A few years ago I was asked to fly out to San Diego to give a presentation on the importance on being prepared for disaster recovery. I was one of two speakers, the other speaker was from an online backup company.
I put the presentation together on the flight from Denver, and at the time I had just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. There was a chapter in Gladwell’s book about the bombing of London during World War II, and how prior to the bombing the British Government had invested heavily in mental health in the belief that the anticipated bombing would send a lot of people crazy.
There was not a lot of discussion in the book about why there was such a focus on mental health, but given the experiences with trench warfare during the First World War, I would imagine that governments all over Western Europe were still dealing with a mental health epidemic that remained from war 20 years earlier, and this played a big part in their planning for the coming conflict.
The book went on to explain that when the bombing started the mental health outcome was not as expected; basically, if you you died in the early bombing you were dead and there was no mental health issue, and if you lived, you came out of the experience with the belief that you had some sort of intrinsic luck.
Gladwell did not give a name to this phenomenon, but I suppose it is a twist on what the insurance industry call Risk Compensation.
The position I put in my presentation was that as people who work closely with data, we have all irrecoverably lost data at one point or another, and that for many, the experience of continuing without that data has an effect that one would not expect.
Not only does this contradict the narrative that most companies who experience data loss go out of business, but that very narrative actually undermines the importance of having a resilient and recoverable data management strategy.
… basically, it is those who run around repeating the mantra that 80% of businesses that experience data loss will go out of business who damage the important message of protecting data.
Not only is this statistic completely contrived, but it is also fails what we call in Australia “the pub test”, or “the sniff test”.
Let’s face it, does anybody believe that none of the Fortune 500 have ever experienced the permanent loss of data? Or, does anybody believe that most of them have not?
Once my presentation was over we paused for refreshments, and the second speaker started his presentation, what do you think his first slide said?
You guessed it…
80% of business who experience data loss go out of business in the first 3 months.
What effect does the constant reiteration of this false statistic really have on the people who hear it; people who know they have permanently lost data in the past and didn’t go out of business?
I would argue that it has a completely counterproductive effect. All it does is reinforce the belief that they are intrinsically lucky, because what it says to them is that they lost data and they were among the 20% who got away with it, when in fact, they were not the 20% and therefore no luckier than anyone else.
Data loss is nothing more than an inconvenience for the vast majority of companies. It results in fines, customer dissatisfaction, and legal battles that are harder to fight than they need to be, but it rarely results in companies going out of business.
So this begs the question; how should backup be sold to people?
That’s simple, the more you invest in implementing a reliable backup strategy, the less you will be inconvenienced.
When data is lost, it isn’t just the loss that has to be dealt with; someone has to explain the loss, someone has to make up for the loss, and someone often has to be compensated.
This inconvenience will inevitably cost way more that the cost of protecting the data from loss, so the argument is nothing more than a cost benefit equation.
Resorting to making the pitch for investment in backup some sort of life or death decision, is nothing more than a sign of an inexperienced or incompetent salesperson.