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World’s Most Critical Industries: Study Reveals Valuable Lessons

World’s Most Critical Industries: Study Reveals Valuable Lessons by Jack Pouchet

World’s Most Critical Industries: Study Reveals Valuable Lessons

Jack Pouchet

What’s worse, a disruption in a major city’s rail system or extended downtime in a cloud data center?


The answer, of course, depends on your perspective. If you’re one of thousands of people who use the rail system to get to work and you can’t afford to miss a day, that disruption is no small matter. But, if your business relies on the Cloud and you’re losing thousands of dollars for every minute of downtime, you might consider your situation more serious than that of the stranded commuters.

Since the impact of downtime depends on perspective, it’s difficult to compare one situation to another. Still, that doesn’t mean something isn’t a worthwhile undertaking.

Vertiv, which designs, builds and services critical infrastructure for applications for data centers, communication networks, and commercial and industrial facilities, conducted a study to rank the world’s most critical industries. The study was aimed at raising awareness of the role critical infrastructure plays in every aspect of people’s lives.

The Process

The first step in the nonscientific study was assembling a team of global infrastructure experts with expertise that spanned a variety of industries. Then, this team developed a list of more than 20 industries that are subject to disruption and could be considered critical to the people that depend on them.

Next came one of the most interesting challenges in the process: determining how to quantify criticality. The team compiled a list of 15 criteria that could be used to evaluate the impact of a disruption in a particular industry, factoring in everything from lost revenue and recovery costs to the amount of frustration downtime causes users to how heavily the industry prioritizes availability.

These factors were then weighted based on their impact and severity. The outcome of this exercise was a criticality rubric (see Figure 1) that each team member used to score each industry. These scores were compiled and an average score for each industry was calculated, which became the basis for the ranking.

figure 1Figure 1: Criticality rubric used in the study

Seven of the industries evaluated had a score of at least 600, which was established as the threshold for the Vertiv report, Ranking the World’s Most Critical Industries, available at VertivCo.com/MostCritical.

The Results

Some of the top seven ranked industries certainly come as no surprise. Utilities, for example, ranked number one. Electricity is still the foundation for much of the economy and a widespread disruption in electrical power has the broadest consequences of any industry analyzed in the study.

This could change in the future as heavy power users, such as data center operators, deploy micro grids and increase their adoption of alternative energy. In fact, the report highlights alternative energy as an emerging industry that will grow in criticality as it evolves from its current role as a supplement to the grid to a viable alternative to it. However, even looking 10 years out, it seems likely the vast majority of people and businesses will continue to depend on the grid and utilities will remain at or close to the top of the list.

Utilities was followed by mass transit, telecommunications, and oil and gas production, all industries that scored high on multiple heavily weighted criteria.

Cloud and colocation services ranked fifth in the study. This was a little surprising to some team members due to the fact that the cloud market is still relatively new and still in a rapid growth stage. In a very short period of time, cloud and colocation data centers have become critical hubs in the digital economy, supporting a vast array of businesses and services people depend on daily. And, based on their current growth rate, their influence can be expected to grow in the coming years.

Another rapidly emerging industry that made the list was smart cities, which ranked seventh behind defense. While the smart city vision has not been fully implemented, the study team saw the concept advancing rapidly in many areas of the world, with the consequences of downtime being hugely disruptive. Interestingly, smart cities will use Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that will likely be dependent on the Cloud, further elevating the criticality of cloud and colocation providers.

Ranking graphic

The Lessons

The process of ranking industries proved as valuable as the end results for those involved in the study.

The discussions leading up to the ranking provided each team member with a deep appreciation for the various impacts of downtime across industries and the measures taken within each industry to prevent it. For example, a team member who works with large data center operators, including those supporting social media platforms, was able to provide perspective on the growing role these platforms are playing as critical communication channels that people depend on for much more than news about family and friends, as well as how seriously those platforms take availability.

figure 2 Figure 2: Cloud data center

Team members also came away from the process with a better appreciation for how effective, in general, current critical infrastructure systems are in preventing downtime. It was necessary to consider worst-case scenarios in evaluating various industries, but these scenarios are surprisingly rare. Yes, you may recall high-profile disruptions in virtually every industry, but when you consider the complexity of the systems involved and the always-on demands of today’s world, the critical industries identified in the report are doing a good job of earning the trust of the people who depend on them.

That being said, the increase in digitization and the resulting interdependencies across critical industries are a little startling when taken in total. The effect of this extends the impact of downtime in almost every industry. Disruptions in the electrical grid ripple across all industries; delays in rail and air transport disrupt commerce; and downtime in a colocation facility extends across multiple businesses and shuts down the streaming video service people turn to for relaxation after a hard day’s work.

Industries across the spectrum must continue to invest in the technology, processes and services required to keep critical systems operational. Industries may never be able to eliminate all natural disasters or human error, but with proper planning and investment, they can achieve a world where critical technologies always work.