What Is Mission-Critical?

A mission-critical task, service, or system is one whose failure or disruption would cause an entire operation or business to grind to a halt. It is indispensable to continuing operations.

Uninterrupted electrical service is an obvious example of a mission-critical service for most modern businesses and consumers.

Understanding Mission-Critical

Mission-critical has become a popular description of any essential service necessary for normal operations. If a business operation cannot be interrupted under any circumstance without stopping production, it considered mission-critical to the business. For example:

  • Databases and process control software are considered mission critical to a company that runs on mainframes or workstations.
  • Emergency call centers, computerized hospital patient records, data storage centers, stock exchanges and other operations dependent on computer and communication systems have to be protected against breakdowns due to the system's mission-critical functions.

In each of these cases, the failure of a mission-critical service can cause severe disruption of services, heavy financial losses, and even danger to people.

Mission-critical may describe an idea, innovation, or strategic change that is key to future prosperity.

They also are all examples of technical failures, but that is not necessarily the case. The phrase is increasingly used to describe an idea, innovation, or strategic change in direction that a business identifies as key to its ongoing prosperity. In the 1990s, some newspapers and magazines identified the transition to internet delivery as mission-critical. Many of those that did not failed to survive.

Key Takeaways

  • A mission-critical task or process is one that is essential to the operation of an organization.
  • The phrase is most often used to describe information technology and utility infrastructure.
  • By contrast, a business-critical task is a priority for long-term survival or success.

In fact, some businesses differentiate between mission-critical and business-critical. This is not merely a case of semantics. A business-critical task or process may be key to a business' long-term success or even its survival. The failure of a mission-critical task or process immediately stops a business or a process in its tracks.