See things clearly

A point we make regularly here at OBASHI is that in today’s digital world, it is important to understand how data flows through and between businesses.


We occasionally blog about “data flow disasters” - events that occur when a flow of data is interrupted or compromised, so that there is a negative business impact on those who use or interact with that flow of data.


A recent example of such a ‘disaster’ is a pair of associated outages at the telecom company O2, which stopped data flowing to, and from, millions of customers for lengthy periods. 


Faults in a database supplied by Ericsson caused the problems, and in financial terms alone it will cost at least £10 million to rectify the issue.  But it is likely there will be associated business impacts in terms of, for example, customer loss and reputational loss.


Today, as the increasing number of such data related outages, ‘glitches’ and security incidents demonstrate, minimising the frequency and impact of such problems is a key business issue, and it will continue to be so for many years.


But this focus on critical business flows is not a new phenomenon. 


Businesses and governments are well-used to understanding, exploiting, regulating and managing more traditional flows.  Things like flows of components on a production line, or flows of water through a power station, or flows of aeroplanes around the planet.


And yet, despite many decades, even centuries, of engineering, architecture, standards, and best practice, problems can still arise with flows.


Sometimes such problems are technical in nature when an asset supporting a flow inevitably wears or fails, and sometimes they are caused by the actions of us pesky humans.  But when flow doesn’t flow as it should, business problems usually follow.


Here are some recent news stories where the impact of changes in flow is clear.

  • Near Larnaca, Cyprus, a 32 year old man stopped the flow of electricity for 2 hours (and suffered second degree burns) because he, “...fell on top of electricity power lines...when his paraglider’s motor lost power forcing him to attempt an emergency landing...”


  • One of the 9 engines on a rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station failed.  The other 8 engines burned increased flows of liquid oxygen to safely reach the ISS. As a consequence, a mission to restart the rocket and deliver a satellite into higher orbit had to be abandoned.


  • A fire at a sewage treatment works in London damaged the main control room.  As a result, sewage was not treated properly and it was discharged from the plant, flowing into a nearby waterway.  The river was polluted to the extent that hundreds of fish were killed.


  • A few gallons of corrosive sodium hydroxide accidentally flowed into the vessels and pipes of an oil refining unit in Port Arthur, Texas. Cracks resulted in the pipe work, forcing a shut down for repair. Getting the unit back into production will cost about the same as initial construction: $300m - $400m.


  • As the Arctic ice cap melts, increased surface flow will open up sea lanes across the Arctic Ocean. Journeys between, for example, some European and Asian ports, could be up to 40% shorter. The economics of sea transport, and the economies of some countries, will be dramatically changed.


As individuals and as organisations we rely on flows for much of what we do on a daily basis - washing our hands and cooking our food, lighting our offices and supplying our customers.


But as the above examples demonstrate, when a flow doesn’t flow as expected...we often have a serious problem.


And that applies to flows of data too.

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