RIM's 'BlackBerry outage': A nightmare scenario

17 November 2011 | Alex Hawkes


While we may all sometimes take a vicarious pleasure in other people’s suffering, especially when it comes to that of our competitors, there is something in the recent events at Research in Motion – and what has been labelled the ‘BlackBerry outage’ – that make one’s blood run cold.

For three days, disruption to BlackBerry’s service has caused outage and delays in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, according to Mike Lazaridis, CEO of RIM, and at points during the outage North and South America were also affected. Truly, a global crisis then.

Engineers worked day and night to fix the problem, and the public response was so fierce that RIM was driven to release a film of Lazaridis himself on YouTube, explaining the situation in full apology mode.

But is this just a problem for customer relations? Not even remotely. After a few days of confusion, Laziridis admitted that the problems started at RIM’s network operations centre in Slough, in the UK. Engineers had attempted to implement a hardware and software upgrade for the system serving customers in EMEA and India, which failed.

Most crucially, the back-up system also failed, starting three days of hell for all involved. Surely, anyone involved in network operations and systems upgrades must recognise the moment of horror when the backup failed, for it is the thing nightmares are made of.

Questions of compensation have been raised, although understandably RIM has been busily engaged in other things and has not yet commented. While it seems that T&Cs mean that RIM does not owe compensation to BlackBerry customers, this may not apply to the carriers who use RIM’s services.

At a press conference dedicated to the crisis, Jim Balsillie, RIM co-chief executive, said: “The one thing you have to understand about these carriers is that people understand the complexity of these systems and when something like this happens everybody pulls together because it’s all about serving the customers.” Does anyone else detect the sweet scent of wishful thinking?