--> Gill Blog: September 2003

Gill Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

CB Richard Ellis' effort to differentiate its services with Giuliani

Giuliani Partners LLC, is a consulting firm operated by former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and a number of his senior executives from his eight-year tenure. Giuliani Partners assists chief executive officers in securing the future of their firms by protecting their knowledge, financial and physical assets, their people and their brand.

With Mr. Giuliani as chairman and CEO, the firm draws upon its experiences and expertise in innovative financial management, public safety, security, emergency preparedness, business continuity and leadership during crises. This team includes New York City's former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, former Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Richard Sheirer, former Corporation Counsel Michael Hess, as well as other former city officials. Giuliani Partners provides clients with a comprehensive set of solutions addressing critical concerns of major corporations today.

The firm's website at Giuliani Partners indicates that the full website will be released soon. In the first two years of operation, they've issued some pretty amazing press releases indicating some high level brand associations. For real estate services, Giuliani Partners co-branded with the biggest commercial real estate transaction broker in the world. And they're getting some press coverage, including this from the Wall Street Journal:

(March 6) -- CB Richard Ellis has formed a strategic partnership with Giuliani Partners that will provide CB's clientele with advice on security, regulatory, and corporate-governance issues. CB Richard Ellis is presently completing a $415 million deal to acquire Insignia Financial Group Inc., a New York competitor.

Giuliani Partners is run by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose star power will likely give CB an edge in the highly competitive commercial property services market. "There's no question that one aspect of this is an effort to differentiate the kinds of services that can be provided by CB aside from the conventional 'Would you like to see some space?'" states Mary Ann Tighe, head of CB Richard Ellis' New York Tri-State area.

Source: Wall Street Journal (03/05/03); Rich, Motoko via Realtor® Magazine Online

But, really, would you like to see some space?

Monday, September 29, 2003

Blackout Leaves Italy in the Dark: Identifying the Root Cause

As you have probably gathered, I'm a big fan of the World Conference on Disaster Managment -- great topics, great speakers. At the 13th WCDM, I really enjoyed a presentation given by Paul Kovacs from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) . There was so much substantial material he not only covered but quantified, it was dizzying. If there was one nuggett to be taken away from the session, however, it was simply this: the amount of incidents that can cause disruption are substantial, and during the 1990's there was a noticeable increase in their occurance (2,500 natural disasters recorded causing over $1 Trillion (with a T) in damage). For some reason the radar screen was tweaked, and I became more aware of incidents as they happened. Another day, another event.

The latest report from today. Officials have identified the root cause of the Italian blackout, and again, we see compelling evidence that small things can branch out to cause wide scale damage. But I can't help but wonder why each blackout over the past 6 weeks has been "the largest" in a particular region's history, and none of these events has been attributed to something we would normally associate with the outcomes they have produced. Is there more to it than that? We'll leave that one in the capable hands of conspiracy theorists.

This forum is a place where we have selectively tracked these kinds of events, and the evidence speaks for itself -- much has happened over the past few months. I didn't really anticipate how many events of mass disruption we would actually cover, but it seems as they have been occurring with great regularity. Mr. Kovacs was bang on with his observations. All these events, pandemics, hurricanes, and power outages cause not only dislocation and confusion, but they cost money, and lots of it.

The reason why terms like disaster recovery and business continuity planning mean so much today is that we are that much more connected than we were prior to 1990 (maybe that's why Mr. Kovacs' numbers seem to jump out at us). We are committed to continue using this blog to discuss events of the day, and using our research page to publish papers exploring issues that are longer term in scope and can be used for strategic planning.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Round and Round and Round We Go, Where The Lights Go Out

This time around, it occurred in Italy at 3:30 in the morning. As they say, pictures are worth a thousand words. As of this writing, power is still being restored, but the familiar pattern of finger pointing -- the kind we saw on August 14th in North America -- has begun. Does it seem as though a pattern is emerging? First it was North America, then the UK, then Sweden and Denmark, now Italy -- all in the span of 6 weeks. Spend all the time you want blaming the grid, but maybe it's time we started seriously looking at consumption patterns (or perhaps, something more insidious). If you haven't already, it might be an idea to read our White Paper on the implications of the August 14th blackout. Come to think of it, it might be a good idea for me to stop here and help out directing traffic -- that is, directing Italian authorities to this paper on the Gill website.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Are We Really Prepared for Change?

