Zoom crashed on the first day of classes. Apparently, the outage was not restricted to Moravian College, where I am a professor, but was a more global phenomena. This was not a particularly good start to the semester. It is even more embarrassing as students in many colleges are petitioning for tuition reductions precisely because many if not all classes at many colleges are being held on-line. Its failure caused a brief panic at the school, as professors scrambled for alternatives.  

The question is why was there such anxiety.  Zoom has become a mission critical platform not only for colleges and universities but also for many other organizations  during this pandemic. Procedures should have been in place to provide for this contingency. The United States military has a saying, “if you have one you have none.” A very pithy saying to be sure, but it does carry a nugget of truth. Any mission critical process, platform etc. must have a backup.  I am sure many of us have been frustrated when we have tried to make a purchase at a retail outlet only to find it couldn’t be done since “the computers are down.”  Think of the potential sales lost in such  situations, as well as the customer dissatisfaction generated. 

The word redundancy has taken on some bad connotations in modern American life, but it is necessary in the operation of any organization.  What are some of the characteristics of  a redundant system?  First, people have to know about it and be trained in its use.  The College offered two or three alternatives to Zoom during the crisis in an attempt to be helpful. In my opinion this was an okay but not an optimal response. The technology group needs to be ready to support one platform in a crisis, and not multiple platforms. Also, using multiple platforms only sows the seeds of confusion among the users.  Instead of spending time figuring out which platform to use, the instructor and the students could have spent the time more profitably brushing up on the operation of the uniquely designated second platform. After all, if Zoom crashed once, why can’t it happen again? The next time professors and students will be acquainted with the backup platform, and the transition to its use will be even smoother. 

Secondly, the redundant system should be something users have at least a passing familiarity with.  This can be done through training or by using another already existing platform. In our case, the college uses Canvas as its learning management system. Professors and students are used to navigating through the system. Canvas has a completely functional video conferencing capability that can be  activated with two or three clicks. In short, it was the perfect backup platform. Simple, widely available and known to all the users, and easily operated. It was more than sufficient to deal with a short Zoom shortage. 

What is the lesson for NFP organizations?  Remember redundancy.  Remember simplicity in backup design is a key consideration as the first reactions to any crisis can be confusion or even a short burst of panic. Having a simple to use backup platform will save a lot of time and nervous energy. 

One thought on “Redundancy

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