Friday morning and it’s time to spring clean the home office.  The thrill of finding a manual to phone that I sent back R Orange two years ago is like that of junking an odd sock not worn for just as long.  Into the paper recycling bin it is tossed, to be reborn as another never to be read manual.   De-cluttering is a joy.  My wife thinks it clears the mind and opens one up to new opportunity.  If I am be able to reach my desk contorting my body navigating piles of paper, that usually suffices for me.  But when I steel myself for the annual clutter purge, the reward is oddly satisfying.
A friend of mine has de-cluttered his life to an extreme. When I used to visit his house, his dining room had become a storage area, such was the extent of his clutter.  Boxes of what not and CD’s were everywhere, during a messy divorce.  He now lives on a small boat. There is no room for clutter.  He showers and does the necessary in the marina’s facility.  All his bills are centralized.  With good heating, excellent broadband, nearby shopping and several lovely cars, it is not quite a spartan life, but the degree to which he has de-cluttered is remarkable.  Importantly, he is now much happier.
The same, I believe, can be applied to organizations.  They can de-clutter their customer relationships, getting rid of high cost to service, low growth potential accounts. At Lotus we had one highly diversified, large multinational customer who was demanding to the extreme. Every year they acquired scores of businesses and divested just as many. Though the revenue they provided was attractive, they took up an inordinate share of management and back office attention. Just for that client, processes had to be customized. Several times it crossed my mind that we should abandon the customer to Microsoft and focus on more profitable accounts.  In the end Microsoft did acquire the customer, and I would bet they eventually rued that win.  Now with the lion’s share of the enterprising messaging market -as well as the desktop and OS – markets , Microsoft has much greater leverage over that account, but I can’t believe the customer has lost its belligerence towards suppliers.  Google, if you recognize the account, you might want to say thanks but no thanks.  You don’t need customers that clutter.


1 Comment

Filed under Coordination

Are we boring you?

One can never be sure what ball Life’s bowler is going to direct our way.

In 1971, the well known, erudite and gentile American talk show host, Dick Cavett, had on his show the 72 year old Jeremy Rodale one of the earliest advocates of organic farming.  He believed, as many now do, that healthy organic foods and natural remedies were the keys to longevity.  During his interview, Rodale said, “I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way,” “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred,” and  “I never felt better in my life!”

Whilst interviewing another guest, the New York Post columnist Pete Hamill, Rodale made a snoring noise.  Hamill leaned over to Cavett and said, “This looks bad.” Though he later disputed it, Cavett was reputed to have said, “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?”  Rodale had just died of a massive heart attack.  The show was never broadcast.

Leave a comment

Filed under Coordination

The shift in Work Area Recovery

Last month in advance of a seminar on Work Area Recovery for the BCI London Forum, I conducted a survey of London area Business Continuity Institute members.  The seminar was a sell out.  It seems that a lot of companies are re-evaluating their strategy for coping with denial of access to their building (usually through fire or flood) or some other melt down that requires staff to work in alternate locations. Companies like SunGard, ICM and IBM must be seeing a decline in traditional outsourced work area recovery where those companies’ sites are kept on standby for customers in the event of ….

Two factors seem to lie at the root of that decline.

  • Much closer scrutiny of costs in the past two years caused all budgets to be reviewed for value for money.
  • The increase in home working and hot desking have obviated the need for traditional office environments.

The biggest concern in the survey regarding home working was network load – network traffic at the last mile and in the server room.  I can’t help but think that capacity will rise as demand increases to a point where, if disaster strikes, provided it doesn’t affect everyone (in which case, our problems are bigger than our businesses) and provided the company has mirrored IT, there will be sufficient bandwidth at both ends to cope with spikes.

1 Comment

Filed under Business Continuity, Resilience, Virtual Teams

Black Swans over Europe

In all my conversations with business continuity professionals in London, I don’t recall anyone, ever mentioning the risk to supply chains or personnel posed by Icelandic volcanoes. What we just experienced was a classic Black Swan – something unheard of in this part of the world, something so far off the radar, it didn’t appear on a European’s risk register outside Iceland.  We had a relatively rare event – a steam-laden eruption coinciding with just the right weather conditions to allow an ash cloud to hang over Europe for several days – combined with a zero tolerance for ash+aviation, through lack of data.

On June 24,  1982 British Airways Flight 9  en route to Perth, flew through the ash cloud of Mount Galunggung, Indonesia losing all four engines for 13 minutes before managing to restart one, then all four, then losing one again, before landing in Jakarta with a badly damaged plane, abraded leading edge surfaces and obscured windscreen.  On July 13, another 747, a Singapore airlines plane, was forced to shut down 3 engines in the same area.   Since then authorties have developed strict guidelines, that we find in retrospect were (hopefully) too harsh. We didn’t know what the safe levels of ash were and now that we have much more data gathered over the past week, the aviation authorities have come up with a level that they feel represents a safe threshold. 