For some reason, I feel the need to continue with my thoughts about the theme of the 14th WCDM, i.e. "Are We Really Prepared?". I do this by sharing a few anecdotes demonstrating that when we are still at the dawn of any new era marked by changing technologies or organizational directives, the answer to such a question is obviously no. Let me demonstrate.

In the mid 80's a good friend named Al showed myself and a group of friends the neat new contraption he had recently acquired -- a CD player with 2 CDs. Although we all agreed it was pretty cool, I remember yours truly sounding off that this technology was nothing more than a stunt by the record companies to try and lure unsuspecting customers to repurchase the albums everyone had in LP format, as CDs. It was a week later that a national magazine I came across echoed my views, and I proudly showed the article to anyone that listened that I was a genius. The whole time, Al cooly acknowledged that I may have a point, but he would continue buying CDs, because he found them more convenient than LPs.

Fast forward - it's 1996, and I am in a meeting at work. My boss announces to the group that he has installed an email account in the office that can be centrally accessed in the boardroom. I politely asked when each of us would receive our own accounts that would be accessible at our own desks. He turned to me and asked what the possible benefit of doing that would be - he believed that the benefit of email was simply to be able to tell clients we were early adopters of a new technology. I said it might be helpful in the exchange of documents and files. I was told to switch the subject. As the meeting ended, my boss hauled me into his office, and behind closed doors told me I didn't know what I was talking about, and never to second guess his decisions in front of the group (until then, I thought our meetings were supposed to be an open forum). I meekly agreed. If I am not mistaken, he has since made the recommended change (as I now gingerly pry my tongue out of my cheek).

Perhaps the most glaring example of premature prognostication occurred in the release of Bill Gates 1995 book "The Road Ahead" (on the linked site, note the words "completely revised") when he largely brushed off the future viability of the internet and mentioned the new medium only 7 times over 300 pages.

Doesn't matter whether we're young interns, managers, or the world's richest man -- we simply don't have all the answers, and can therefore never assume that we're completely prepared. Business continuity planners, take note -- the landscape in which you are operating is changing daily; within no time it will bear little resemblance to the one you currently see in front of you.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Preparing For The Next Disaster Conference

Gill Advisors got together in Toronto with Douglas Galbraith of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness, who presented an overview of the upcoming 14th World Conference on Disaster Management (14th WCDM). The next annual conference is titled The Changing Face of Disaster Management - Are We Really Prepared? and is expected to be a great opportunity to learn about new approaches to business continuity planning and disaster recovery, if this year's conference is any guide to what we can expect. About half of the Gill Advisors attended the 13th World Conference on Disaster Management in June, this year, and we anticipate that all of our team will attend the next conference. Interestingly, we first met some of our key advisors at the last conference, including our business conituity specialists, CAMTOS, and data management specialists, Storage Guardian. Such alliances enable Gill to better serve clients across a broader range of specialties and professional disciplines.

The theme of next year's conference is "Are We Really Prepared?” A very good question. If you have been following this weblog over the past few months, you might be getting the sense that organizations are really making a concerted effort to integrate business continuity within their own cultures. But how contemporary and well thought out are the plans that are being put in place? And how earnestly are the planners approaching their task? We could site examples where smaller organizations may not be up to speed to the same degree of larger players, but that’s understandable.

