The shell of the egg is at best under appreciated. Except for uses contemplated only by the compost conscious, cracked against the side of the pan, emptied, and discarded, it is given little further thought or attention, except on the oft staggered days scheduled for trash removal when it suffers final indignities. An opportunity discarded comes at a cost. Absent the shell, the egg is amorphous, fluid, difficult to describe, measure, or examine. Yet the shell provides more than containment and protection.
Left encased, shell unbroken, the egg is in context – it can be picked up, manipulated, examined, packaged, moved, and even sold. In context – we get the full picture, not only of an ovoid package of complex nutrition, but of a fragile and valuable entity, in a hostile and unpredictable environment, unprotected, except by this delicate natural container, and the cooperation of the external forces with which it interacts.
And so my attention turns to the vital components and activities that comprise our business -an aggregate of complex, interactive, but fragile entities in a hostile and unpredictable environment, unprotected from the vagaries and risk, upstream and down, of partners, industries, and geographies under pressure. Yes, with apologies, I am talking about Business Continuity.
Why again? In the natural order of business, it is typical for individuals, caught in the day to day activities of their job, to see only their job, or the needs of their department, and not understand the full value chain, that feeds, or is fed by, the outcomes of their activities. It is often only in business continuity planning, that we ever have the opportunity to step back and examine the business in context, see it as a whole, and assess the interactions of departments, workflows and relationships.
Our business is not an entity alone, but lives in a balanced ecology of internal and external work flows and partnerships, operating within a range of environmental tolerances. We cannot be introspective or short sighted. That which affects us, from source, to supply, to production, to distribution, to promotion, and to markets – and even to the clients of our markets, and theirs, are now all a concern.
We need to be vigilant of the businesses, industries and geographies we feed, or are fed by, and the pressures that affect them. The weak link hurts us all. Even threats to our competitors may prove our threats, and may be the first indication of the tear that rips across our industry.
And whatever we thought of our world, and the pressures we assumed we would confront, that environment has changed, and we are increasingly testing the tolerances with which our businesses had been familiar. The world is now a much more dangerous place for the unprepared. It is also a world of immediacy and opportunity for those positioned.
I think we can with reflection agree:
- We have all witnessed horrendous natural and accidental disasters
- We now live in a world where individuals manufacture disasters.
- Most of us live near major transportation centers, showcase locations (shopping malls, amusement parks, theatres), in big cities, or in the feeder communities leading to them – where every targeted disaster wants to be.
- We now face threats that must be prevented – some from which recovery is not possible. Traditional DR is not always an option.
- Our economies, industries, markets, and trusted institutions have proven fragile, interconnected and exposed. We saw, and may see again, the effects of greed, policy, failures of confidence, consequence of actions, inactions, and the unanticipated, and intricate global shifts, intertwined in ways we could never have imagined
- Uncertainty has overtaken confidence and aspiration, influencing not just consumer behaviors and participation in markets, but transforming people, communities, and culture, with ramifications and longevity we cannot possibly yet anticipate, and in ways we can’t begin to understand.
- Emerging business models, new trends, and transformative technology, from mobility, to cloud, to social media, to consumerization, are removing barriers to entry in new markets for some, enabling new and sometimes unexpected competitors to arise, while exposing barriers to exit from traditional modes of operations for others, revealing those now dominant at threat of fade to legacy. The new continuity paradigm emerging may be more about adaptability, transition, and transformation, and the potential to co-opt opportunity from crisis, whether our own or others, than we have considered before.
Protecting continued operations remains the primary role of BC for certain, but in the new paradigm, assurance of continued operations is a promotable, leverage-able, and sellable commodity, that may be of tremendous value in exploitation of opportunity in crisis. Opportunity has a short shelf life. Only a business structured to adapt is positioned to seize opportunity in times of crisis.
Only a business structured to adapt is dressed properly to be enticing. Continuity is a sellable feature in transition, ‘key man’ dependencies protected, contracts, licenses and partnerships transferrable, and impediments to merger or consolidation removed, or in acquisition, protecting price, management team confidence, speed to closure, and the tone of the transaction through changes of ownership. Only a business structured to adapt can in difficult times transform its mode of operations for savings and efficiencies. Only a business structured to adapt is malleable enough to weather storms through change.
When in the past we discussed BC, for many it was synonymous with DR. We matured to understand BC to be business focused, but tend to assume restoration of business or an effective holding pattern until normalcy returns. I submit there are new realities.
A failed technical recovery, or unsuccessful restoration of operations, may prompt the need, or speed the exploit, of other strategies:
- It may be expedient to outsource technical or logistic operations
- A company whose distribution is destroyed in a disaster, may opt to acquire a competitors infrastructure, rather than attempt to rebuild.
- A response to a far reaching business disaster may be to salvage value, in a strategic restructuring, merger, sale or other change or transfer of ownership.
- Crisis might yield opportunity to increase market share, consume a weakened competitor, or expand into new territories, demographics, or areas of weakness, through acquisition.
Business Continuity needs to adopt a new stature in our business, core, deliberate, and considered, a tool for avoidance of pitfalls and exploitation of opportunity, no longer just for protection, and like the shell of the egg, given little further thought or attention, except on the oft staggered days.
I have been focused on transformative BC through this note, but I have done so at the risk of diverting attentions from a critical focus in the mitigation of risk to our business. Although, like most of you, I am an active CIO, I am also founder of the Heroes Partnership, an organization in advocacy of support for community and public safety efforts.
I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to re-state the concern I raised earlier in this note – There are threats from which recovery is not an option – these must be prevented. Do not miss this message. We can no longer focus inward. We cannot keep ourselves safe, without encouraging strength in our business partners, creating a safer community, and enabling and supporting public sector efforts. This is now more than a civic responsibility. It is a business imperative.
As businesses we have resources, reach and expertise that can be of enormous value to Police, Fire, Health and Public Safety. Supporting the preparedness efforts of the public sector whether through supplied expertise, resources, services or dollars, makes good business sense.
- We invest in antivirus software- because it is more effective and less costly to prevent viruses than to cleanup the damage and the disruption to our businesses.
- We invest in fire walls to keep out malicious threats – because it is more effective and less costly to prevent attacks than to cleanup the damage and the disruption to our businesses.
- By far the greatest threats lay outside our corporate infrastructure – it has to be more effective and far less costly to invest in the efforts of our public sector partners to prevent these threats from ever being realized than to attempt to clean up the damage and disruption to our businesses.