To stay healthy, should you get your jabs or eat your vegetables?
While you may wonder what this has to do with business continuity, this question sums up emerging differences in approaches to keeping organisations running without interruption.
Specifically, resiliency engineering is the “eat your vegetables” approach, in which you prepare people, processes, and systems for general ongoing healthiness and as some would put it, “stretchiness” to accommodate surprises.
By comparison, business continuity preparations that are designed to protect against specific threats are more of a “get your jabs” (as in injections for vaccination) approach. So, does resilience engineering do better than specific “jabs” and if so how?
The first hurdle to get over when talking about resilience is the proliferation of definitions. If you’re going to have a discussion on the subject with somebody else, first make sure you agree on what you’re talking about.
The Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBOK) defines resilience as “the ability of a system to recover from a disruption” and defines four main attributes that can be applied to an organisation as follows:
- Capacity. Ability to withstand a threat. If your ability is exceeded, then you’ll have to rely on one or more of the following attributes to pull through.
- Flexibility. Ability of your organisation to restructure itself in the face of a threat.
- Tolerable. Graceful degradation in the face of a threat, “brown-out” rather than brutal blackout.
- Cohesion. Perhaps less obvious to understand (SEBOK defines cohesion as an attribute allowing operation before, during, and after an encounter with a threat), cohesion also applies to ability of different parts of an organisation (nodes of a system) to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with each other
Any organisation strong in all the areas above should be able to resist many “surprises”. And of course, that doesn’t prevent the need for the occasional “jab” to boost defences against a specific or exceptional threat.