Resilience must be Blind to the Catalyst

Curtis BartellOn October 29 William Stemper, Forbes Councils Member put forth a thoughtful piece titled Three Steps To Building Resilience Through Technology.The article goes a long ways towards solidifying why resilience has a more urgent place in our businesses. I commend the article to the readers of this post. While Stemper focuses primarily on technology at his job at Comcast, he tees up some further, more holistic insights.

The article notes the importance of business continuity strategies, but then points out existing strategies were largely not effective for a pandemic situation that "no one had a script or a formula for handling…" Unfortunately, for too long organizations have built business continuity plans/strategies because they had to or to prepare for next year's mandated exercise or a looming audit. However, we have demonstrated over the past 20 years why such planning is great for day-to-day business to realize efficiency and become resilient.

I think we can all agree the pandemic has transformed business operations so much it will likely stick. While technology has allowed this transformation to occur with varying degrees of challenge or success, I believe there are ways organizations could better transform by answering the questions of "why" or "what" before technologies can be applied. Mr. Stemper notes "nearly one-third of companies (31%) would have never implemented the technologies they did if not for the pandemic, with 23% projecting it would have taken them one to three years to realize such changes otherwise."

Why is that? I suggest that to date when the C-Suite sets budgets these sorts of investments often are ignored as prudent business operations decisions…until revenue ceases overnight. For too long resilience-related expenditures have been put in the "insurance policy" column or in the "get the business continuity/emergency planner to go back under a rock" column. Having been a planner in a past life and used the "insurance policy" analogy to my superiors, I am more sensitized now as a business owner. This is not an insurance policy but a survivalist policy…or an industry discriminator policy…or an outlast your competitor policy…or make sure the government survives in the face of any threat policy.

Stemper continues, "While some businesses have capitalized on this moment in time to invest in technologies as a way to survive and create future opportunities, others are still struggling to become resilient and rebound from the pandemic." This is undoubtedly true…and comprehensive resilience is critical above and well beyond technology resilience. Are the technology investments based on essential functions? Are the investments reducing prioritized risks? If not, the investments are pure folly and lack a fundamental level of stewardship and governance vision.

Stemper posits three broad Building Blocks towards building resilience through technology:

1. Invest in technologies that always get the job done. This paragraph is outstanding. I would simply add, in the context of putting people first, are employers investing in their employees' home/remote technologies AND home/remote safety and preparedness? If not, putting people (and their immediate household) first in these times, while taking on unique requirements, is still the priority of employers.

2. Cultivate an applications-first mentality and then fine-tune technologies to business needs. This paragraph outlines the need to focus on what technologies matter the most in business but seems to be bound by a teleworking environment. Again, I suggest companies need to focus on the why and the what of an organization's missions and functions to define what technologies matter the most. This seems like a no brainer, but it is this foundational development that is required to even think about solutions…i.e., you cannot buy technology solutions to a problem you do not know yet. I would not buy a baseball glove for a soccer match. Just saying.

3. Be prepared for the unexpected. Resilience must transcend any disruption and be "blind to the catalyst" (yes, you may quote me) as I have noted publicly for over 20 years now. Barring an asteroid sending our planet spinning off someplace else in the Milky Way, organizations can and should prepare for the unexpected. But how?

Here is one example. Commercial and Governmental entities in the Puget Sound region know many of the "expected" things that could cause major disruptions: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, mudslides to name a few. But all of these have one thing in common: they can all be assessed as to their threat, vulnerability, and impact with sound Business Process and Impact Analyses. How does this answer the mail for the "unexpected"? Once you fully understand all of your processes (why do it? who does it? where is it done? what systems or materials are required to do it? how is it done?) you can weigh the risks of each in light of both the unexpected and the things that are reasonable to be expected to determine prudent mitigation investments. Even a global pandemic has been discussed at such length since the SARS and Avian Flu near-misses that there is less excuse than some believe to have been caught flat footed by COVID-19.

Stemper says, "True resilience helps organizations not just bounce back, but bounce forward." This is spot on. I submit we need to eliminate "new normal" from our lexicon and simply acknowledge that change happens, and we are here to organize it into something useful.

The article references a Boston Consulting Group's (BCG) statement that "...resilience is a key driver of value. Some companies outperform their peers during downturns, while many others lose ground or don't survive." BCG is only partly right. I would add, resilience done right is not just a key driver of value, but a discriminator in every industry, every day, in every way.

Thank you, Mr. Stemper, for this worthwhile article and for opening the dialogue to a broader perspective of resilience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Curtis Bartell is the President & CEO of Covenant Park Consulting (www.covenantpark.com), a resilience-specific consulting company in Fairfax, Virginia. Covenant Park capitalizes on extensive national, homeland, economic security contingency planning methodologies to solve complex problems in the real world. END