The problem, as we see it, is that many BCP initiatives are simply being driven by the need to satisfy organizational directives to have a plan in place. Some don’t even have a plan in place at all -- we all know of organizations who still turn a blind eye to planning, adopting a "damn the torpedos" approach. There are a number of good consulting firms out there, including Fairfax Virginia-based ICF Consulting (who, as you might recall, put out the first research-oriented paper on the blackout, the very next day) which openly asks "Are we really prepared" in this article, and recognize that for how much we may say we are prepared, robust plans require much more than laundry lists created by automatons. Rigidity, old-school thinking and protecting one's territory are counter-productive in today's environment. No longer is BCP exclusively the domain of IT people; there are other areas that need to be tied in, including real estate continuity. The theme of the 14th WCDM seems to hit a very timely note.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

In the Wake of Isabel - How Did We Fare?

By the time Hurricane Isabel hit the Outer Banks, its force had noticeably diminished, however it still packed quite a wallup. Given all the advance prep time, organizations throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were able to put their disaster planning protocols into high gear, and for the most part, the preparation paid off.

I had made a blog entry wirelessly during the blackout and was quite amazed by how far technology has taken us. I was reminded of this when I came across an article that reinforced the message that as we settle into an era where people can telecommute and use wireless technology to stay connected, even events such as hurricanes cannot prevent some from carrying on business as usual. To what extent will we adopt a decentralized workplace, and how prepared are we to embrace it? Time will only tell, but so far things seem to moving in the right direction.

Monday, September 22, 2003

One Size Fits All vs. Scenario-Based Planning

I want to use an analogy using hats. Because I wasn't around in ther era of the classic fedora (went the way of the buggy whip when JFK became President), I will talk about baseball hats. I played competitive ball until I was 18, and in fact made our high school team (apparently, I had been told I threw a ball "like a girl", but I made the team due to my rah-rah attitude) (by the way, about throwing like a girl? completely incorrect -- most girls I have known in fact throw a baseball much better than I do). I digress.

When it came to ballcaps, we were issued a standard "one size fits all" number with either a crumpled elastic strap adjuster on the back, or one of those nifty plastic adjusto-straps with the plastic nubs. Although we were told these were the best available, they mostly disappointed. If your head was too small, the cap would take on the form of a miniature straight jacket, and heaven forbid, if your head was too big, and the adjusto-strap was maxed to its last position where the responsibility of holding that hat on the head of a huge cranium was put on the shoulders of a single plastic nub, the cap assumed the proportional appearance of a beanie. On the other hand, there was (and still is today) a company called New Era that made amazing caps that were fitted precisely to the size of your head -- simply masterpieces, but boy oh boy, they were expensive.

Last week, I attended a special interest group session of bcp professionals who discussed whether BC plans should take on a one-size fits all approach to plan formation, or craft plans based on specific scenarios (like the New Era cap, a fitted solution, but one that comes at a price). A very interesting topic indeed with really no right or wrong answers. Unfortunately, I found my own experience dealing with this type of dilemma from my baseball days not particularly applicable in this forum, so I thought it best to keep my mouth shut, but do some poking around after the session.

When the Federal Reserve and the SEC first addressed the issue of standardized sound practices in the first draft of the Interagency Paper on the Resilience of the US Financial Industry, it had effectively crafted a "one size fits all" solution, but over time, these recommendations were scaled back (see blog entry of July 7 for details). Those who took a leading role in having changes made, including New York Senator Chuck Shumer argued that because planning required more of a scenario-based approach, a one size fits all strategy was simply not appropriate. Shumer opted for this position because implementing the plan unchanged, would have further contributed to weakening his state's economy. This shows that the ultimate decisions that are made are based on factors that extend beyond the scenario-based or standardized planning, and actually work hand in hand with areas such as cost benefit analysis, and business impact analysis.

In the end though, it might not be one or the other, but perhaps a hybrid between the two approaches. Standard one-size fits all approaches are taken in accordance with an organization's particular threshold for operational downtime. Although there may be more than one scenario, each one uses a set of pre-determined templates. The approach is complicated, but very logical nonetheless.

