At no point in history has our dependence on digital services been so high, at the same time, our tolerance of poor IT systems, security, data-driven workflows and connectivity has never been so low. The Covid pandemic has also accelerated the pace of change with business transformation projects at full throttle. This has sparked many to reimagine their organisations as digital-first.
In the process, businesses are trying to become more agile, empower themselves with vast amounts of actionable data, while consolidating and rationalising their IT infrastructure. All of these manoeuvres, which are happening at once, are putting extraordinary pressures on the technical C-suite and their teams – making operational resilience a hot topic.
The term means many things to many organisations, but the ability of IT systems to run unhindered, cope with change, react and act intelligently, deal with cyberthreats and drive business outcomes are now vital goals for many. Operational resilience therefore becomes synonymous with success. Get it right and it allows decision makers to learn from the past, deal with the present and plan for the future.
“Operational resilience is the ability to quickly and decisively cope with fast moving or unseen changes that cannot be avoided. If there’s anything we’ve seen over the past two years, having that capacity to absorb some of those unseen changes and to keep things moving for businesses is important,” said Mark Woods, chief technical advisor at Splunk.
The opposite of operational resilience is vulnerability, which can be costly. Roblox, a popular global video game, which recently experienced a tech outage, lost $1.7bn in three days, close to 47 million people use it. Facebook’s seven-hour outage cost millions of dollars, wiping 5% off its share price. The costs are eye-watering, yet resilience requires investment and new thinking.
“We look at resilience through the three Ps – people, process, and platforms – and in that order,” said Shez Partovi, chief innovation and strategy officer at Philips. “We also see it through the lens of predicting the future.”
Vulnerability equals cost
The ability to monitor the three Ps using data and tech are increasingly vital for organisations. It is allowing them to take decisive action. This will determine whether businesses thrive in the future. At the same time, we’re at a tipping point in terms of our dependence on IT to deliver; this is occurring across sectors, whether it’s financial services, healthcare or telecoms.
“Our IT systems are becoming utterly integral to how we deliver care,” said Mark Reynolds, interim chief technology officer at NHS Digital. “When a service is unavailable, care suffers. Operational resilience is making sure our systems and services are always available, and always operational.”
The fact is systems do go down, climate-induced floods in Germany earlier this year forced Deutsche Telekom to re-evaluate its resilience; 50,000 customers were impacted, some customers died. “We completely lost our mobile and fixed line telecoms. This gave us a kick to prioritise operational resilience because it was down to our infrastructure. The flood was completely unseen. We are expecting much more in the future with climate change. This gave us a new priority,“ said Nils Stamm, chief digital officer for Deutsche Telekom.
Complexity can be a challenge
Businesses need to digitally transform and constantly evolve which can make it challenging to achieve operational resilience. Organisations need to make the most of their data to break down siloes, consolidate and simplify IT systems, whilst enabling the spread of tech-driven architectures to more business units. Decision-makers also need to factor in ageing IT stacks, siloed and new functions in this drive toward agility.
“Legacy systems are an issue, while those people that manage them are close to retirement. We have 150-200 systems working together to deliver each country’s banking offering. It is very difficult, you want to change all of this at speed. You want all this to be digitally enabled. You simply cannot change that much, that fast,” added Tommy Flynn, chief operating officer for wholesale and rural at Rabobank.
In the past, understanding across IT and business units has been difficult to connect and share. With significant digitalisation over the last few years, the opportunities for business-led insight have vastly increased. Whilst oversight is now potentially easier, critical functions like security still need to address evolving concerns.
“We are seeing a backdrop of increasing complexity when it comes to cyber- attacks with multiple countries, publicly saying they’re developing their cyber- power,” said Mary Haigh, chief information security officer at BAE Systems. “Knowing the networks you’ve got to protect and being aware of the types of attack that come in and being ready for one on the scale of SolarWinds, that we’ve not predicted before is vital.”
Mass migration to the cloud also makes it possible to deploy state-of-the- art systems and applications at afforda- ble prices. Yet this in turn creates new challenges. “Once you migrate to the cloud and you are dealing with evergreen IT systems. They become difficult to keep up with. Evergreen systems are con- tinually evolving. Therefore, one thing we’ve been looking at is embracing open source,” said Gissur Simonarson, senior domain architect for Fujitsu.
Another factor widely talked about is the people aspect, when it comes to delivering resilience. Organisations need to upskill staff alongside deploying technology. “You can have amazing processes and platforms, but if people, both inside your organisation and people you are interacting with, like clients and external stakeholders, don’t understand the purpose and use of the technology you are implementing, then you will have real challenges. We want people to be resilient, agile and adapt to changing technologies,” said Kimberly Morris, chief people, technology & operations officer at Fifa.
Free up time for innovation
For businesses the ability to see con- nected risks and opportunities, make decisions and respond has never been more important. This is what should be driving investment. It allows corporations to be proactive, they can continually improve, collaborate across the organisation, achieve agility and drive outcomes in real-time.
“Operational resilience now allows you to do corporate strategy on steroids, you don’t have to wait for that five-year program. You’ve got the information, you know what’s happening in the outside world, you can shift the operation. So, you can move forward quickly. Speed and agility – that’s what it means to us,” said Sandra Bell, group head of organisational resilience at Hitachi Capital UK.
Once organisations achieve better operational resilience, it will allow them to focus on what they do best – their core business. This is likely to drive further investment.
“If you have less firefighting you have freed up time, you can free up human brain power to leverage technology and data to drive innovation, to develop new products and new business models, which then have a bigger impact on society,” said Amit Nastik, global head for strategy and operations and local markets manufacturing at Novartis. “Today resilience is key to future innovation.”
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