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  • What business continuity lessons can be learned from disaster movies?

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    By Chris Butler, Lead Principal Consultant, Resilience & Security, Sungard Availability Services

    That which constitutes a ‘disaster’ in the enterprise world is somewhat distant to the disasters we’re used to seeing in Hollywood movies. For example, a cyber-attack which steals and sells user data seems to pale in comparison to a full-scale alien invasion or the impending impact of a planet-sized meteor, while unexpected periods of application service downtime don’t quite evoke the same levels of intrigue and fear as a zombie apocalypse or a giant man-eating shark.

    But while the forms of disaster are clearly poles apart in the examples above, the themes remain the same: outsider threats, systems malfunction, leadership loss, communication breakdown and environmental change. Moreover, certain disaster movies have not only featured entirely plausible scenarios, but have been downright prescient. The 2011 film Contagion is a prime example of this, whose plotline revolves around the outbreak of a deadly viral pandemic originating from South East Asia, and which results in the implementation of social distancing, self-isolation and a severe economic downturn.

    Disasters are unexpected by definition. The work of disaster movie writers, therefore, is not so much removed from the work of business continuity specialists. Both are responsible for imagining a) scenarios which cause significant disruption; b) the extent to which the disruption will have short/long-term impact; and c) the potential solutions to put in place both before and after disruption takes place. At a time when business continuity (BC) planning is at the top of the agenda for all organisations around the world, here we look at some tangible BC lessons to be learned from the world of cinema:

    ·         Resolving isolation and communication breakdown is priority #1 – like astronauts who become untethered from their ships, an individual isolated from the rest of the organisation can panic, act irrationally or cease entirely to be productive. Disasters almost always scatter or raise barriers between people, therefore it’s key to implement emergency contact chains and back-up communication systems to keep everyone on the path to recovery

    ·         A loss of leadership leads to chaos – there’s a reason pilots and co-pilots never eat the same meal mid-flight. But the loss of leadership is sometimes inevitable, therefore it’s crucial for a delegation structure to be embedded in contingency planning to keep teams cohesive and to keep essential processes running

    ·         Protecting mission-critical systems from being a point of origin – technology is the driving force behind digital transformation in the world, but this also means that we are more dependent on reliable, highly available systems than ever before. The malfunctioning or sabotage of mission-critical systems is therefore a top consideration for movie protagonists and real-world organisations alike.


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