--> Gill Blog: February 2004

Gill Blog

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Emergency Management Software for Your BlackBerry

After maintaining a fairly regular business blog for several months, it's always interesting to go back into the archives. Not only does this give me the chance to see how well I have maintained a consistent theme, but gives me the ability to look back at see how circumstances might have inspired a particular piece. One of the more interesting blogs came in the midst of the great blackout last year. Although I was literally in the dark, this amazing little gizmo called the RIM BlackBerry allowed me to post an entry to my site.

My experiences on that day were by no means unique. In fact, the BlackBerry has proven itself time and again as not only being a tool that enhances mobile business communications, but increasingly shows its worth as an indespensible tool in disaster managment. The first time the device was put to the test was on September 11. The following article from CIO Insight provides and example of how this was used (the quote is attributed to Jonathan Beyman, CIO of Lehman Brothers):
"My office was in One World Trade Center, the 40th floor. I can't get anybody on the phone. Everybody there was heading toward the stairwells. I couldn't get anybody on mobile phones, either. Blackberries were working, so we started getting e-mails."
In the two and a half years that have passed, the device has become even more flexible, and now companies are developing new disaster management applications that are specifically tailored to the BlackBerry. This past Thursday, I attended a monthly meeting of business continuity professionals, where I met Gary Bauer, the CEO of Wallace Wireless Inc. Gary gave a great presentation to the group about a new product they have developed called the Wallace Incident Communicator (WIC). This is a particularly timely application, especially for business continuity professionals, as it provides users with an entire range of applications that would prove particularly useful during an emergency. Some of these include document storage, map storage, secure corporate chat and an incident communicator.

When addressing the mobile communication aspect of your business continuity plan, it is important that applications such as WIC be given careful attention.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Change Management Bottleneck at the CDC

Jo Verde recently sent me the following article that stressed the importance of making management processes in an emergency more efficient. Specifically, it reviews the General Accounting Office's position that the although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done a commendable job in most respects, it must strive to minimize the degree of overlap in management functions:
"Still, problems remain...For example, the deputy director for Science and Public Health has duties that often duplicate those of the deputy director for Public Health Service. The former is listed as being in charge of agency reports, guidelines and outbreak investigations, while the latter focuses on specific issues such as HIV policies, violence prevention and occupational safety."
In her cover note to me, Jo suggested that what struck her was that this was really a change management issue looking at priorities, processes, systems and practices. She also found it interesting that in the article, there was no mention of the human element being addressed. She is quite correct, in fact there are several firms today whose sole focus is to address the human element of change management.

This should really come as no big suprise, as numerous studies have previously indicated that many firms do not adequately plan for, or even anticipate change. For instance, the results of a study conducted in 2002 and published on indicate that a majority of global Fortune 500 firms neglect this area, and such neglect could prove detrimental over the long haul:
"In a survey that quizzed the top executives of Fortune Global 500 companies, the majority (60 percent) admitted to being less than effective at managing change within the organisation and appeared to be doing little to anticipate or prepare for it.

Change management is an essential process in today's fast moving business world. Companies that do not handle change well face the risk of falling behind their competitors, and in extreme circumstances may see their survival threatened."
As command and management functions play a critical role in uncertain times, innovative techniques are being developed to sharpen and refine the underlying processes. One interesting example of how these areas have physically being tested is demonstrated through the National Preparedness Excercise that took place in May of 2003; the particulars of that excercise are reviewed in this article. By simulating various scenarios, not only were planners able to react to a wide spectrum of disruptive events, they were also forced to streamline their management strategy.

Although much work remains to shore up management processes, it seems things are indeed moving in a positive direction.

Please join the discussion on Change Management.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Constructively Addressing the Downsides of Teleworking

CAMTOS Solutions is one our key Advisors that provides expertise in business continuity planning. In addition to their core expertise in BCP, they also comprehend a wide range of other issues that enhance the quality of their overall solutions - one of those areas is change management. Jo Verde, a CAMTOS Director is also their specialist in this field. Last week's post referencing the teleworking initiative undertaken by the GSA prompted Jo to offer her own unique perspective on the costs and benefits associated with this emerging field. Although she was in complete agreement with the benefits cited (e.g. environmental, easing traffic congestion, recruitment, etc.), she also felt compelled to offer some valuable insight gleaned from personal experience.

Several years ago Jo authored a paper for a large teleco that tackled the issue of alternate workplace strategies. Although the notion of teleworking was still in its infancy, she convinced upper managment to conduct a trial study testing the effectiveness of teleworking. At the end of the one year testing period, she identified many of the benefits we have discussed, but she also incorporated a thorough debriefing of both test subjects and their managers which followed the trial. It was during this interview phase that some very distinct concerns emerged that simply were not anticipated when the plan was first put together. Apparently, many of those issues remain relevant today, and some of these are listed below:
1.The ability to work in isolation and still be productive
2. The requirement for discipline and focus to stay with the task at hand.
3. The inability to feed/create off of coworkers thoughts and ideas
4. The inability for manager's to evaluate the teamwork aspect of corporate life
5. The sense of "aloneness" that sometimes stifles creativity
6. The absolutely strong requirement for exceptional communication
7. The requirement to discipline oneself to not extend the workday
8. The absolute trust required between the individual and their manager
9. The relinquishing of power for managers
10. The sense of out of sight out of mind
11. The effect on promotional opportunities
12. The loss of the grapevine as a method of communication
In many articles she has read, authors have been quick to point out the benefits, once processes have been modified and workplace restructuring has taken place. Jo suggests that it takes a very special individual to work productively in isolation and while decentralization may not mean working in isolation, some of these same issues will inevitably apply. Organizations looking at implementation of decentralization would do well to factor these kinds of concerns into their overall plan. More than anything, Jo feels this is an important human factor in change management.

