The 'What If' factor

The 'What If' factor

An opportunity is a chance, which, when taken up, benefits the one who has taken the step forward. The fact is that we all come across several chances to make the right decision, at the right time. The "right time" is when there is a minimal chance of a loss, but the impending value derived is far greater than that perceived at the time of decision-making.

The core concept of business continuity focuses on situations which could bring some relief when there is a likelihood of an unfavorable condition. This also leads to disaster management, which in my opinion is a part of business continuity and contingency planning. It is based on the risks associated with any investment and addressing any avoidable situations, ensuring minimization of a potential loss. Unavoidable situations, such as damages through an occurrence of an act of nature, or more specifically conditions which cannot be controlled but any risks attached may be minimized to a certain extent. The disaster management strategy adopted by an organization determines how it values the assets and their significance to the overall operation of the business.

Business continuity and disaster management processes in organizations focus on ensuring that a direct impact of an unfavorable condition is either reduced or eliminated. An example is that of taking a decision to have a generator available at the office, despite the likelihood of power outages being low, or insuring against accidents or risks. There are other situations which have an indirect impact, but when addressed, results in a greater value for the business. In the local context, such decisions are usually not taken up, and I assure you that based on my experience, the outcome of an unfavorable situation are more damaging. An example of this is ensuring better customer service, or maintaining good relations with your suppliers or business contacts.

Over the last 10 years, I have worked with about 7 organizations, each one taking me towards my ultimate aim of reaching the top. I am a business minded person, and of course being prudent then comes naturally and at times a little too much. Anyhow, while having a background of finance, I had taken the opportunity to go for marketing, then moving on to project management and solutions designs and then moving on to setting up and managing strategic business units.

Over the last 6 to 8 years, I've also been involved in decision making, be it individually or on a panel of decision makers. My aim has been two fold, to further the business and build upon tried and tested processes to become robust in our approach to decision making and standardization, and also to strengthen the back end in terms of support and backup, to avoid any unwanted situation in the near future. In other words, contingency planning has always been one of the most important aspects for me.

Though there have been various situations in my career which are really irksome, but there have been a couple of encounters that really score high on my target list. The first one being at the organization where I've worked the longest, I can identify two occurrences here. Being the CFO, I would obviously plan up the next few years in terms of revenue generation, fund management etc. Since the company was a back office for a UK based company, fund availability was never an issue, but to ensure all records are in order, certain level of planning is a must.

The one problem I have experienced with such organizations is that they don't take anything seriously, leading to an obviously visible panic situation later. Well, it happened, and we were stuck with a lot of reconciling for differences, and obviously issues did arise later.

The second situation at the same organization was due to zero internet backup support. In those days I can understand that most companies didn't invest in backup for obvious reasons, heavy costs being one. We had moved to the National IT Park, which is supported with a sizable and well managed bandwidth solution sanctioned by the PSEB. However, before the first submarine cable snap we encountered in Pakistan, I had specifically elaborated the significance of having a backup solution, in case we do run into issues with a wired solution. The backup proposed was to have an on-demand solution satellite connectivity solution from a trusted vendor, which we could hook up with through a radio link.

Unfortunately, we did face the problem of an outage, along with several other organizations across the country. I believe that we could have easily avoided the 2 week impact faced by having at least a 50% redundant support through an alternative channel. Of course, the decision that followed was in a frenzy of getting things done immediately, leading to added costs, but thankfully due to good relations I had with the vendors, we got this through within a few days. Of course, not without some losses on the part of our customers, and a number of mixed and panic stricken decisions, never a good sign for sustainability.

Late 2007, another encounter with business continuity issues came. Being responsible for setting up a customer service desk, I had suggested for backup solutions in terms of internet supply and remote accessibility. It cannot be denied that a shortfall of funds can lead to situations where decision making and actions are somewhat restricted, but there are times when you need to buckle up a bit and take the plunge. Such is the need, more specifically so, when working with foreign clients, where a higher service level and greater degree of professionalism is expected.

So here I was with erratic internet outages at the office building, with the backup support not directly available, rampant power failure issues, with no direct switchover to alternative power, and we're supporting customer calls. We finally got that sorted by moving to a dedicated office area, specifically keeping in mind all that we needed, after bearing it for about 6 months. Next step for me was to ensure remote coverage and disaster recovery capabilities. Unfortunately, 27th December came along and a couple of us were stuck at the office for about 2 days and 3 nights, with no support or call routing available. Thankfully, the weekend came along, and we were back at work on Monday, now with a major and quick fix decision making to do. Of course, finally the services were availed, and remote support, disaster recovery management was arranged. But it already had shaken the customer's confidence quite a bit, leading to some unpleasant behavior by some of them.

Here's how I would summarize what I've learnt throughout:

--Planning does go a long way in solving problems well in time of an eventual crisis. It is best to be prepared when taking on a decision

--Evaluate risks along with the obvious benefits from investments. Risk assessment should never be missed and must be an integral to decision making at all times. Businesses are meant to be for the foreseeable future, and a thorough risk assessment will only add more value to the business and give more confidence to its stakeholders, and not just its shareholders and management.

--Never skip contingency planning. If you want to save yourself and your business from any embarrassment, please plan well and for a long term, like at least 10 years, and not just what you see as long term

--It may be easy to say initially that we'll take care of the trouble spot later, but believe me if you will, it is usually quite late that we realize how much we could have done better had we taken care of a possible disaster situation. The costs associated then with recovery efforts later are much higher.

My sincere advice to all business owners would be to carefully assess your business plans, ensuring you have performed a thorough cost benefit analysis of your investments, and have also taken into consideration all possible risks associated with your decisions.

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