Mission-critical systems, and why you need them managed

Regardless of your business or industry sector, every successful operation is dependent on multiple interacting systems. Computer systems, electronic systems, and mechanical systems are some of the systems used by modern organizations every day. While each system has an important role to play, some applications, processes, and systems are more fundamental than others. Mission-critical systems are defined by their expansive scale or deep integration, with the management of these systems integral to the very survival of the host organization.

What is a mission-critical system?

A mission critical system is any system that is essential to the survival of an organization. Depending on the topology of the host and its intended function, these systems are either extremely wide and all-encompassing, or extremely deep due to core elemental integration. Mission-critical systems are typically called on by numerous other systems and applications in order to perform work and achieve specific goals.

If a mission critical system fails or is interrupted in any way, processes and operations are significantly affected. Examples of mission critical systems include control systems for aircraft, electricity grid systems, and emergency communications systems. Human life doesn’t have to be on the line, however, with many organizations dependent on business-critical systems in order to carry out work and create value.

A system may be considered mission critical when any of the following conditions are met:

  • Human life or safety is at risk
  • Research or information is compromised
  • Affected parties are subject to legal, regulatory, or financial costs
  • Reputation is adversely affected in a significant manner
  • Critical business functions and applications are affected
  • Loss of data or access to data is experienced

Critical system management

The identification of critical systems is crucial to enable effective management and control. Hierarchies between systems and processes typically exist across hardware infrastructure and software systems, with new and emerging organizations able to create these hierarchies directly. Existing databases and process control servers are mission-critical systems for most organizations, with logistics and project management integral to smooth operation and risk mitigation.

Despite the importance of risk identification, just 46% of organizations surveyed in a recent ERM Initiative report have a risk management policy statement.

For example, data centers, database servers, and business networks need to be protected from any scenarios that may result in the loss of data or key business functions. Whether it’s a cyberattack, a power outage, or faulty hardware, considered management is needed to ensure the smooth flow of work outcomes.

Increased connectivity continues to create major security vulnerabilities, many of which impact critical systems. According to a recent report from Edgescan, 19% of all vulnerabilities in 2018 were associated with web applications, and 81% were due to network vulnerabilities.

Managing critical systems involves a considered and iterative approach that includes identification, relationship assessment, application, and analysis.

  • Identification – An assessment and corresponding organizational hierarchy chart is made to identify all systems integral to your organization. If a triage-type decision needs to be made to eliminate or delay certain systems, mission-critical processes must be isolated, and regular backups are required.
  • Relationships – Relationships between systems are mapped, with data taken to measure the potential impact and flow-on effects of specific risks. Critical system management measures specific risks based on the interaction between systems and their importance to the organization.
  • Application – Critical system management is an ongoing process, with new data and business processes needing to be integrated with existing security standards. IT support services can play an important role in ensuring security and carrying out logistics. Whenever changes need to be made, it’s important to be aware of over-reaching or underlying critical systems.
  • Analysis – Real-time monitoring and accurate reporting are used to analyze real and potential risks. Risk governance is then applied so all parties can work together in accordance with the appropriate risk management framework. Ongoing reports and audits from an external IT service provider can provide important insights.

By their very nature, mission-critical systems are integral to the health and operational capacity of your business. In order to manage risk effectively in today’s connected and data-rich world, it’s important to identify and manage all systems that define your organization.