Virtualizing Your Organization as a Risk Management Strategy

Depending on where you live or work, chances are natural disasters, avian flu pandemics, earthquakes or other catastrophic events won’t impact you, but have you done any planning for the possibility something could happen besides making certain you’re in good standing with your insurance company or that you can locate a copy of the organization call tree so you can notify others of a business or organization work stoppage?

Over two years ago, I had the privilege to be a leader of a session at the Collaborative Technologies Conference in Boston (now called Enterprise 2.0) on “Business Continuity and Collaboration” which focused on what are typically two discrete and separately funded initiatives in any company.

At the outset, I laid out my premise that business continuity investments are usually made to ensure that information technology and telephony systems have backup, failover and redundancy so the company isn’t suddenly out of business if disaster strikes. To a very limited degree, work processes (and the people that perform them) are detailed along with possible ways in which they could continue to function in the event of a disaster, all in an attempt to ensure the business keeps going.

Continuing on with an overview of collaboration investments, I briefly laid out how these are typically driven by the desire to make work processes more efficient and reduce cycle times, but also to find ways to drive more innovation with people that connect and work with each other.

The problem? In almost every single organization I’ve been a part of or involved with as a consultant, these two don’t intersect and leaders don’t seem to realize that unless the people in their organizations have the company, directory, work processes and information at-their-fingertips and are using these systems day-in and day-out, if there is a disaster there’s no way they’ll be learning it then!

The opportunity? That these systems should be ones that are funded together as both innovation infrastructure as well as business continuity systems, and that people should be using them all the time. If virtual collaboration systems such as VoIP, groupware, web conferencing, webcams, and other “2.0-like” communication methods are something that everyone uses and knows how to work with at home or within the organizations walls, then if disaster strikes they’ll simply find an internet connection, log on and do their work.

No question this is, perhaps, a bit of a simplistic and high-level view of a complex set problems and opportunities, but having led a functional area in a large corporation I can tell you that people only know what to do if they’ve done it and are doing it all the time. It becomes part of their internal knowledge base and they just use it without thinking.

This is the same reasoning behind drills you’ve done in school and that emergency services do all the time: if you go through a scenario again and again and again, when the emergency hits people know exactly what to do. Drills with systemic infrastructure could be avoided altogether if the same systems people use daily also function as virtual business continuity systems, they’ll know exactly what to do in the event of an emergency.

RESOURCES

  • Good definition of Enterprise 2.0 here by Dion Hinchcliffe
  • Microsoft’s Architecture Journal article on Enterprise 2.0 here
  • Blogs:

But what about you personally? Your kids? Your small-to-midsize business (since much of what is described above is large enterprise-centric)? What if you’re a school district and need to plan?

If there are any hiccups in our distribution system, your family will be competing with everyone else stripping the grocery store shelves bare. Earthquake prone areas could see water and power lines severed. I can tell you based on numerous conversations I’ve had with people that if an avian flu pandemic hits and a kid dies at school, classrooms will be vacant as parents keep their kids home.

One of the best sites I’ve seen yet is a Federal government (Dept of Homeland Security) site called Ready.gov. They have preparedness information (and all sorts of documents like checklists) for businesses, older americans, people with disabilities, pet owners, just for kids and more.

What they don’t have, again for those of you (us) that are not with a major corporation, is specific information on what happens if disaster strikes and how you could walk out of your small business, not have employees show up for your midsize business, or teachers and kids not arrive at school, and what systems you’d use to replace or allow you to work virtually from any place there’s an internet connection.

For that, start at a place like eConsultant, a site that lists over 1,200 Web 2.0 services. You’ll find offerings for every price point (or free) and level of complexity you could imagine in areas like collaboration, web conferencing, voice over IP (VoIP), project management, and more. If you can’t find a product, suite of products or online methods of mapping much of your business online and making it virtual, I’ll be quite surprised.

Again, your needs will vary and the complexity of choosing and mapping your organization to more of a virtual and online one isn’t a trivial matter. But not having a strategy or plan that includes some sort of virtualization of your personal life, organization or school is just not wise. Combining it with a collaboration initiative kills two-birds-with-one-stone.

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Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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