Continual rapid developments in technology and the subsequent impacts on society bring business continuity challenges and opportunities. In this article, Charlie Boffin, CEO of ClearView, explores the subject.
“It’s resilience Jim, but not as we know it!” As I watched the latest Star Trek film the other evening, I reflected on the fact that there is a considerable degree of consistency in all science fiction films as to what our future (by which I mean hundreds, rather than thousands of years) will look like. Whether it’s Captain Kirk or Arnold Schwarzenegger, we see a future with space travel over short time periods through worm holes or ‘warp speed’, hovering vehicles on Earth with high-rise cities of gleaming metal and glass; medicine that cures all ills and repairs the body; and the ability to travel through time (selectively!). And this is not new a phenomenon: I remember reaching 1984 and being singularly unimpressed that George Orwell was so wide of the mark. However, 25 years on and with the growth of the Internet, social media, Google Translate and Siri, perhaps his vision of Big Brother, Newspeak, and the manipulation of technology for state control et al was remarkably accurate.
So, what is the relevance of this particular discussion to business continuity? In my view, it has a significant and fast-growing relevance and I think we would all benefit from some collective and individual ‘crystal ball gazing’. We all accept that any strategic intent, operational development, or corporate journey is only successful if there is a clear end point. Start from the vision and work back to understand the scale of the journey. If you’re travelling to a meeting, it’s not advisable to step outside the door and hope that you head in the right direction.
Let’s think about how this translates into the world of business continuity. A wide topic, but here is my view of three core principles:
What will 100% resilience look like and is it achievable in practice? As we rely ever more on technology and non-human aspects to support our life-styles, the responsibility is moving from human to machine. More alerts; more triggers; more auto-failovers; more synergies and communications between systems. Indeed, there is a great temptation to even take the human interaction and decision-making components out of the equation: for example, ‘self-drive’ cars. The reality is that any self-drive vehicle will most probably be far more effective and safe than its human counterpart, but here is the issue: how many of us would prefer to be driven by a machine rather than a friend, even if we knew that the machine was less likely to have an accident? Logic dictates the former but emotionally, I suspect, that many would choose the latter.
The issue here for resilience is that the human factor will probably remain the weak-link or threat for the foreseeable future. We are at a point where technology is often more robust, accurate and dependable than people. Technology will support, provide information, suggest or propose courses of action and provide solutions, but the ultimate decision making (or ability to over-ride and change decisions) will rest with people for some time to come, I suspect. The ‘people’ factor will continue to be the weakest link.
As the world becomes more connected this, in itself, provides a huge benefit but also a significant risk. Here is another analogy. Sending a letter by courier in the 19th Century had one main risk: that the courier did not reach the destination for whatever reason; waylaid by a highwayman, delayed in a tavern, horse expired etc. Impact was restricted to that particular communication and, potentially, any other (few) messages being carried. Come the 21st century and a major loss of mail servers or sections of the Internet provides a significant impact across a large population. And as technology has driven up expectations (we expect communication ‘now’), the loss of the same provides a huge degree of frustration and anxiety.
Multi-layer is the key, where multi-channel meets multi-device in this world of ever more complex communication. For communicators, the options of different channels such as email, push notifications, SMS and voice calls meet the recipient’s preferred options of mobile, tablet, laptop, Desktop, TV … indeed a multitude of screens that are driven by accessibility and individual behaviours and styles of living and working.
So, one key challenge is communication by multi-channel to multi-devices. Most of this technology is with us today and, as is often the case, technical innovation is more about different and smarter ways of using emerging technology rather than astonishing new functionality. But, in all of this complexity and layering, we must retain the simplicity of straight forward, clear, messaging. This is the real challenge.
In global communications, the cross-over between personal and business networks is inevitable as we access different pieces of information through common devices. Furthermore, given the strength of personal interactions, social media is now becoming the glue.
Even eight years ago in 2009, we were already seeing social media outstripping the commercial media channels with tweets of the Hudson River disaster. Compare that with eight years prior to that in 2001, when events surrounding the Twin Towers were covered by TV, telephones and overloaded news websites.
It is clear that the noise-level in social media will continue to increase rapidly and the main challenge will be ensuring that this happens in some form of controlled or moderated fashion, although this must be seen as an aspiration and not an entirely achievable objective. As this overlays formal corporate or external media feeds, we have a truly diverse communications infrastructure and the challenge for business continuity teams will be to utilise this in the most effective way: filtering through the ‘noise’ whilst also using the same channels for outbound messaging.
Learnings for us now
- Technology will continue to play an ever-more important role in supporting business continuity administration, development and structure; increasing the accuracy and accessibility of data, information management, and reporting/gap analysis plus prioritisations.
- Such information will rely on human intervention and the knowledge of business continuity specialists and practitioners for the foreseeable future, although more and more ‘transactional’ business continuity decisions will be automated (aligning RTOs and dependencies etc).
- Recognise that 100% resilience is an aspiration and build flexibility into systems to react to a fast-changing environment.
- Build multi-channel to multi-device communications frameworks. This is ‘today’ technology.
- Use external support: do not try to create an island of resilience.
- Focus on people skills in decision making and communications to protect brand, business, operation, customers and shareholders.
- Build selective social media activities (FaceBook Safety Check etc) into core business continuity frameworks.
- Finally, accept and recognise that we are in a world where events can and will have far-reaching implications. An example is the WannaCry event. If we all recognise this, it does provide some psychological comfort as and when something happens i.e. as a collective, we know that this will permeate through networks, but that it is eminently treatable and normal business will be resumed.