Ike and the Internet as a Critical Business Resource

Dwight Silverman’s blog post on Houston businesses dealing with lack of electricity for the Houston Chronicle prompted me to reflect on how 3coast is managing through Hurricane Ike … and how our business decisions in recent years have affected our Business Continuity Plan.

For those of us in Houston, Hurricane Ike confirmed that The Internet has been added to the list of critical business resources for contemporary businesses. Ten years ago, the list of critical resources might have been limited to:

  • infrastructure (telephone communication, electricity, inter-company connectivity)
  • physical workspace
  • process & systems (information as well as capital assets)
  • knowledge
  • human capital
  • financial capital

At first blush, it would seem that The Internet is “just” another kind of infrastructure. I would argue that The Internet is a critical resource that spans ALL of the others. Think about how lack of internet connectivity depreciates the value of corporate assets in the other categories.

For example, many software systems are delivered over the internet as SAAS (software as a service) … salesforce.com, NetSuite, AutoTask and others are examples of commercial SAAS. Many custom applications are browser-based and rely on the internet for connectivity to the application and database servers. Consequently, a distributed organization, aka the Virtual Enterprise, becomes a fragmented, disconnected operation that cannot function when faced with a lack of internet connectivity.

Another example … many businesses have upgraded to VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems in recent years. In a single location where the VOIP phone system connects via PRI to a telecommunication provider’s hub, risk of interruption is minimal. However, business risk increases when it relies on the Internet cloud to connect multiple locations. Risk increases even more when a business uses an IP phone service for outbound calls.

In recent years, more people work from home – part time or full-time. Personally, I’m a big fan of flexible work schedules. Notwithstanding, we in Houston now better understand the risk of distributed “workspaces” … multiple points of failure. After Hurricane Ike passed through the area we asked ourselves, where do we physically put workers who are displaced from or disconnected at their homes?

Access both to corporate knowledge and financial resources are limited when Internet connectivity disappears. For many companies, such as ours, monitoring bank account balances, processing payroll, generating invoices … are all processes that rely on the Internet.

Obviously the internet is here to stay. Productivity benefits far outweigh the risks. And the Internet is a big part of the solution to the risks identified above. Regardless, to minimize business risk, a comprehensive business continuity plan must 1) identify critical business processes that rely on the internet and electrical power availability, 2) acknowledge the internet as an infrastructure that impacts the availability of many other corporate assets, and 3) define the fail over plans when the Internet is not available for an extended period of time.

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this premise … as well as your experience through Hurricane Ike as it relates to business continuity.

2 thoughts on “Ike and the Internet as a Critical Business Resource

  1. Just ask an Ike refugee!

    Though comfortable with power and tv in a remote location, it became evident that a Blackberry facilitated communication via voice and email, there was a huge hole in my being productive because I had no internet. Until I drove to Austin and equiped myself with an AT&T 3G Broadband aircard, I was dead in the water. Internet connection solved!

    With no power, however, one would soon lose the battery on the laptop. Perhaps having 3 fully charged battery packs would be a wise choice, with the option of going somewhere with power to recharge periodically.

    For the corporate wide solution, I believe much thought will be needed to contemplate the solutions for power and internet in the coming months. I encourage all to participate in this blog to lend thought leadership to this issue.

  2. Thank you for bringing up wireless broadband cards. Going forward, cellular wireless might be an important business continuity alternative for employees working from home. Coverage in the aftermath of a storm, however, will be an issue. From what I heard, Verizon coverage was decent in my area of town (Friendswood). I was unable to get internet on my AT&T Blackberry. I’m not confident that the AT&T 3G would have been a solution for me.

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