And to think that I thought picking baseball caps was tough.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Batten Down for Isabel

In November of 1985, I was a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee. By that time of year, hurricane season is usually long over, so when my roommates and I heard about one last tropical depression developing in the Caribbean, we hardly paid it any attention. Even if it did pick up, there was no way it would make its way northward. Or could it? After a week, we heard the news in the early morning -- get ready, Hurricane Kate was going to hit us in the late afternoon. And boy, did it ever. After winding its way to the Florida panhandle, it struck us right between the eyes.

This was initially bad news for me. I had tickets to see an up and coming band from Athens GA called R.E.M., and Kate cancelled the show. However, from the perspective of a college junior, it was all fun, and was a great excuse to go to one of many "hurricane parties" that were going on at discreet locations across campus (a state of emergency had been declared, and national guardsman were patrolling the streets enforcing strict curfew orders, forcing us to sneak around John Belushi-style to complete the circuit of "must attend" parties).

For businesses, however, it was a different story altogether, as they were singularly focussed on business continuity. 1985 had also been the year of Hurricane Gloria which had carved a swath up the eastern seaboard to New York and beyond. Still, despite the economic damage caused by Gloria, it was still a time when we as a society were less "tethered". By that I mean the interdependencies between organizations were less organized than they are today (especially electronically), and as a result, the economic impact of a hurricane could be less pronounced than it would be if it were to strike in 2003.

As we carefully monitor the movements of Isabel, we inevitably come across stories about disaster preparedness from the "man on the street" point of view, but in the wake of a series of events that have occurred in the past few years that cause mass disruption, these human interest stories are now appear alongside stories having to do with business preparedness for the event.

We're barely a month removed from the power outage, but now we read about utility companies making elaborate preparations for the storm using the lessons they learned from events that seem as though they occurred just a few days ago. IT managers are ensuring that backup generators in call centers and data centers are ready to go just in case, and large companies are furiously testing and preparing their "hotsites" for a prolonged period of dislocation. There seems to be more advanced approaches being taken to prepare for natural disasters, particularly by businesses, than in years past. Business continuity and disaster recovery protocols are registering, and they will have an impact.

I saw a retired couple interviewed on CNN last night, who had their own "faith-based preparedness plan" for hurricane Isabel. They were doing nothing, and ignoring the mandatory evacuation notice, believing that they will be spared or taken in accordance with God's plan for them. Everyone should pray for these people, while making prudent preparation for life safety and business continuity for themselves.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Research Paper Links Power Outage to Office Buildings

In the month following the great northeast blackout of August 14, we have read numerous reports covering the implications of the event from many angles. From an editorial point of view, one of the easiest ways to provide coverage to the story is to stay focussed on the problems associated with the supply side of the equation. In this case, the supply side is represented by the places where power is generated and supply chain required that get that power to you and I.

Quick, how many people have you encountered in the past month who have made reference to the problems with "the grid"? Oh, energy pundits and office cooler jockeys alike, love talking about the grid.

Why this focus on the grid? Simply because, from the supply side, we needn't dig too deeply to uncover problem points that need to be addressed. There is a small network of energy providers, and an integrated North American grid that supplies power; the need for substantial investigative research is minimized. Focussing on the demand side, however (i.e. the users of power), is a little more difficult. Because we all use power, where the heck do we turn to uncover inefficiencies -- there are countless opportunities to take personal responsibility for energy conservation.

With our committment to bridge the chasm between real estate strategy and business continuity planning, Gill fast-tracked a study we had been conducting throughout the summer, which was originally intended to be released in November. We're pleased to make this detailed study available today in its entirety on our research page.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

September 11: Two Years On

I remember the moment so well. It was a little past nine in the morning of September 11, 2001 and I was rushing to get out of my brother's house for a midday meeting in midtown. There was no time for a real breakfast, so I lifted one of my nieces' Klondike bars out of the freezer. I walked over to the den, turned on the tv, and while clutching the Klondike bar between my teeth so I could free my hands to tie my shoes, I saw everything unfold in front of me. I don't have to describe the range of emotions I felt, because I think for the most part we all felt them. What occurred to me, however, was my brother and my sister in law had taken a 7:30 train into the city (their house is in New Haven County) for meetings and bank appointments in lower Manhattan. After about an hour or so, I tried to make contact with no luck. By noon, still no word. I was beginning to think about the unthinkable. Fortunately, they both arrived back at the house by 2 (as it turned out, an early morning squabble between the two of them caused them to miss their morning train).

