Are you available?
While it may sound like an Internet dating service, www.availability.com is the latest example of how electronics companies are leveraging their expertise to provide services for customers and others. During my recent visit to American Power Conversion (APC; West Kingston, RI), a manufacturer of uninterrupted power supplies, surge protection devices, and electronics cooling systems, Tanley Martin, availability.com's general manager, outlined the purpose of the vendor-neutral site aimed at helping businesses by providing information to maximize their "up-time." As a resource for education, the online service features breaking news, standards, expert advice, interactive analysis tools to gauge downtime costs, third-party research results, and forums.
The site focuses on four key "layers" (physical environment, information technology, process, and people), both individually and as a whole. Availability.com then provides specific information to improve performance where necessary. "Physical environment" encompasses building management, data center infrastructure, safety, security, and infrastructure. "Information technology," linking people, processes, and environment, includes networking and data management, server processes, contracted services, and operating systems. "Process" includes how the enterprise is managed and organized, with emphasis on metrics to measure effectiveness, and a knowledge base and continuing education for future improvement. "People" support, such as critical skill training, career path opportunities, and compensation, improves the work environment and customer experience.
Martin emphasizes that, to maintain vendor neutrality, the site does not tie in with the APC site (www.apc.com) and also features information from the company's competitors. The more than 40 site sponsors, which include Hewlett-Packard, Eaton Cutler Hammer, Capstone Turbine Corp., and Cisco Systems, share their best practices, papers, and studies rather than sales pitches. As for APC, Martin adds, the company gains further exposure and branding and positions itself for future relationships. Also noteworthy is that registered user information is not passed out to the sponsors.
Availability.com was launched in May 2000. Its research to date notes that most site users (data center managers, engineers, CIOs, and CEOs) are focused on five problem areas: recovering from disasters such as power outages; improving service; reducing planned and unplanned downtime; downtime cost analysis; and benchmarking their company's performance. Martin notes that about 80% of downtime is actually related to process and people (training and education) issues.
The availability.com site follows a similar service area move that APC made two years ago when it established the www.energyOn.com website. Here businesses and consumers can shop for electric power—weighing not only cost but also customer service and incentive programs offered by power providers.