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Evaluating Internet Dependence

Our office building is comprised mostly of small businesses. Recently, I encountered two employees of the insurance company across the hall wandering aimlessly in the hallway with lost expressions on their faces. As soon as they saw me, they eagerly inquired, "Is your Internet working?" Ours was, theirs was not. They said they weren't able to do any work when their Internet was down, and they remained in the hallway apparently hoping that somehow the connection would magically be repaired.

This week, I was on a three hour flight on a plane without Wi-Fi. A lady sitting in my row complained that she was unable to get any work done on the plane due to the lack of an Internet connection.

In both of these situations, no one complained about a lack of phone service; it was the Internet connection that was essential to work getting done.

In the past, clients have told me that it was essential that their phones keep working. Over time, email was added to the list of essential services. While having email implies having Internet access for the transmission of the messages, many workers require the Internet for more than sending email. Research and collaboration tasks often utilize the Internet. Those using cloud services know that Internet access is essential for access to cloud resources and applications.

From Telephony to Communication Technology
The change in our vocabulary (what we used to call "telephony" is now "communication technology") indicates that we are now working with multiple forms of communications. Today, I interacted with others via voice, email, text, IM, video, and document sharing. All but the texting on my cell phone required an Internet connection.

For many of us, the Internet is becoming like air. We take it for granted until we don't have it.

If the Internet is now essential, how does that change the way we look at communications technology? Almost every mid-sized to large client we have already has some sort of backup for their Internet connection. Many have a secondary carrier with a smaller bandwidth connection installed as a backup in case the primary connection fails.

Small companies often do not take these precautions, and, as our office neighbors demonstrated, their ability to do business is dependent upon a resource they have little control over.

But should larger companies also reevaluate their dependence upon this resource?

How many organizations with dual Internet providers would lose both connections if a fiber cut occurred in the last mile of their connectivity? Similarly, a power outage followed by loss of UPS, batteries, or a generator would render dual connections useless. That level of risk may have been acceptable in the past, but is this still the case? What impact would an Internet outage have on your organization today? How many hours of downtime would it take for the outage to have a crippling effect on the business?

It's easy to think that the plans that were put in place two or three years ago will still meet your organization's needs. But our dependence on the Internet is increasing incrementally all the time. Those of us who are the watchdogs of our organization's technology would do well to realize this. Maybe it's time to reassess the importance of this resource. Would an Internet outage today have a greater effect than one that occurred two or three years ago? If your answer is "yes" then it may be time to increase the effort, or budget, required to keep it working.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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