Within 5 minutes of their arrival, I got into the car with my sister in law. Her first instinct? We have to go give blood. We drove down the main drag of town, and eventhough only a few hours seperated us from the moment the first plane struck, it seemed that the entire town of Hamden Connecticut had put their own DR plan into action. Moms with babies in strollers were handing out 1-page instruction sheets they had just got printed from Kinkos to people through their car windows. Seniors were directing motorists to emergency stations that had been set up for people to donate blood, clothing, food, or money. The town had rallied together and vividly demonstrated the depth of the human spirit.

I suppose we were all so focussed on how to best contribute to that moment, that we still were unable to grasp the magnitude of what had happened just south of where we were. Reality began sinking in by the dinner hour, when local hospitals (who earlier in the day had cleared their emergency rooms in anticipation of an overflow of patients from Manhattan) quietly resumed their normal operations. There would be no patients coming in from New York.

We remember a terrible day, 9.11, but our sense of resilience and our collective need for continuity allows us to forge ahead.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Faulty Fuse Syndrome

An important aspect of a comprehensive Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is identifying and the quantifying the impact of a particular event (probability assessment of that event is part and parcel of this process). If there was some quantifiable measure demonstrating how the smallest of slip-ups can trigger a huge event, it could be the basis for some great entertainment. Hmmm, let me think about this for a minute – it’s triggered something…oh yeah, that’s it!

Saturday Night Live has always been known for providing some of television’s all-time greatest moments in sketch comedy. Whenever I think of minor goof-ups that cascade into huge events, I can’t help but be taken back to a hilarious skit from 1979 called the Pepsi Syndrome. In it, a half-witted technician spills his Pepsi on the control panel of a nuclear reactor at 2-mile Island resulting in a catastrophic breakdown. First, some context. In March of 1979, a nuclear accident occurred at 3-Mile Island in Pennsylvania involving the meltdown of the core. Eerily, this was a case of life imitating art, as just a few months prior, the film The China Syndrome was released, which detailed the events around a nuclear accident (needless to say, the real event did wonders in boosting the latter's box office receipts).

In an attempt to show the American public that there was nothing to fear, President Carter (played to a tee by Dan Aykroyd (here's a windows media version)), an engineer by training, sees no harm in walking into the reactor. In the end, Carter (who at this point, still had more than a year left in his term) becomes a mutated giant, dumps his wife Rosalyn (Laraine Newman) and elopes with the only other person who walked into the reactor, a maid (Garrett Morris) who was asked to enter the core to “mop up a spill”, and in turn also transforms into a freakish giant (great performance by the way, by the great Richard Benjamin, who played the 2-mile island media spokesperson charged with maintaining damage control). So how is this connected with this little forum?

Well, I was instantly transported back to this skit today after reading the following piece appearing in today’s Guardian that identified the cause of the London blackout of August 28 – are you ready for this one? It was caused by the installation of an incorrect fuse. That single event had a cascading effect, resulting in the largest blackout in London in ten years. The Guardian piece is actually a review of a 43-page National Grid Transco report on the sequence of events that led to the power outage. Whether it's a major pandemic, a power outage, or a poorly balanced Pepsi, an event of any magnitude can cause disruption. Something to think about when you're putting your own plans together.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

More Commentary on the Blackout

Over the past four weeks we have read numerous articles on the implications on the blackout. For the most part the really serious stuff concentrates on areas such as how it affected businesses, the economic implications, as well as the need to negotiate the tenuous tightrope between supply and demand. When it came to people-oriented stories, commentators would focus on the dislocation it may have caused commuters, and the micro, "as it happens" aspects of the blackout. Largely the weightier issues were the exclusive domain of organizations. William Thorsell offered the following editorial in yesterday's Globe and Mail offering a business continuity guide for average households, so people might be prepared if this type of event occurs again. Be prepared - our rallying cry for the future.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Business Continuity: Coming to a Town Near You

