In the summer of 1998, Hurricane Bonnie sent government officials and business executives scrambling to prepare for an imminent landfall that threatened lives and property across the eastern seaboard of the U.S. While by itself the storm was not an unusual occurrence, as hurricanes are a common phenomenon, Bonnie’s arrival met a rather unprepared sector of the economy. Yet again, not an uncommon situation, as it seems that most are chronically ill-prepared to predict and prepare for catastrophic events that have the potential to disrupt our lives.

Redundancy and Resiliency

Bridge and building designers must ensure that the structures they build can withstand extreme conditions, including those that may only rarely occur – what is referred to as a ‘100-year’ event. Similarly, financial trading system designers must make sure that they account for high-usage conditions such as ‘Triple Witching Friday’, during which simultaneous expiration of various stock futures and options contracts occur. In fact, the rule of thumb for any good system design is to consider the worst possible scenario and build a solution that can withstand 2X or 3X that load. Much is the same for the zipline my kids and I installed in our backyard. The product is designed and tested to sustain a weight of 600lbs, however it is only rated to support 200lbs of full, unadulterated fun.

These engineering practices guarantee that systems will have enough capacity, resiliency and redundancy to continue to perform as desired. This is true for bridges, ziplines, and business operations.

Wherein lies the challenge, while bridges and ziplines must adhere to certain safety standards, the guidelines for businesses are much more fluid, and depend on many more factors. It is up to business leaders to be strategic and proactive in developing continuity plans. Unfortunately, businesses often view the cost and complexity to build these plans as too high and sometimes deemed as overkill. As business executives are forced to rationalize expenses, the plans to address these extreme failure possibilities are compromised.

Can extreme situations really be prepared for?

We are currently living through extraordinary events, and some may claim that no level of preparedness would have helped, as these are truly unprecedented times. Yet, history has shown that natural and man-made catastrophic events are plentiful, and it is the duty of every business to ensure that they have viable Business Continuity Plans (BCP) in place – to expect the unexpected. Now is the time for every business to have the proper policy and plan to support their business continuity. These plans must be revisited and tested continually to account for the full business continuum, and incorporate changes in operating model, human capital, data, communication, and security over time.

Furthermore, this is the time to engage with customers and guide them through defining their BCP and the process in which they can budget, create, and test their plans to remain viable, relevant, and productive. Having a proper BCP in place means more than making sure you have access to systems and customers. The planning process must consider “What if?” scenarios and should be tailored to each business based on their core competencies, vertical focus, and customer engagement model.

History Repeated

In 1998, after Hurricane Bonnie, Computer World magazine published a piece about disaster preparedness, “IT Managers batten down the high-tech hatches”. At the time, I worked for a consultancy in NY and the authors of the article contacted me for a quote.

“A disaster contingency plan should try to cover all possible failure scenarios…and testing the plan at least once per quarter is vital. If you don’t keep testing, you don’t know when network changes will require a change in the plan.”

Ironically, more than 20 years later, this statement still holds true.

It is impossible to plan for every possible situation, but it is critical to go through a process of defining and prioritizing the mission-critical elements of a business and devising a plan to ensure they remain viable, while validating the underlying infrastructure to support them. As you navigate your path to business continuity, leverage this opportunity to be the strategic accountability coach to your customers and ensure that the lessons learned from this pandemic do not fall off the radar, but rather become a foundation to how a great business is managed.

Reach out to your PAM and Distribution partner to learn more about Cisco’s APO Business Continuity Blueprint.