At the start of the TAS outage, I said ICANN had a great opportunity to get its crisis management right by communicating properly.
Now, nearly two weeks after the application window was supposed to close, ICANN has clearly done just that. We've had update messages every day and even a video of Security Chief Jeff Moss in which he provides an in-depth view of the way his team is handling the glitch. ICANN's latest communication initiative is a "TAS interruption FAQ” where it is confirmed that the April 30 "reveal day" will be postponed (the first time ICANN has officially recognized that it will not be able to publish the list of TLDs applied for in this first round at the end of the month of April as initially planned).
But clearly, communication isn't the only parameter in crisis management. At some point, you also need to act. So with ICANN refusing to commit to any TAS restart date, instead promising to "provide an update on the timing of the reopening no later than Friday, 27 April", perhaps more crisis management advice is needed…
What could that advice be? To carefully weigh the pros of checking every detail of the TAS data with the cons of looking rather inept by allowing the outage to continue. Seasoned ICANN watchers are appalled by the continued delay, but at least they are used to such things and therefore probably more tolerant of ICANN's capacity for missing deadlines and getting mired in its own processes than a new category of ICANN community member: the applicants and observers that the new gTLD program has brought into the ICANN universe.
ICANN has never been particularly mindful of its crowd of usual suspects, but it should definitely be wary of this new category that it has itself created through the new gTLD program and its desire to "change the Internet forever".
Because these people live in the real world, where missing deadlines by a month is science fiction, and where 70 million dollar organisations take hours to solve problems, not weeks. When you charge people $185,000 for the right to submit an application, you need to be able to show them that you are able to handle pressure and act fast.
So my advice to ICANN now: get your skates on! A typically British expression with a clear meaning: restart TAS. Stop faffing about trying to verify every single bit of applicant data that may have been impacted by the glitch. Your updates keep on telling us how no data was corrupted and no sensitive data from one applicant was even visible by another. So do a 180 degree shift in your current crisis management.
ICANN's next update (wishful thinking: tomorrow?) should be: "in the interest of getting the new gTLD program back on track, we've decided to restart TAS now."
But deciding that would require strong leadership. Like a CEO able and willing to take the risk of restarting the system before the full data analysis is complete. A CEO that would understand that this risk needs to be weighed against the damage that not restarting TAS is doing to ICANN's global image. Unfortunately, since the crisis began, the current ICANN CEO has gone AWOL…
By Stéphane Van Gelder, Chairman, STEPHANE VAN GELDER CONSULTING
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