due to human error.

The data makes it clear: downtime remains a persistent problem. A system impact analysis (SIA) can help companies strategically identify IT issues and reduce total risk. Here's how.

Common continuity challenges

While the timing and impact of continuity challenges vary across organizations, there are four common causes.

1. Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks remain the most reported cause of outages. From phishing attacks to malware and ransomware, malicious actors continuously expand their repertoire to compromise business systems.

Consider phishing. Despite being decades old, this technique still works because it relies on human nature rather than technological weak points to infiltrate systems.

Meanwhile, the advent of mainstream AI tools has created new paths to compromise as it becomes increasingly difficult for companies to distinguish between what's real, what's fake, and what lies in between.

2. Single points of failure

The interconnected nature of technology environments is both a strength and a weakness. While functional redundancy can help companies better manage sudden outages, the dependencies that exist between IT systems often create a single point of failure — one that businesses may not discover until outages occur.

3. Human error

Human error also remains a leading cause of unexpected downtime. For example, in November 2023, a single human error was identified as the cause of banking service outages that affected Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, and Chase customers.

In most cases, this human error is accidental rather than malicious and is tied to a lack of training or IT education. If staff don't have the knowledge needed to make informed decisions, their actions can have serious consequences for business operations.

4. Technology outages

System or service outages are often responsible for downtime. When it comes to internal tools and technologies, outages may be caused by configuration changes or software updates that lead to interoperability issues. In the case of external resources, such as cloud providers or off-site data centers, outages occur as a result of natural disasters, power failures, or security breaches.

What is a system impact analysis?

To ensure that organizations can adequately plan to effectively protect and maintain access to their most critical technologies during a crisis or disruption, Mazars has developed an SIA. The SIA includes a detailed review of an organization’s technology landscape, assesses the criticality of systems and applications and allows the business to make informed decisions on the prioritization of resources for recovery and backup solutions.

Identify critical processes & technologies

By understanding which systems and applications support your organization’s most critical business processes, resources can be focused on protecting and recovering critical tier technologies to ensure their continuity and rapid recovery in response to a disruption. This also ensures you do not overspend on overprotecting less critical technologies.

Setting recovery objectives

With insights from the SIA, organizations can establish recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs). RTOs define the acceptable downtime for critical processes and supporting technologies, while RPOs determine the maximum tolerable data loss. These objectives guide the development of strategies that align precisely with your organization's needs.

Resource allocation & decision-making

Not all systems need the same level of protection against unexpected failure. Armed with data on the potential consequences of disruptions and the knowledge of what are key technologies for the business, leaders can make informed decisions regarding targeted investments in resilience and disaster recovery solutions.

Risk prioritization & mitigation

By highlighting potential risks, the SIA helps the prioritization of effective mitigation efforts. Organizations can proactively address vulnerabilities, reducing the likelihood and impact of potential disruptions.

Testing, Validation & Planning

The SIA's insights drive recovery testing priorities and validate your organization’s recovery plans and procedures – or identify the need for additional plan development.

Expecting the Unexpected

SIAs aren't silver bullets — they can't solve every system outage or predict every downtime event. However, what they can do is help businesses identify and prioritize what matters most to their operations and the systems that support them. From mission-critical applications to must-have resources, a comprehensive SIA gives companies the data and information they need to both address immediate concerns and develop long-term strategies that maximize productivity while minimizing risk.

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The information provided here is for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, legal advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal or other competent advisers.

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