When a national treasure suffers an outage, why do we forget the next day?

The ‘Twitterstorm’© that followed last week’s BBC outage was both extraordinary and typical of the times that global brands now need to survive in. With amazing speed, a flurry of comments some witty, some bitchy (including from rival Channel 4’s news team) but most at least well-intentioned, greeted what was just 30 minutes of downtime from a brand rated very highly according to independent research.

The Beeb is not the first to have suffered from having the full light of the Twittersphere trained on it and there are the well-publicised examples of Habitat’s sale fail and The Daily Mail’s gypsy miscalculation.

These days, if you are a brand owner, you need to be aware of ‘sentiment’ in real time. Something made eye-wateringly obvious by the large premium Salesforce ‘overpaid’ last week for the incomplete solution formerly known as Radian 6. When brands such as Pepsi have ‘brand control rooms’ which contain sufficient computing power to put men on the moon, one can see just how seriously brand sentiment is being taken.

But this was not about some bad experiences in purchasing sugar water. This is about disruption to a national information service. One which, allegedly until recently, had implications for global security as UK nuclear submarine commanders allegedly used its output to verify the know world beyond their vessel remained un-nuked. Its absence would signal Armageddon for their pre-programmed target cities.

The BBC’s original terseness in explaining itself, was remedied in part by a rapid resumption of service, it took just 30 minutes at around midnight on a working day for the sites to come back up.

I predicted at the time that, just as with the recent outages at the London Stock Exchange, there would be no accurate public apportioning of blame. Although the ‘culprit’ was allegedly traced to a router in Canary Wharf’s Telehouse, which we were told was protected by a back-up, there was no explanation as to why the hardware, as well as its back-up failed, who was responsible for the hardware, the service or the maintenance and no remedial action promised to prevent future failure.

By the next day, The Twitterati had moved on to another story, which in a way is a real shame, because this story at its heart proves three things:-

  1. Enterprise technology is now so embedded into business that it has become a competitive edge.
  2. Brands need to have the ability to respond in Real Time to technical issues which present them in a negative light.
  3. The time when technical issues can be apportioned to faceless hardware faults is coming to an end. CIOs need to diagnose and call out the real issues behind such failures. The alternative, we all just accept such poor service as inevitable, is the opposite of progress.

The epilogue showed that moving on may have been the wrong instinct for many IT press. A story ‘buried’ on Friday morning, conveniently, April Fools’ Day, showed that perhaps there were reasons for the LSE and Beeb outages that were a little less benign than an unnamed contractor simply unplugging a router in a highly secure datacenter. Although there is no proof that the two stories were linked, at least the BBC’s redoubtable tech team was taking the issue of downtime seriously now.

This SQL Injection risk is one faced by thousands of enterprises every day, due to poor coding practices and is one taken seriously by banks and others who see the link between business success and reliable Enterprise IT.

However, this is not the stuff that parodies of 140 characters or less are made out of. In this way, the very strength of Twitter, with its ability to brew storms in the late night cocoa cups of BBC Website watchers is its weakness. It doesn’t have the attention span to analyze the real tech stories that matter.

What is your perspective on Twitter as a medium for observing Tech meltdowns? Is there enough coverage of enterprise tech and its implications in the business press? Feel free to leave a comment.

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2 responses to “When a national treasure suffers an outage, why do we forget the next day?

  1. Nice post Paul. To be fair, I think the LSE did a good job openly communicating about the problem and resolving it pretty quickly. They’ve learned from past mistakes.

    Radian6 surprised me — As a past user, I think there’s a bunch of other companies that are at least their equal.

  2. Pingback: The ‘e-smerging’ tech media landscape | Being Positive

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