--> Gill Blog: Shoring up the Infostructure

Gill Blog

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Shoring up the Infostructure

Of all the components required to create an emergency preparedness/business continuity plan, one would reasonably assume that shoring up communication and cooperation protocols between functional silos might be a no-brainer. Turns out this is much easier said than done. I begin with a personal anecdote. One of the projects I am currently working on calls for the exchange of documents between different departments within the same organization - a process that will ultimately assist in policy formation. As simple as this may seem, getting those documents has been challenging in the best of circumstances. Despite the increased focus on enterprise-wide planning initiatives, the power structures controlling individual silos can still be quite territorial about the information they generate and provide to others - even if the others are under the same institutional umbrella.

I make this observation in the wake of two significant reports that were released in Canada last week. The first was by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser who pointed out serious deficiencies in security that required immediate attention. The second, "National Emergencies: Canada's Fragile Front Lines" penned by The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence came out the next day. Now, in fairness to the higher powers that be, it should be noted that the audit and research was conducted prior to the reorganization of Canada's security functions into what is now PSEP (and Minister Anne McLellan also has indicated that the government plans to create a secret communication system to help agencies share information more effectively). Disclaimers aside, the story not only caputured the attention of one or two global media outlets, but was included in last week's Homeland Security Newsletter.

In covering the release of these reports, the media has predictably focussed on James Bond-esque soundbites such as "watch lists", "porous borders" and "terrorist infiltration", but suprisingly has also paid attention to another area in critical need of reform - one with a more than familiar ring to it. The item reporting the release of the Auditor-General's reports states:
"(Ms. Fraser's report found) there was a lack of co-ordination between government departments and security agencies in terms of funding...The government as a whole failed to achieve improvements in the ability of security information systems to communicate with each other."
This concern was echoed the following day in this piece that reviewed the Senate Committee's report:
"The report also says all levels of government must better co-operate in developing nation-wide contingency plans...The committee was overwhelmed with evidence that this lack of co-operation and cohesion is a nationwide problem..."
If we put on our enterprise-wide thinking caps, we can see how these principles are applicable in other circumstances. In fact, I will be publishing our latest abstract "The Human Element of Decentralization" next week. In the full paper (which should be published to the website later in the spring), we provide a compelling case example of a New York-based financial institution that had to address the silo management issue head on, and reconfigure its organizational structure to ensure cooperation and communication was coordinated between multiple nodes.

This is also reminiscent of last year's SARS outbreak in Toronto. At the time it was widely reported that although public officials did a commendable job managing the crisis, there were some deficiencies, and in this respect, many fingers pointed squarely toward information sharing. I came across the following piece written by Myrna Francis, the Interim President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway. In it she points to Dr. David Naylor from the University of Toronto who assessed Canada's response to SARS:
"(Naylor) highlighted a number of deficiencies, among them the absence of protocols for data or information sharing among levels of government, and weak links between public health and the personal health services system."
Dr. Francis also points to a quote attributed to Dr. Francois Belanger, President of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians who sums up our thoughts with this simple statement:
"SARS has demonstrated clearly the critical need for integrated communications systems and networks to allow the real-time exchange of information."
Amidst all the talk about security, organizations have to pay just as much attention to the quality and efficiency of information sharing and dedicate themselves to a more unified approach. As Dr. Francis suggests, emphasis should not only be allocated toward shoring up an organization's infrastructure, but its infostructure as well.


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