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Definition & Examples

Mission-Critical Applications

Mission-critical applications (MCA) perform an essential function in business operations. If these applications fail, it can be catastrophic.

What are mission-critical applications?

Mission-critical applications are software applications that are essential to an organization or enterprise. If these applications are corrupted, disrupted, or fail it can have a catastrophic effect on the whole organization.

As businesses grow, transform, and adapt to changes and challenges, so do their application inventories. With the rapidly accelerating pace of technology, many enterprises will amass hundreds of applications in their portfolios over time.

Changes that affect app inventories are business growth, mergers & acquisitions, business and IT transformation, and implementing new processes.

These applications may create a complex and burdensome enterprise architecture without sufficient IT application portfolio management. Monitoring applications is key to maintaining the quality of a business's IT infrastructure and IT cost optimization programs.

📚  Related: Build and Understand your Application Inventory

Characteristics of MCAs

Not all applications will be MCAs, and it might not always be clear which applications in the inventory are essential to operations.

Mission-critical applications criteria include:

  • High Availability: MCAs must be available and running at all times, regardless of the cost. They are vital to the organization so must be designed with recovery mechanisms and fail-safes to avoid downtime. 
  • Reliability: They must be reliable and run smoothly under normal operating conditions. However, they also must be able to handle unexpected events without compromising the system or its data.
  • Scalability: MCAs must be able to handle an increase in users, volume, or data. Resources can be added or removed without affecting the overall performance of the system.
  • Security: MCAs must be secure from outside threats and protect sensitive data, and must comply with industry-specific regulations and standards.
  • Speed: These applications must be fast and responsive with near-instantaneous processing times.
  • Supportability: MCAs must be able to be easily maintained and monitored without affecting the system's performance. They must be easy to troubleshoot.
  • Customizability: MCAs must be easy to customize to support the specific needs of the organization. They are flexible and can accommodate changes to business processes and requirements.

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Common examples of MCAs

The kind of MCAs that are vital to an organization will depend on the industry and what they’re needed for.

Two different companies might use the same application but it might only be critical to one.

A mission-critical application example would be payment processing software for an e-commerce business, whereas this would not necessarily be mission-critical to an assembly line.

Personal life comparison

Personal life examples of mission-critical applications are necessities to daily life such as electricity, heating, or water. All of these things are essential for us to be able to go about our day-to-day life. I.e. cook food, heat our homes, work, keep clean, etc.

When one of these MCA fails, (i.e., in the event of a power cut) we are unable to continue on as we normally would. The disruption has a big impact on our routine.

📚 Related: Assess Application Criticality Levels

1. Online banking systems

For many businesses, online banking systems are MCAs that are core to an enterprise's survival. If online banking critical systems fail it can result in a loss of business, reputation, or even the end of the organization itself.

For the banks themselves, system failure, disruption, or any kind of breach could set in motion a major domino effect. It would not just affect the bank itself, but the businesses that rely on them to perform their daily operations.

Online banking critical systems can be protected using mission-critical encryption software or other technology security processes to keep banking data secure. Cybersecurity itself is mission-critical in the financial world.

2. Communication systems

Communication systems including mobile devices and radio telecommunication systems are mission-critical to most organizations. Communication mission-critical applications need to stay secure and provide reliable communication at all times.

Failure of these systems could lead to disruptions in life-saving services (ambulance services, police force, airlines, etc). However, in almost all businesses communication is an essential part of everyday operations.

To avoid communications going offline, organizations can introduce multiple communication systems, better flexibility, and more security.

3. Traffic control systems

Traffic control systems are MCAs that keep transport moving seamlessly and safely without disruption. Traffic lights, stop signs, and automatic barricades are all examples of mission-critical traffic control systems.

When these systems fail it can cause huge disruptions, accidents, and even fatalities. Traffic control systems must be monitored and maintained continuously so that they work without disruptions.



Mission critical applications vs. other criticality levels

“Mission critical application” is the label IT architects can assign to essential applications in their application portfolio. The other four labels are:

  • Administrative service applications
  • Business operational applications
  • Business-critical applications

The LeanIX Enterprise Architecture Management tool (EAM) uses these four labels to create the application criticality matrix. IT architects and analysts use these to assess application criticality levels and systems within their organization.

The label names or scores will depend on the organization, which can be set based on the tool or process you follow.

📚 Related: Perform detailed Application Portfolio Assessment

Administrative service applications

Administrative service applications tend to be those that are low-priority and non-critical to everyday business operations. When these applications fail it can cause some problems but it will not affect the customer and can be tolerated a bit more.

Business operational applications

Business operational applications are the next label in our application criticality matrix. These are also fairly non-critical applications that contribute to running efficient business operations.

When they are disrupted it can cause problems within the organization but they are out of the direct line of service to the customer.

Business-critical applications

A business-critical application is a label given to business-critical processes, software, and services that require consistent availability.

While breaks in service are not catastrophic, they are highly undesirable. Business-critical applications should be consistent and reliable.



Using these labels to create an application criticality matrix helps architects rank and label applications within their portfolio accordingly. Architects and IT experts can use business critically to assess applications in their system portfolio and reach the target application portfolio.

The aim of assigning labels to applications is to reduce (and avoid) the catastrophic consequences of failure, mission-critical applications can bring to an organization.

Structuring a portfolio this way is the starting point for application rationalization, application modernization, cloud migration, etc.

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Answers to frequently asked questions on the mission-critical applications

What are mission-critical applications?

Mission-critical applications are software applications that are essential to an organization or enterprise. If these applications are corrupted, disrupted, or fail it can have a catastrophic effect on the whole organization.

What are some mission-critical software applications?

Examples of mission-critical software applications are online banking systems, communication systems, and traffic control systems.

What are mission-critical applications examples?

Mission-critical software applications include communication services (mobile devices, telecommunication systems), online banking systems, and railway/aircraft/traffic operating and control systems.

What is a mission-critical application?

A mission critical application is any application that is essential to processes and services within an organization or enterprise.

What are mission-critical services?

Mission-critical services are any services within an organization or enterprise that are essential to everyday operations.

What are mission-critical applications in the cloud?

Mission-critical applications in the cloud are essential software that can be accessed, monitored, and maintained within a cloud-based system.

What are mission-critical projects?

Mission-critical projects are organization-wide projects that are essential to the business or enterprise. They require organization-wide support at every level.


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