How does your industry rank against the world’s most critical industries?

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At the end of this article, I’ll give you a link to find out, but first let’s define what we mean when we say “critical industries.”

Downtime costs, particularly as they relate to the data center, get a lot of attention because knowing how much downtime costs an organization can help justify appropriate investments in the critical infrastructure that prevents downtime. However, direct and indirect financial costs represent just one aspect of what comprises criticality. And, while data centers are central to almost every industry’s ability to deliver services and support users, the critical technologies we depend on daily extends beyond data centers, including everything from electrical substations to cell towers to oil refinery control systems.

When Vertiv embarked on an initiative to rank the world’s most critical industries, we took a broad view of the critical services we depend on for our health, safety, commerce and comfort. Ultimately, we compiled a list of more than twenty industries that could be considered highly critical.

We then spent a good amount of time considering the various impacts of a disruption in these industries, not only to the businesses that experience the disruption, but also to the other industries, businesses and individuals that depend on it.

We ended up with 15 criteria, weighted by their importance, that could be used to evaluate and quantify the criticality of an industry. These included the obvious financial costs, as well as factors such as impact on societal order, reputation damage, the amount of frustration downtime causes users and how heavily the industry prioritizes availability.

This weighted list was used to create a Criticality Rubric that a global team of critical infrastructure experts used to score the various industries identified. When the scores were compiled and averaged, seven industries had a total score above 600 and these seven industries were featured in our report, Ranking the World’s Most Critical Industries.

Here are the seven that made our final list:

  1. Utilities
  2. Mass Transit
  3. Telecommunications
  4. Oil and Gas Production
  5. Cloud and Colocation
  6. Defense
  7. Smart Cities

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Now, I’ll admit that list surprised some members of the team in some ways. But, while you can quibble with the order of the industries ranked, and make very valid arguments for some industries that aren’t included, this list, at minimum, represents a good starting point for a consideration of the world’s most critical industries.

Certainly, Utilities deserve the number one spot. Many data center professionals have spent their careers designing and supporting systems whose sole purpose is to protect sensitive electronics against disturbances in the electrical grid and data centers are not alone in this dependence. Just about every other industry we analyzed had some dependence on the electrical grid.

Mass Transit, which for the purpose of our analysis included air and rail transportation, ranked higher than some on the team expected. But, remember this was a global team and not only can a disruption in air traffic in one location ripple across the world, delaying travelers for days and creating chaos, but many cities, particularly in emerging economies, are highly dependent on rail transport. A disruption in the rail system can paralyze a city.

Another surprise to some members of the team was that Cloud and Colocation didn’t rank higher than fifth. Team members that work closely with cloud and colocation providers, including myself, have seen first-hand how quickly this industry is expanding its influence and assuming a role not unlike Utilities, providing critical support to a host of other industries. It’s almost certain that if we conduct this same analysis again in two or three years, Cloud and Colocation will rise in the rankings.

Smart Cities was an unexpected addition to the list, considering its relative immaturity. While the Smart City vision has not been fully implemented, limiting the impact of a disruption, our team saw the concept advancing rapidly in many areas of the world with the consequences of downtime being hugely disruptive. The extensive use of IoT technologies by Smart Cities, which will likely be dependent on the cloud, could also further elevate the criticality of Cloud and Colocation providers.

In that way, Smart Cities epitomizes one of the key trends critical industries must face today: growing interdependencies across industries. The increase in digitization and the resulting interdependencies across critical industries is a little startling when considered in total. The effect is to extend the impact of downtime in almost every industry.

Industries across the spectrum must continue to invest in the technologies, processes and services required to keep critical systems operational. We may never be able to eliminate all natural disasters or human error, but with proper planning and investment, we can make progress toward a world where critical technologies always work. The data center remains central to that mission, but always-on data centers get us only part of the way there. Across industries, we must apply the same rigor and discipline to protecting the full range of critical technologies as we do the data center.

Now, I promised at the beginning a link that you could use to evaluate your industry. We’ve created an online tool from our Criticality Rubric that allows you to score your industry using the same process we used in our analysis. Give it a try. It’s any interesting exercise that will give you a deeper appreciation for the role critical technologies play in every aspect of our lives.