The next edition of Uptime Institute’s annual Data Center Industry Survey is due later this month, though few may be anticipating any significant change to one of its key findings from 2018: IT managers believed the vast majority of data center outages that year were preventable.
That’s the kind of message that makes a data center outage into instantly negative news, especially if it gets shared through social media hours before appearing in a publication like this one. Boston-based technology-oriented public relations firm Milldam announced today the formation of a dedicated Critical Crisis Communications practice, devoting a big share of its resources toward helping data center operators mitigate the damage to their businesses and reputations typically triggered by an outage.
“It could be a downtime event, it could be weather-related, or it could be a perceived event maybe coming from somewhere else — but the blame is falling on either the data center operator or the vendor,” explained Milldam President Adam Waitkunas, speaking with Data Center Knowledge. Establishing an account with his firm’s new CCC practice is “essentially a life insurance policy on the company’s reputation.”
Waitkunas agreed that when a data center customer detects or suspects a service outage, that customer may be prone to getting the operator’s attention not by starting a ticket, but launching that complaint into social media — typically Twitter. At that point, the bad news is already public.
“That goes to the lack of preparation from the operators,” he told us. “When something like that happens, they should have an emergency communications plan to respond to the customer immediately and tell them what’s going on.”
Watkunas may be speaking from experience. When data center and network operator Hurricane Electric, one of his clients, had a Silicon Valley data center go down last February, several of its customers took to Twitter to complain about a lack of clear communication from the provider.
During a crisis situation, information sharing must be tightly managed, Waitkunas said. In this day and age of relative information altruism, even that statement stirs skepticism. Yes, the customer has a right to know what’s going on, Milldam’s president told us, but that knowledge should come from authorized sources in a controlled, unambiguous, non-improvised, and yes, even filtered manner.
“There would be an internal person who would be the conduit for all the communications there,” explained Waitkunas, “and then there would be a designated spokesperson to relay information to external stakeholders and approve what’s going out there — essentially a filter.”
Once activated, Milldam’s crisis team would work alongside the client, carrying out an agenda determined well in advance through direct consultation and, in some cases, dry runs and staged drills. A coaching program would help the client’s designated spokespeople in how much — and yes, how little — information to relate to the general public. Marshaling the proper flow of information during a crisis can preclude others on the outside, including journalists, from drawing their own conclusions and presenting them as facts.
Waitkunas admitted his firm’s new program was not inspired by any intense level of client demand for such a service. Quite the contrary, it’s the lack of such demand, coupled with intensifying news coverage of downtime events, that according to him are collective indicators of an unidentified marketing need.
“Data center outages are going to continue to get more and more coverage,” he said, “given just the day-to-day requirements of data center operations and the online activities we’re doing.” He cited data-intensive apps such as ride sharing and e-commerce.
So, step one for Milldam is to achieve what many PR firms say is the toughest sell there is: convincing prospective customers of the extent of what they don’t know, and why it might come back to bite them.
“When we’re working with a company,” said Waitkunas, “we need to be confident that they’re serious about their reputation, serious about providing good customer service. A lot of that is going to be driven by them. They need to have a good product or service behind them. If there’s been damage in the past, and they’ve taken steps to fix that, and there’s a clear path there, we can help them communicate to the public: here are the steps that the company’s taking to revamp its entire IT operations team, or put in place these security measures, or guarantee this [service level]. Then we can help them communicate that in a way that builds confidence with stakeholders.”