But weather patterns are fickle, and volcanoes are even more so.   Eyjafjallajökull is a mere pup compared to its next door neighbour, Katla.  The last three times Eyjafjallajökull erupted, Katla also erupted shortly after. Iceland’s President Olafur Grimsson this week referred to the recent event as a small rehearsal for what will happen when Katla comes alive.  Suddenly risk managers and business continuity professionals have something new to consider – or rather something very old, but overdue.  The past six days has also demonstrated that unless we have a balanced, reasonable approach to risk, we endanger the mechanisms of our society and commerce through excess caution.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Continuity, Resilience

Executive Luck and the Resilience Parodox

Ten times a year, I help organize an evening get together of the top business continuity professionals in London over a beer. It is called BANG. We always have a controversial speaker from the business continuity industry. This week, crisis management consultant Gareth Jones spoke of how organizations learn (or don’t learn) from incidents. He said something about luck which I felt was very insightful. It explains why business continuity is such a hard sell in large organizations – why it goes through phases of importance – and why organizations so often get caught out with disastrous consequences. It may even explain why the consequences of the credit crunch cascaded so widely.

Business continuity pros help organizations mitigate and deal with incidents, things that happen when an organization’s luck runs out – a power failure, an explosion, a flood, a large systems outage. They put plans into place, they exercise and they educate. Frequently their budgets get cut. They may work for an organization for a couple of years, get frustrated and then go into consultancy for a few years then go back into another organization. Lifers are rare. It is a comparitively young profession, but an old ethos.

Resilience is a board level responsibility. The board has a duty to shareholders to protect as well as grow shareholders’ wealth. To understand organizational risks fully and stay prepared, they need to contemplate some very unpleasant possibilities and consequences. Many are completely incapable of doing so.

To understand why, one needs to consider how an organization’s senior executives got into their positions. It was through a combination of ability and luck – but mostly luck. The unlucky ones – the ones with equal abilities who experienced an organizational failure or a disaster that had serious ramifications – aren’t in those powerful positions any longer. Business continuity managers sell their wares to senior levels. They talk about bad luck to the lucky. What a tough sell that must be! They don’t get heard, they don’t get budgets, they get frustrated and leave, leaving and the unheeding organization vulnerable. The more lucky an organization is, the more likely it is to suffer badly from the consequences of a disaster when its luck runs out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Continuity, Resilience


“At the Battle of Baghwaharam, my mount was killed and my right arm was cut off,” boasted the knight.  With my left arm, I fought my foes till none were left standing.  “That’s nothing!” exclaimed the second warrior.  “In the second Battle of Baghwaharam, a fierce enemy buried his axe into my skull and gouged out my eye, but I continued to fight and brought home his head as a trophy.” 

“Pish posh!” said Nasrudin, who had grown weary of their boasting.  “In the third Battle of Baghwahram, a mighty warrior as tall as three houses one on top of each other, drew his sword, easily the length of three of yours.  The fierce giant, in a single lightening swipe, lopped off my head.  My prowess as a fighter is such that I called to my sightless body, to place my head back on  my shoulders, which it then did,  whereupon I continued to fight as though nothing had happened.”

1 Comment

Filed under Nasrudin

Prezi, an antidote to boredom

You know the feeling. Another PowerPoint. Another on screen treatise/eye test. Too many words. Too few pictures. What’s for lunch?

Launched two months ago, Prezi is a Hungarian made tool that helps prevent you, the presenter, from falling into the PowerPoint, glazed eyeballs rut. Last week at a seminar to government and financial services types, I used it for the first time in public instead of PowerPoint.

Getting used to how you create a presentation was a little bit of a challenge for someone like me who has been building decks of slides for a couple of decades. Things like drag and drop from the desktop just aren’t there. It is a hosted service. Behaviours and functions you expect in a desktop application don’t work.

To build a presentation, imagine a large canvas you want to stick objects to – pictures, words or movies to support your talk. You lay all your objects on the canvas then create a path to go from one object to another – your presentation. Though it can be a little distracting, the presenter guides you from object to object by zooming out and in. By zooming out all the way, you see the entire presentation’s content on one slide. That is how the presentation begins and ends. The audience gets an overview about what is to be presented and, at the end a reminder of what has been presented. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.

During editing, there are some oddities. Prezi carries the zooming paradigm a little far by presenting commands and editing modes as a series of circles (the “Bubble Menu”). Another very odd wheel (the “Transformation Zebra”) allows you to move, rotate and size an object. You must remember my brain is wired to doing things differently, and I am sure a child would grasp Prezi very easily. “Frames” allows you to group objects so you can view multiple objects in the same way you might see them on a slide.

Now for the parts that would trip up a six year old. To insert a graph, you first have to convert it to an image file and then import it. I ended up using PowerPoint as an editor, creating the image and adding it to that canvas. Right off the bat, that was extra work.

Because you can zoom, the tendency is to overdo things, creating too many transitions that could distract an audience. This is especially true of text. A normal text slide has a title and bullets you see in their entirety. Its build transitions are usually minor. With Prezi, the temptation is to zoom on a phrase or word, then into another phrase, and so on. People could get dizzy and turned off by gimmickry.

To be able to play the presentation offline, Prezi creates an executable for you. Sharing that file afterwards has its pluses and minuses. You assign rights to individuals or make it public on the Prezi site – which can be impractical for many inhouse corporate uses. The obvious step would be for Prezi to make an on premises version.

The main lesson I learnt was to keep the presentation simple. Because the tool is so new, your presentation will stand out anyway and that project might get more support. The extra effort in creating that Prezi file could well be worthwhile.


Filed under Virtual Teams