Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When is free too costly? And when is big too big?

Google's Gmail application was down this morning for what seems to have been one to two hours. A year ago, that wouldn't have been an issue for me. But Lighthouse Nine Group - which I joined nine months ago - uses Gmail for e-mail service. When I searched the Internet to confirm that Gmail was down, I encountered "helpful" comments saying "don't worry, do something else for an hour." Which is fine, except that while I'm not an excessive e-mail checker, I do usually check first thing in the morning - which is when Gmail was inaccessible.

There is no doubt that cloud-based services can be convenient. You don't have to buy and maintain hardware. There are powerful free applications such as Google Docs that make some tasks such as sharing information easier than any alternative.

Cloud-based services also pose some risks. You have to have working Internet access, which is occasionally a problem. The service you are using has to be up and running; as we saw this morning, this is not always guaranteed. Delaying your E-mail response time by an hour may or may not be important. But what if you had stored a critical document that you needed this morning on Google Docs and you couldn't access it?

Aside from the inherent risks of cloud-based services, the use of Google and similar free services holds additional risks:
1. Because these services are free, there is less incentive for the service provider to strive for the highest level of service; losing a customer doesn't have a direct cost
2. Because Google is so big, there is no way for an individual or even an organization to speak directly with someone about the situation
3. There is still the issue - for me at least - of Google scanning my e-mails to create targeted advertising

Prior to joining Lighthouse Nine, I used a local service provider for my Internet and e-mail services. I still maintain those accounts. In the 12+ years I have been with them, it seems to me there might have been one occasion when my e-mail was down. Additionally, if I ever was having a problem or required help with website issues, they were easily reachable and very responsive via e-mail or telephone.

I often talk about scenario planning or scenario exploration in my workshops. This is the principle of looking ahead to identify where uncertainties may have an important impact on your business. It's not about estimating how likely something is to happen, but examining the impact if it did. In the interests of convenience or saving money, where might you be using approaches that are mission-critical but vulnerable to disruption?

I think it's time to have a conversation with my partners about Gmail.

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