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Being the managing director of a small business is a tough brief. Not only do you have to understand your business inside out but, as technology plays an increasingly bigger role, you are also expected to have a decent understanding of the digital world too.

But are MDs in the UK picking up this newly-required technological skillset fast enough?

According to recent research, unfortunately not. Despite only one in five (19%) leaders saying that their business experienced internet problems once a week, according to the average employee, it happens as much as three times as often, resulting in the loss of around 45 minutes of productivity, per employee, per week.

Just over half of the MDs involved in the research admitted that they didn’t know what caused their business’s internet problems or when they were supposed to review their connectivity.

So, what exactly should MDs know about internet problems and downtime?

What exactly is downtime?

When most people talk about downtime, they are referring to the internet being so problematic (e.g. slow, unreliable) that it is unusable for a period of time.

In reality, there are four types of common internet problem that affect UK businesses, and it is useful to be able to recognise each.

The first, downtime, refers to a complete loss of internet connection – also known as an outage – and means that you cannot send or receive emails or use the internet.

The second and most common problem, high latency, occurs when your internet connection slows right down. Web pages are likely to take an unnecessarily long time to load, or emails a while to come through.

The third issue, packet loss, is where pictures on the internet or video appears to be scrambled or pixelated.

Finally, jitter is noticeable when you are video conferencing/streaming videos and the pictures and audio go out of sync and/or it becomes disjointed with breaks in the video.

Aren’t our connectivity problems our supplier’s fault?

There are a number of factors affecting your connectivity. Some your supplier will have control over, some (quite a few in fact) you control, and there are others that neither party can completely control, such as the wider infrastructure.

Not having enough bandwidth, something your business controls, is often responsible for issues with latency, jitter and packet loss. If you have a standard ADSL internet connection and have too many staff using it at once, or download/upload large amounts of data, you are putting the system you have under too much strain. Think of it like a water pipe, the smaller the pipe is, the less water can flow through it, the bigger it is, the more can flow through it.

Another consideration is the condition and quality of the equipment you are using – i.e. your broadband router – which can result in an unreliable connection.

Whilst obviously incredibly important to have, some security measures (such as firewalls) have been known to block access to the internet.

Every business or residential premises with an internet connection will have its own individual cable to transfer information to and from the premises, but once the cable reaches the wider infrastructure, eventually everyone shares the facilities. The greater the number of people sharing your local infrastructure, the more ‘under pressure’ the system will be. So, unless you have an Ethernet connection (a private, high-speed internet line), your internet speeds will be affected by the extent of your neighbours’ online activities.

Geography is another key factor that determines the speed of your internet connection, and therefore worth bearing in mind when searching for premises if your business is reliant on a high-speed internet connection. Rural areas are unlikely to have the same quality of infrastructure as those living in a city – though achieving high speeds in urban areas is not necessarily a given. Ultimately, the further away your business is from the local exchange, the slower your internet speed is likely to be.

Whilst no supplier is infallible and it is indeed possible that your supplier could be responsible for an issue with an outage, most simply lease lines from another company, such as BT Openreach, and have surprisingly little control over the maintenance of the wider infrastructure. However, if you have a particularly sophisticated internet system, such as a wide area network, your supplier will have more control over your connection.

Finally, there is the issue of third party issues or accidents, such as cables being damaged during roadworks, which result in complete downtime that neither party can prevent. However, the sooner you alert your supplier to a problem, the sooner they can investigate and rectify it.

Downtime

How long should it take my supplier to fix a problem?

As you can imagine, the type and extent of the problem will affect how fast it can be rectified. Some can be fixed quickly, others require engineers to conduct a series of tests to establish exactly what the issue is before it can be rectified.

However, far too many businesses do not realise the importance of their contracted service level agreement (SLA) when purchasing a connection. The speed at which your supplier is expected to respond when you report a problem is dependent on the type of internet connection you have purchased.

Generally speaking, a fast connection (e.g. Ethernet) will mean the response time you can expect from your supplier will be the same day and within around a four hour window. A basic internet connection (e.g. ADSL) is likely to have a significantly longer response time (days rather than hours), which is important to bear in mind if your internet connection is business-critical.

What can I do to minimise the connectivity issues my business is experiencing?

Unlike other utilities, such as gas or electricity, you cannot simply install an internet connection and forget about it. If your business is fast-growing and your staff numbers or your online activities increase, you should upgrade your internet connection accordingly to avoid issues like high latency, jitter and packet loss.

Many business managers assume that their staff will tell them if they are regularly experiencing issues and that this is the time to review their connection. Whilst this is indeed an indicator, waiting until a problem is flagged means that the business is already losing a significant amount of money through lost productivity. Not only that, but customers are often quick to notice that a company’s staff are slow in accessing their records during phone calls, that emails are not returned quickly, or that video conferencing is of a poor quality. That being the case, proactive connectivity management is a far better approach than reactive upgrades prompted by customer and staff complaints.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to connectivity. Pick a solution based on the number of users and types of business activities that need to be conducted online and your desired response time in the event of an issue, rather than price.

When discussing your connectivity requirements, your supplier should ask you about your staff numbers, online activities and the software you use, to establish which is the most appropriate solution. Be wary of any supplier that does not seek to establish your needs before making a recommendation.

For more information on this topic check out our Beginner’s guide to connectivity and our Beginner’s guide to downtime

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