Continuity of Operations (COOP) is a term that has gained traction within government circles that focuses on protecting assets, maintaining agency capabilities in the face of any emergency or situation that disrupts normal operations, recovery activities and so on. In the business world I suppose this falls under the domain of business continuity and/or disaster recovery. Much of these strategies and activities focus on data, platforms, networks, applications and facilities in order to re-establish command-and-control from a management perspective. Unfortunately as recent weather-related events exposed, despite plans-on-paper, gaps in coordination, information gathering/sharing, communication and collaboration had dramatic impacts on the ability of relief organizations to respond efficiently and effectively.
So what does this mean to business organizations? For the most part I imagine that most enterprises do the basic blocking-and-tackling to ensure some level of recovery in the advent of a disaster. But I’m not so convinced that there is enough focus on the communication and collaboration tools and services that people will need while that recovery process is underway or in situations where there is a business disruption but one that does not rise to the level of a traditional “disaster”. The looming threat of a bird flu pandemic for instance may cause significant travel fears or actual restrictions that disrupt business activities but may not trigger activating a disaster plan.
I’ve surveyed vendors after major events (e.g., 9/11, SARS). All experience sudden increased utilization driven by reaction to travel restrictions, demand for services by telecommuters and others impacted by facility closings, and fear by employees concerning travel. The use of public IM networks and hosted services for Web conferncing generally occurs at the grass-roots level (e.g., using “free” or trial offers), or reflects a management decision made in “reaction-mode”. Sometimes it accelerates projects already underway. Some of my old notes:
- Vendor A: Reported service usage increase by almost 50% one week later. Anticipated 10%-30% growth in web conferencing services over the next several months (from existing customers increasing usage).
- Vendor B: Reported that audio conferencing was up about 10% (on a huge install base). Much of the increase was attributed to crisis management calls.
- Vendor C: Projected demand increase from two sources: on-going travel restrictions and customers accelerating voice and web conferencing projects. Also felt that companies were accelerating voice and web conferencing purchase decisions and roll-out plans. One customer had rolled out the solution to 1000 users and was planning on a staged roll-out to their remaining 12,000 employees over several months. After the event, the company decided to roll-out the solution to all employees over the weekend.
So the moral to the story, and what prompted my post on this topic, is that methods and practices around business continuity, continuous operations, disaster recover need to include the softer events that may not directly be classified as a disaster to the organization but nevertheless have an influential impact on how people communicate, collaborate and share information. As organizations become more virtual (e.g., remote workers, mobile workers) or value relationship-based interaction with customers, partners and suppliers, this type of "net-centric" thinking is critical. To avoid ad-hoc and organic use of public services (which may introduce security, compliance and other risk concerns), organizations should:
- assess their current communication and collaboration tools to ensure that they are part of the recovery plan and that they can be externalized as needed (e.g., workers once in the office are now at home)
- identify service providers that can be sanctioned as alternative environments to use (and how quickly they can be turned on, or whether they can be pre-staged in some manner but left "dark")
- define process, methods and practices so that employees transition as easily as possible until normal operations are restored