resiliency means adapting to the future

Resiliency or Business Continuity Strategy practices are changing because, like the leaders and businesses they serve, they need to keep pace with the changing on and offline culture of doing business in and across the world. Having insurance to protect us from the initial impact of an outage is important but how do we get our business back online in the event something happens that impacts it? In the midst of an unexpected outage, what steps need to be taken to make sure clients have access to the services your business provides? 

From the beginning of the Web, as business leaders began to extend and build their businesses online into what are now the frequented halls of online retail and services, few saw or thought about the value and critical need to integrate continuity strategies to protect their businesses at the outset and into the future. This has led to now, where doing business on the Web is simultaneously growing and also not getting any safer, which means businesses need to adapt, protect and scale themselves faster than ever, and continuity strategies are not the luxuries many thought them to be at the outset. 

As in all things, ideas typically trickle down from somewhere. Consumer electronics are ideas trickled down from the space programs, where making things lighter, faster and cheaper is a focus, where innovation is not a nice-to-have but rather a necessity. Likewise in the creative cultures, ideas, fads and trends trickle down from the Coca-Colas and Zappos' of the world where budgets know no limits and thereby fresh, even radical, thinking and state-of-the-art tools are what set them apart from equally well-resourced competitors. These ideas, wherever they might trickle down from, eventually make it into the mainstream where they are adopted en masse and, before long, lose their shine as the new hotness and eventually fade into becoming simply a standard method of operation.

This is beginning to happen, too, in continuity strategy culture.

there is no other choice but to adapt

It is curious to look at how various business disciplines have adapted over the past twenty years. Some have adapted and evolved, while others have remained unchanged, frozen, as if not knowing what direction to move in, as if waiting for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it. Odd, because so many other practices have moved on from more traditional models in earnest. There are many examples of this.

Project management has begun to move away from predominately waterfall-type approaches to more agile cultures led by scrum masters who protect devops engineers and developers from a more traditional culture outside of their departments. Project managers are becoming more adept at guarding the way they know their teams work best. Likewise, Quality Assurance teams have embraced formal business analysis practices, such as Six Sigma, encouraging and empowering a new breed of analyst to bring value to the enterprise, across departments and other practices, both on and offline.

Business continuity strategy cultures are beginning to shift their thinking, too. Once considered the domain of large multinationals, the concept of continuity strategy is now trickling down into the small and medium-sized business realm where, arguably, the value is even greater. It could be argued there is more to protect for the small and medium-sized business owner when compared to massive enterprises. This may be self-evident, but let's toss this around in our minds a bit.

Large companies have access to incredible resources like credit, personnel, infrastructure and all the things that support and go along with that. Small to medium-sized business, on the other hand, when subjected to the unforeseen, such as natural disasters, hackers or loss of key personnel, have exponentially greater odds to overcome, especially without some sort of strategy in place beforehand. Trying to build out a plan to mitigate those incidents in the midst of them is nearly impossible for large companies, let alone smaller ones. Meanwhile, customers go elsewhere and the livelihood of the company's people lie in the balance, every bit as vulnerable as the business' own revenue and reputation.

This is the primary reason continuity strategy is becoming a de facto part of entrepreneurism, right off the bat. There is too much at stake to risk it even for a moment. Not to mention, it's easier and cheaper to build these plans from go. To boot, because the discipline is akin to anthropology, it touches literally every aspect of a business and its merits are only truly realized when synchronized across the culture and there is no better place to start that sort of integration than from the very beginning.

This is all well and good stuff, but it's not to say there are not still many challenges to overcome and improvements to be made.

michael jordan

So many leaders have emerged over the past couple of decades in the midst of all of this change in how we do business online and off. There is a long list of business leaders, young and not-so-young, who have published books, blogs and a multitude of media on strategy-based topics of all kinds, from big data to decision-making to machine-learning to more general leadership and people-focused theories. None of these, however, have done anything to bring attention to and legitimize those working to secure our businesses into the future. Not yet, anyways. So far, in the last two decades, business continuity has not yet had its own Michael Jordan to lead the change movement. So many business owners should be sleeping more soundly at night.

