Steve Mustard, the author of Mission Critical Operations Primer, is an independent automation consultant and subject-matter expert for ISA and its umbrella association, the Automation Federation. In this Q&A feature, Mustard highlights the focus and differentiating qualities of the book, as well as the importance of the industry and the growing career opportunities in mission-critical operations fields.

Note: A brief author biography is included at the bottom of this page. 

Q. How would you briefly describe “mission critical operations”?

A. Mission critical” is a subjective term. Any organization can claim to have mission critical systems or operations but we are really looking at those organizations in the 16 critical infrastructure sectors for whom failure can result in serious consequences, such as loss of life, harm to the environment, or significant financial loss through production impact or damage to a plant. The book attempts to give an introduction to the key aspects across the mission critical operations space.

Q. What would you say is the core objective of the book? What key messages/points of emphasis are you trying to communicate? What challenge or set of challenges is the book trying to address or solve?

A. The aim is to give an overview of the key aspects of mission critical operations, such as standards and regulations, safety and risk management factors, operational processes, and the technology involved.

A wide variety of factors can affect mission critical operations, including:

  • Hardware or software failures
  • Network communications problems
  • Accidental damage or disruption
  • Natural disasters
  • Deliberate damage, such as cyberattacks

Q. Who would you say is the core audience for the book?

A. This book is aimed at people who are looking to start a career in mission critical organizations, such as an operator or technician. The objective is to provide an introduction into all the key areas of mission critical work and provide some guidance for further reading for those who want to delve into more detail in certain areas.

Mustard points to the 2015 cyberattack on Ukraine's power grid, which left 225,000 people without electricity for up to six hours, in the depth of winter. Because of failures in network design, security monitoring, and incident response, the grid operator was forced to resort to manual operations for months after the event, incurring significant additional costs. More recently, in November 2017, a cyberattack targeted a critical infrastructure organization in the Middle East, resulting in a plant shutdown.

There's an acute shortage of suitably qualified and experienced individuals to work in mission-critical systems design and operation. If we are to keep our businesses and our critical infrastructure safe, we will need a new generation of specialists who understand the importance of the phrase “failure is not an option.”

Q. What would you say to someone who may be considering reading the book? What would they gain by reading it?

A. The field of mission critical operations is incredibly broad, and it can be hard to grasp all the terminology and issues that exist. While there are several books that go into depth in certain aspects, there are very few, if any, that cover the breadth of mission critical operations as this book does. The book is an excellent introduction for those wishing to start a career and it is also an excellent guide for those already in the workforce.

Q. Cybersecurity is getting a lot of attention lately, but it’s important to focus on other mission critical operations as well, correct?

A. Yes. Cybersecurity is a major driver in today’s mission critical organizations, so naturally it forms a big part of the book. However, there are other fundamentals of mission critical operations that cannot be ignored, such as safety management and operational procedures. The book aims to provide a solid grounding in all the key aspects of mission critical operations.

Q. Do you have any other points to make about the book…its importance and relevance today?

A. A whole culture of mission critical operations specialists is emerging. These specialists understand the threats and risks as well as the consequences of failure. These specialists focus on areas such as robust IT network design, control system security, control room operations and alarm handling. In addition, they need to have a broad understanding of all key aspects of mission critical systems. No other career requires so many different aspects to be brought together in one role. The aim of this book is to provide a good introduction to all these aspects.

Order your copy of Mission Critical Operations Primer today.

About Steve Mustard

Steve Mustard

Steve Mustard is an independent automation consultant and subject-matter expert of the International Society of Automation (ISA) and its umbrella association, the Automation Federation. He also is an ISA Executive Board member.

Backed by nearly 30 years of software development experience, Mustard specializes in:  the development and management of real-time embedded equipment and automation systems; and the integration of real-time processing, decision-support and other disparate systems to improve business processes. He serves as president of National Automation, Inc.

Mustard is a recognized authority on industrial cybersecurity, having developed and delivered cybersecurity management systems, procedures, training and guidance to multiple critical infrastructure organizations. He serves as the Chair of the Automation Federation's Cybersecurity Committee.

Mustard is a licensed Professional Engineer, UK registered Chartered Engineer, a European registered Eur Ing, an ISA Certified Automation Professional® (CAP®) and a certified Global Industrial Cybersecurity Professional (GICSP). He also is a Fellow in the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and a Senior Member of ISA.