The following text is copyright 2007 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.


Lessons from the BlackBerry outage


About a year ago Research in Motion (RIM), the folks who bring you the BlackBerry email-on-the-go device, paid over $612 million to keep from being shutdown by an injunction after being found guilty of patent infringement.  A few months before the settlement the US Justice Department had filed a legal brief in the case asking for a delay in any shutdown to give the government time to develop a database of state and federal BlackBerry users (maybe as many as 300,000 at the time) so that they could be exempted from disruption.   BlackBerry users were spared the shutdown by the settlement, but in mid April the government users and the rest of the 8 million or so North American Blackberry users got a little taste of what a shutdown would have felt like. 


The outage was short -- only about 12 hours -- but the impact, at least in the press, was great.  As an indication, Google News gets over 1,600 hits on news articles dealing with BlackBerry + outage -- over 380 of them include the derogatory term "CrackBerry."  Lots of stories about the loss that people felt when they were not in touch on a second-by-second basis, mingled with a few stories about the threat of people using BlackBerrys while driving. 


There are a number of lessons to be learned from this incident.  A major one is a lesson that companies seem to have to always learn on their own.  It seems common sense to me to be as open and forthcoming as possible when you have messed up.  But I guess RIM, like TJX ( lacks common sense because it took a long time for them to fess up that it was poor planning on their part that caused the problem -- specifically an incompletely tested upgrade and faulty failover to a backup system.  It took long enough for RIM to put out that story that many people worry that it is just a cover story and that the real problem is that RIM is growing faster than their systems and processes can support.  They still do not have any explanation I could find of what happened on their web page.  I looked under support and press releases.  If RIM had been quicker to say what happened and provided more detail maybe more people would believe them.


Another major lesson was forgotten a few minutes after the service was restored.  Very few people actually need to be as connected as people can be these days.  At least BlackBerrys are quiet and, thus, are not as annoying to others as loud cell phone conversations in restaurants and elevators. 


I admit to not having a Blackberry, nor do I keep my cell phone on except in special cases, so it is easier for me to preach.  But that might all change when I get my hands on an iPhone.


disclaimer: The Harvard Divinity School teaches preaching ( but the above preaching is untutored and represent my opinions not the university's.