We can hardly believe the images of the capsized Costa Concordia. It lies peacefully on its side, looking like a toy, with a beautiful Mediterranean island behind it. But this serene aftermath belies the tragedy that has unfolded, with dozens likely perishing. The cruise line’s PR machine is already in full gear, blaming the ship’s captain for “human error” by taking the vessel on a dangerous course. While it’s too early for anyone to proclaim a full understanding of a root cause, history can provide some guidance. It is likely that some combination of human error, policy violation, and inadequate controls will be involved.
So, what in heck does this have to do with digital marketing? Allow me a second to make the connection. Firms are being driven ever faster by a whirlwind of competitive forces and cultural pressures. Look at any forward-thinking company’s plans and you’ll see terms like agility, innovation and “first mover.” The culture of the social web has been one of constant and instant functional improvements to products and services. This leads to a frantic pace of new development, with firms fearing that any delay will result in fatal losses of opportunities.
Enabling this rapid pace of change is an entire industry of service providers, ready to turn up capabilities with a few mouse clicks and a credit card number. In fact, it has never been easier for a firm to provision a new web-based service. Many firms have seized this advantage, leading to quick domination of their market space. Their sites are showcases, feature-rich and user friendly. Unfortunately, many of these same firms have not paid commensurate attention to the controls needed to “run a safe ship.” In fact, there’s a toxic mix at hand, fueling potential service catastrophes. On one hand, an increasing number of non-technical business departments are involved in direct relationships with technology service providers. Adding to the problem, these providers are frequently start-ups, without the process maturity of more established, old-line technology companies.
The unfortunate results play out across mainstream and social media outlets: sites that are down for multiple days due to capacity problems; entire data centers failing due to maintenance operations that go awry; the endless stream of security breeches, resulting in compromised credit cards and private customer information. Many of these failures can be a “Titanic” event, resulting in lost revenue, lost customers, and severe reputational damage.
So what’s an agile, innovative enterprise to do? Long before the ascendancy of the Internet, technology professionals utilized a set of operational practices to ensure that service levels were met. Forward-thinking companies should familiarize themselves with these concepts and ensure that they are utilizing these practices as part of their web presence. Those firms or departments without the internal expertise to handle this type of assessment should utilize consulting assistance.
Availability–Is your site engineered to handle the failure of a component, server, network link or database? Is your data center engineered for high availability? Can your site scale to handle rapid increases in demand? Do you, and your service provider, have mature processes around change management, incident management and problem management?
Security–Has your environment been engineered in conjunction with security professionals? Do you and/or your service provider have mature intrusion prevention tools? Do you perform regular third party audits of your site for vulnerabilities?
Continuity–Does your site have an appropriate data backup plan? Do you have an alternate site available, if your primary site is down? Do you and your provider have a continuity plan that details how you will handle the failover to your alternate site?
There is no question that rapid introduction of new features and capabilities is necessary for firms competing in a Web 2.0 world. However, not having a basic set of well-designed operational controls is a tragedy waiting to happen. Your customers will be like cruise line passengers, lobster and champagne in hand, blissfully unaware that the ship is about to capsize.