An article in Microsoft’s TechNet Magazine post Katrina on Louisiana State University’s Emergency Operations Center, highlighted some deficiencies in ordinary IT during crises. First, you can’t depend on vast bandwidth or even any bandwidth at all in an emergency. Second, your constituency can increase dramatically. One day you’re managing the IT needs of staff, the next, you have to deal with external agencies, contractors or volunteers; people that aren’t in your directory or who can be provisioned quickly and easily.
That’s where Groove comes in. Once files are downloaded in a Groove “workspace”, information to be shared with others, only the changes are exchanged. Work can continue off-line, and when one goes back on-line, documents are synchronized. For cross agency or inter company working, it’s like manna. No files attached to emails, and all the versioning problems those entail. No server to set up. Everyone has their own synchronized copy of the information on laptops. For keeping business continuity plans up to date, ensuring they are distributed and always available, or for sharing project information in a distributed team, it has a lot going for it.
On the morning of July 7th, 2005, I was jet lagged in Minneapolis, watching CNN at 2:50 in the morning, when reports started coming in of a general failure on the London tube due to possible multiple electrical explosions. When, an hour later they reported the bus explosion in Tavistock Square, I knew that this must be a coordinated terrorist act, so I logged in and looked at my buddy lists. By this time, CNN’s camera was trained on the entrance to Aldgate station, near the site of one of the underground explosions, and just around the corner from the offices of my friends at IT Energy.
Checking my AIM buddy list, I could tell at a glance that my London elastictime colleagues were ok – all online and active in AIM. But I didn’t have the screen names of the guys at IT Energy. It was then that I realized that presence (the visual cues indicating whether one is online, busy, idle or offline) allowed me in under a few seconds to assure myself that my elastictime London colleagues were ok and that was only because I had their AOL screen names. No reliance on phone networks or a corporate IM system. Time bought. Without the same details for IT Energy, who happen to use MSN, it would take a call or email to find out their status – time lost. So what if a grand buddy list comprising all my “ecosystem” could be created – without me personally asking for screen names? What if it fetched those automatically, and federated (or rolled into one) presence indicators. This led me to explore other digital breadcrumbs, things we leave behind to help others help us – or to help others get some answers quickly. What else is out there that might answer a few basic questions:
- Who is affected?
- Where are people?
- How can they be contacted quickly?
We considered location and diaries as well as presence. To call it a mashup is far too simplistic. We have to work out how to portray that better – in a way that is useful when adrenalin levels are high.
So the mission is simply this – to help organizations buy time in crises – and in some cases that might mean elastictime will help save lives.
Originally we used the name to describe our activities with mobile computing. I was struck by image of a businessman checking his email standing in an airport check-in line. He was filling in dead space – time that could have been spent wondering whether he had once again picked the slowest queue.
In November 2005, Gareth Howell and myself attended the Business Continuity Institute NorthWest Forum’s seminar day in Blackpool, UK. One presenter played the audio of the voice of the pilot of a twin engined jet fighter who suffered a bird strike in one engine shortly after take-off. The first thing the pilot did was climb higher. He was buying time giving himself more time to think and more options.
The first thing management needs to do in a crisis is buy time. The Oxford Dictionary defines a crisis as “a decisive moment; a time of danger or great difficulty; the turning-point esp. of a disease.” Time features in all three variations of the definition. Time is compressed – events happen more quickly, leaving less time to adapt at a comfortable pace. Organizations in times of crisis, first must realize there is a crisis – then ask how can they buy time.
This blog focusses on the use of collaborative and social tools to help people buy time when a crisis hits. That could be the unthinkable, but it also means reaction times can be shortened and better decisions taken during the day to day management crises we face. And in the high impact but (thankfully) infrequent crisis, that’s not just buying time – it means more people can be helped when you can’t rely on the emergency services to do everything for you. Your colleagues, your family, your friends, your customers, your suppliers, your visitors may be a low priority if public services need to be directed elsewhere. So elastictime is about buying time.