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Automotive resilience, not just airbags and crash tests, but IT too

24-Jul-2018
Automotive resilience, not just airbags and crash tests, but IT too
In 2016, two automotive suppliers unexpectedly suffered a system outage, leading them to halt deliveries to their customer – Volkswagen. Unfortunately, this led to major delays on Volkswagen’s production lines, and resulted in losses estimated at up to €100 million. This very public event just goes to show how vulnerable the complex automotive supply-chain can be when one disruption can cost a company this much.

Although there are many things that can cause disruptions within the automotive supply-chain, the increasing dependency on applications to manage the process puts IT in the spotlight. Both suppliers and their customers cannot afford to fall to a similar fate as Volkswagen, so updating and protecting IT is critical. As this responsibility often falls on the suppliers themselves, it is time for them to take a look at their current business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) strategies and decide if they actually create a resilient supply-chain.

System outages happen
The car manufacturing industry itself is a good example of an industry that is highly threatened by system outages. The supply chain for the delivery of those tens of thousands of parts in real-time to the production line, is not only immensely complex, but also, to an extent, underpinned by technology.

IT helps suppliers, manufacturers and logistics to work succinctly to keep the production lines moving and digital transformation is revolutionizing the automotive industry. The transformation is the beginning to digitize the supply chain, which allows more transparency and acceleration of design, manufacturing and delivery.

However, as the now age old saying goes, it is not if, but when with IT downtime and automotive part suppliers are not an exception to this rule. And as dependency on IT is only likely to grow, and the impact on delivering products becomes an even more stark reality, these organisations must be prepared for unplanned downtime due to an IT system failure. These failures and outages happen frequently, and for many different reasons, but this is not the major concern. The repercussions that come along with them can be devastating throughout the supply chain, with high sums of revenue lost and reputational damage often going hand-in-hand with it, that’s what IT teams should be focused on preventing.

Of the many reasons why an IT system may fail, two are the most threatening to the whole supply chain: human error and cyber attacks.

Impacts along the supply chain
The quality and price of parts is important to manufacturers, but what should be equally important is the supplier’s ability to deliver – on time and without exceptions. Situations such as systems being down due to unplanned maintenance, human error or a ransomware attack should be non-existent in todays market. However, simply being protected is not enough, suppliers need to be completely resilient against IT system outages to protect their supply chain and deliver goods on time.

There are ways that a supplier can move towards a state of IT resilience and enable its business to withstand downtime. This starts with a documented disaster recovery plan, with documentation of people, processes and technology alongside a regular schedule of testing to prove that the systems can withstand an unplanned outage and be back online in a very short amount of time – ideally seconds – to achieve business continuity.

Unfortunately, most BC/DR strategies used today are outdated, especially in the types of technology that they rely on. From legacy backup products, to day old copies of data and a lack of using new resources like the cloud, suppliers can leave their applications open to a lot of risk. Adding to this is the difficulty of DR testing with many of these legacy technologies, which means that many organisations don’t even realise where the gaps are in its plan.

IT Resilience is the key
State of the art BC/DR is no longer simply BC/DR; it is comprehensive IT resilience. A strategy that is fully IT resilient promises to increase protection over traditional BC/DR strategies while making the infrastructure flexible enough for IT to avoid both planned and unplanned outages. As well as the headline grabbing unplanned outages, such as a cyber attack, planned outages come hand in hand with digital transformation – for example, moving to the cloud, maintenance and upgrades, and even mergers and acquisitions can cause a planned outage. With this in mind, one way to achieve IT resilience is to relay on technology that provides continuous data protection (CDP).

In the world of automotive suppliers, things change on a minute to minute basis and protection that can only provide backup data from hours, days or weeks ago doesn’t typically provide much comfort after downtime. CDP is a different way to backup, often referred to as real time backup. Traditional backups provide snapshots at regular interval, where CDP automatically saves every single change to any data instantly. This means that the backup is no longer stored in intervals, but continuously in a journal.

After the calamity that Volkswagen found itself in, more customers in the automotive industry are going to start asking suppliers to provide detailed insight into how they recover from IT system outages should one occur. To remain competitive, all companies along the supply chain need to understand the shortcomings of currently used BC/DR strategies that protect only from hardware failures, but not from logical errors and don’t provide backup data at a granular level.

To be able to recover from any system outages, planned or unplanned, suppliers need to upgrade their BC/DR solutions to focus on the holy grail of IT resilience.