After moving to Canada nine years ago, I had to give up something that was part of my marrow -- college football. Shortly after arriving, I realized that not only would it be next to impossible following FSU football on TV, but weekly print coverage would be scant at best. Thank goodness for the internet. Now, depending on what time I decide to wake up on a Sunday morning, I can read to my heart's content about goings on in college football. Because I went to undergrad and grad school in the state of Florida, a state that is as passionate about football as Canadians are about hockey, I tend to read about not only the Seminoles, but also the University of Miami, and The University of Florida (where I went to grad school).

On this particular morning, I was scrambling to get things together early because I was taking my daughter out for a day at the local amusement park. Because I was planning an 8:30 departure from the house, I decided to wake up extra early to find out if the beat of FSU's dominance of the ACC continued in its game against Maryland (it did, but the times could be 'a changin') as well as the UM/UF tilt (The Gators squandered a 33-10 lead late in the third quarter to fall 38-33 to the Canes). I usually don't write about my personal routines on Sunday mornings, but it was needed to provide some context to this post.

I always read details about UF football in the Gainesville Sun. In the summer Gainesville is the quaint, steamy southern town guys like John Grisham might set their novels in, or producers might select as the quintessential southern location for filming, but come the academic year, its population must swell by at least 50,000. As one might guess, the majority of local media coverage concentrates on university-oriented content, and state politics. National news is generally presented in executive summary format. Thus, its simply not the kind of place I would think places the same importance on issues associated with business continuity, or redundancy.

For this reason I was a little suprised by this story that appeared on the front page of today's Sun. It ties the events of the northeast blackout to the potential threats associated with cyber-terrorism. The fact that these types of stories are working there way onto the front pages on college-town newspapers says to me that the awareness and implications of all issues associated with business continuity is permeating deeper layers of society. Like it or not, it won't be long before we're all in the know with how things are changing.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

The World of Homer-Dixon

My wife and I are expecting our second child in November. Due to a logistical snag in our schedules yesterday morning, my wife asked if I could leave the office to drive her to her routine doctor's appointment (all is well by the way). I thought this would be a great opportunity to momentarily shift my morning emphasis away from the worlds of real estate, business continuity planning and sustainability, and just enjoy a nice cup of coffee. I must have been dreaming.

The moment I switched on the car radio to CBC program The Current, I was instantly riveted to an interview that had just begun. Thomas (Tad) Homer-Dixon, an academic and author, was being interviewed about the implications of the northeast blackout, and his power of extrapolation was truly something to behold. As the discussion continued, he began talking about how we as a society will have no choice but to decentralize on a wide scale. As you hear the interview, many of the issues Gill has been promoting for the past two years were being validated, one by one. You have to hear it to believe it.

When we arrived at our destination, my wife had to snap her fingers in front of my eyes to awake me from my trance.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Turnbull Report's Impact on BCP in United Kingdom

In September of 1999, Grant Turnbull released a milestone recommendation report for The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales -- it has simply come to be known as "The Turnbull Report". At its core, the report recommended that all compaines have a risk management strategy in place by year end 2000. It was thought that beyond providing organizations with a framework to assess risk, it would more importantly introduce the concept of business continuity planning into organizations. Its release prompted many organizations to create training modules and analyze the particulars of Turnbull. As of this year, however, only 53% of British companies have set some guidelines. Grant Thornton states in fact, that 80% of companies have failed to truly embrace the full spirit of the report.

Set against this backdrop, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) posted this article on their website on August 29. Readers of this site will remember that in June, I attended the 13th World Conference on Disaster Management, where we invested in a full week of very intensive seminars that brought us up to speed with the current state of business continuity planning. For those who didn't attend the conference, and feel as though they may have missed out, the RICS article provides a very good manual for creating a framework of your own in-house business continuity plan. It's a very informative read.