There is reason for this, though. Many large companies, especially, are still catching up to the growth of their PMOs, let alone integrating a continuity practice into the mix. There has been far greater innovation in the small and medium-sized sector, as these cultures are far more nimble and able to have agility both internally and with external partners. We may, in fact, see a "trickle up" effect in the near future, as organizations of this size continue to adapt and set the bar on best practices.

Still, the Michael Jordan of continuity strategy is yet to emerge.

keeping leaders informed

It is curious that it is still a challenge to enlighten leadership. Resiliency is one of the best investments leaders can make, yet, year after year, article after article and conference after conference, each offering up valuable insight into what happens when we don't plan, when we don't continue to build, refine, execute and test our continuity strategies, that a vast majority of executives still don't have any trouble sleeping without one in place. None of the voices in leadership have yet carried the burden well enough to effectively evangelize in a way that helps the entire culture understand the essential nature of the practice. These challenges are due largely to practitioners being in a position where they have so little time to design and implement they do not take the proper time to learn what is at stake for each line of business and/or are unable to deliver value until the very end of a long life-cycle (if at all) and/or don't have the people skills or proper incentives to inspire cultural shifts towards these best practices. A tall order, all the way around.

In addition to these challenges, those charged with the task, who do get past that above block of obstacles, often fall into the habit of continuing to focus on worst-case scenarios, making others feel uncomfortable and less likely to actively engage in the process or put their best foot forward. Compliance and other regulatory requirements bog many of them down, too, becoming an exercise in tedium. In the midst of attempts to build strategies that struggle to focus or keep a solutions-oriented outlook, it is easy to then become fixated on what is tangible and predictable: documentation. A process rooted in merely attempting to produce documentation is more susceptible to lacking the flexibility every culture needs from a strategy, which often also affects the overall level of recoverability, the key factor to building a successful business continuity strategy. Great documentation is great but without the buy in of the whole team, meaning how effectively, efficiently and user-friendily (is that a word?) it is to get all of the hidden machinery back online and operating optimally in the event of a crisis, determines the success and overall value of a thoughtful business continuity strategy. 

To avoid such pitfalls, here are some tips to keep help us stay focused on our goal:

  • Focus less on worst case scenarios and more on ideal outcomes.
  • Spend reasonable efforts meeting compliance requirements and save the creativity for learning about what is really at stake across all lines of business and how to solve for those challenges.
  • Whatever we do, make flexibility a keystone - don't forget about the people who are behind the scenes and who will bring the most value to the strategy when a need arise and it is activated.
  • Documentation, while manageable, predictable and something we can control, is useless without a voice and a friendly interface for people of all background, disciplines and learning styles.

more data please!

This is the age of Big Data, wherein we are finally becoming less interested in the mere collection of data and more focused on what it means. Business continuity strategy practice is no exception. It is important to keep collecting data on what we do, how we do it, how often we do it, what it costs, what it requires, what works well, what doesn't, etc, but also to continue looking at the big picture. Part of solving the challenge of helping the C-level understand why it makes them so vulnerable to ignore business continuity strategy is being able to illustrate for them various scenarios, stories, really, using highly visual and friendly representations of the data, specific to their culture. Data visualization tools are becoming friendlier and friendlier by the moment, so fortunately there has not ever been as good a time to utilize these tools as it is now. Good thing for us and good thing for our partners who need our guidance.

Continuity strategies will be able to provide more value to more leaders within shorter timeframes in this way, too. Using the data to find more insightful ways to demonstrate progress against measurable benchmarks will be more meaningful to more people within organizations and provide predictable metrics for specific tactics supporting the overall strategy. In this way, it will also inspire practitioners to get closer to the people, immerse more deeply into the cultural components of the business and thereby be more engage at more levels of the organization. This will symptomatically lead to more elegant solutions that succeed or more levels than simply checking off boxes.

the future...

It won't be easy, but nothing good ever is. The future is bright for the practice, especially as education spreads, through both tales of triumph and defeat, and as tools continue to evolve and people continue to learn across disciplines. Everyone will begin to see for themselves, on their own terms, what a necessity protecting their enterprise is, regardless of size, sector or industry. Resiliency planning will continue to evolve and add tremendous value, especially where it is designed and implemented thoughtfully and with intention for the collective.