Although this information may be commonplace and perhaps a little dated, I believe her assessment is bang on, and the fact that she conducted this from the perspective of a telecom provider gives me the assurance that when they were undertaking this study, they probably spared no expense in seeing it was done properly.

Bottom line? The movement toward teleworking is inevitable, however, if large organizations are moving in this direction, they need to consider the implications of the issues stated above and weave them into their overall strategy. Thanks for the heads up Jo.

Please join the discussion about teleworking.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Re-Evaluating Real Estate's Familiar Mantra

When I spoke at the Real Property Institute of Canada’s annual conference a year ago, it occurred to me that my topic – decentralization and business continuity - seemed somewhat out of place. After all, this was a platform where real estate people got together and exchanged information about building trends, net rents and tenant inducements. Business continuity just seemed a little misplaced in this forum, but I ploughed ahead. It was fortunate I did, as the topic went over pretty well, garnered a little media attention here and there, and also became the launching point for Gill Advisors. A year later it seemed clear that some of the fundamentals of BCP have gained traction in real estate circles.

At this year’s conference it seemed the talk of business continuity had made its way into many break-time conversations. Most participants had indeed connected the dots and realized the importance in fusing principles of business continuity into their traditional discipline. Along those lines, there were a couple of presentations really stood out.

First, Tony Paterson and Bert Cowan of Competitive Insights Incorporated deftly tackled the implications of BCP on property managers. An Ottawa-based firm, Competitive Insights seemed to take a very methodical and holistic approach in explaining the interconnectivity of topics to the audience. There was also a session on sustainable real property that was structured as a panel discussion which discussed the direction of the federal government of Canada in sustainable development – a subject of particular interest to me given the discussion I gave on smart building technology as it related to business continuity.

Stan Kaczmarczyk is the Director of the Innovative Workplaces division of the General Service Administration (GSA) in Washington D.C. I found this quote describing the new division on the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) website:
This new division of GSA was formed in May 2000 to handle a host of workplace environment issues that can impact productivity, recruitment, and employee retention. Benefits of teleworking programs include environmental benefits; easing traffic congestion; improving work-life balance; increasing recruitment and retention potential; increasing employee performance and productivity; and potential real estate cost savings in the long term.
Mr. Kaczmarczyk led two discussions: Managing Telework and Innovative Workplace Strategies. The underlying message of these sessions seemed clear – when technology, risk mitigation of human capital, and the increased demand for worker flexibility meet at a central fusion point, it moves the conceptual notion of a decentralized workplace into the realm of reality. He also made it a point to remind us that a teleworking or innovative workplace strategy is by no means a seamless process that occurs instantaneously, instead, it requires a comprehensive plan requiring some fundamental reengineering of work group designs, processes and management structures.

As a rapidly changing technology landscape now refutes earlier notions that location and proximity were still necessary in a wired world, we wonder if that old real estate mantra "location, location, location" is more effectively applied in other realms.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Things to Know Before Going Onstage

Last September's paper on smart buildings stimulated a great deal of discussion from property owners, managers and business continuity professionals globally. In it, we attempted to link last summer's blackout to broader issues including business continuity planning, sustainability, and smart buildings.

This week, I have been invited to speak at a federal conference in Ottawa sponsored by the Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC), where I will not only review highlights of the paper, but discuss policy changes that have occurred since August 14, 2003. I plan to revisit areas including the great work that is coming out of the Center for Information Technology research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at the University of California, Berkeley which is leading the way in developing smart systems that could eventually save California billions of dollars per year in energy costs. We spent a fair amount of time in our paper last summer discussing CITRIS and immediately recognized these guys were on to something.
"Some of the most innovative smart building technology is currently coming out of (CITRIS) at the University of California, Berkeley. This oranization's goal is to create power-aware buildings that could eventually save the state of California $5-$7B per year and the nation $35B in energy costs per year...In California, state funds have already been set aside to outfit office towers with smart motes imbedded within air conditioning systems that know when the state is running low on electricity, so those systems can cycle on and off"
I mention this before presenting my paper in Ottawa, because while I was preparing my discussion notes, I ran across this article in TIME Magazine echoing what we wrote about in the fall. Kris Pister is spearheading the CITRIS program and the emphasis of the article was on Pister, and how revolutionary the technology the group is developing:
Pister believes his tiny motes will have a transforming effect on how we monitor the world. "It's going to be a hugely revolutionary technology," he says. Already, he has performed an experiment for the U.S. Army in which a mere eight motes were dropped from a plane and used to detect a fleet of vehicles on the ground. Homeland Security will start using smart dust this summer in a pilot project to protect ports in Florida. And Honeywell has started using motes in supermarkets to make giant refrigerators more energy efficient.
I also highlight the following article that came out in mid-January that discusses the results of a six month study that was released in Ontario by the Electricity Conservation and Supply task force. The thrust of this piece was similar in tone to the report released by the Joint US/Canada Power System task force in November, but was more holistic and forward looking in its approach. It not only describes problems associated with an aging infrastructure, but suggests that we have be more proactive in crafting solutions that better manage the demand side of the equation:
"Without new supply and substantial conservation efforts, Ontario could have insufficient power to meet its peak requirements by 2006...By 2014, the province would have only half the generation capacity it needs to ensure adequate and reliable electricity service...By 2020, about two-thirds of the province's existing electricity generating capacity will have reached the end of its planned operating life"
Again, echoes of the problems we suggested were worthy of closer attention. Over the coming weeks, I will publish a multimedia version of this week's presentation in parts that will be available on the website.

In the short term, however, I need to get back to perfecting my stage presence for my upcoming performance in Ottawa. Now where was I? Oh yes: "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."

Please join the discussion about smart buildings.