Critical communications and the outsourced responsibility myth
Why outsource elements of your enterprise technology?
Some of the drivers that organisations rightly cite include the need to draw on expertise and experience that is unavailable in-house, streamlining management, reducing costs and freeing up internal resource to focus on innovation.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that outsourcing elements of a technology infrastructure does not automatically absolve an organisation from responsibility for managing that infrastructure. Where communication technology is concerned, the organisation in question will be the ultimate port of call for customers, partners or other key stakeholders if something goes wrong – and that means that they need to retain some element of accountability.
Preparing for all occasions
We’re already familiar with this concept when it comes to other aspects of infrastructure. Organisations such as hospitals, for example, have long had emergency backup power generators in place, so that if a massive failure should hit their mains electricity supplier, they can still ensure the delivery of enough power to manage their lifesaving equipment and processes. This isn’t about a refusal to trust the mains suppliers – it is about having a sensible insurance policy in place should the worst happen.
The same model, then, should apply to other mission-critical aspects of organisations’ technology infrastructure – such as critical communications.
More and more organisations are choosing to use cellular networks from public mobile providers to underpin their communications. As commercial rollouts of cellular networks gather pace and we enter the Mission Critical LTE era, there are powerful motivations for organisations to use LTE networks for their core communications. Such networks promise faster speeds, smarter technology and greater data capacity than ever before – perfect for data-rich applications and rapid exchange of information.
These benefits are undoubtedly real and should be embraced by organisations across multiple sectors – but they come with a caveat. Should the mobile cellular provider in question suffer an outage or service failure or be required to switch off the network in an emergency situation such as a terrorist incident then that downtime will be passed on to organisations relying on said network for their communications. And if those communications are truly mission-critical, then the consequences could be severe.
Managing the risk
It is easy to imagine that ‘mission-critical’ only applies in a few select contexts, such as public safety and emergency services, who run their own private communication systems. But imagine an organisation like an airline using an LTE network from a public mobile provider to underpin the communications between safety or security personnel? A failure of that network could cause hundreds or thousands of flights to be grounded, and have an extraordinary knock-on effect in terms of revenue and reputation. The airline cannot simply blame its communications provider in the case of an emergency – it has to handle a massive fallout.
This is why really critical communications system always need to retain an element of private network ownership, even if outsourced providers are used for the core infrastructure.
Managed correctly mobile network operators can still play a major part in providing National Critical Infrastructure, however their mission critical subscribers are always likely to number significantly less than members of the public.
Day-to-day responsibility for certain elements of an organisation’s communications network can be outsourced to great effect, generating all the benefits outlined at the beginning of this blog, but ultimate accountability must remain in-house.