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Hotels Holding Wifi Access Ransom? What Does Your Business Continuity Plan Think of That?

Recent news that the FCC had fined Marriott $600,000 for blocking access to wifi at a conference center at one of their properties while charging companies up to $1,000 per device for that same access didn’t really strike me as that newsworthy.  In fact, I was surprised to find out that it was actually illegal because hotels and convention centers have been strictly controlling access to the internet since the mid ‘90’s.  I just never realized how illegal it was for them to do so.  Having managed seminars and the presence of various corporations at trade shows since before the consumer internet even existed, I well remember paying as much as $250/day for internet access, although in the earlier days obviously only hard-wire connections were available.

high-tailHowever, the size of the fine for a single-location violation and the fact the FCC also essentially put Marriott on probation (in addition to the fine, the chain also has to submit compliance updates with the FCC every three months for the next three years) means that the feds were taking the matter seriously.  And they should.  Hotels are in business to make money and they should make money.  But unlike charging per phone call made from your room in the days before cell phones (anybody else remember that?), disabling customers’ hotspot access and then charging them for the same access isn’t just making those customers pay twice for access, it’s doing so for a shockingly high rate.

Understandably, other chains high-tailed it to clarify that they either didn’t charge similar fees or that their internet access fees were ‘nominal.’  Mmmmkay.

More specifically to the needs of business continuity professionals, the practice of charging such high fees for internet access is yet another reason why it’s a bad idea for your BC plans to rely on your away teams to work in hotel conference rooms.  To begin with, conference rooms aren’t designed to act as long- or even medium-term work spaces.  Rental fees are usually fairly high, bathroom access can be an issue and room service or other onsite catering options are expensive.  Good luck finding a hotel that will let you bring food in from offsite; it just doesn’t happen.  Other potential concerns include security (is that wall between your war room and the driver’s ed class next door retractable?), privacy (we can’t keep the inquiring media out of a hotel’s public spaces) and the fact that, to hotels, their meeting rooms are like gold.  They have few of them, compared to guest rooms, and they’ll tell someone they’re sold out before they put the “wrong” (read: less profitable) group into that space.  Never mind the new airline-style fees that many of the chains are starting to tack on for what have always previously been considered standard or courtesy services.

Marriott responded to the fine by stating that they have “a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft.”  The sentiment sounds respectable but to me it also sounds suspiciously like they were charging their guests for their own protection.  Cue the theme of The Godfather.

Am I saying that Marriott shouldn’t make a profit?  I am absolutely not saying that.  As with the provision of any type of infrastructure, there are labor and materials costs to recoup and they’re not running a charity.  And they do make a good point about wanting to ensure a quality internet experience for meeting attendees by controlling the access.  But they don’t own the air and the block-and-charge policy is financial double jeopardy for customers.  Just like you – I’m speaking specifically to you, the business continuity professional reading this – shouldn’t pay for a no-show or an early departure by one of your team members if your crisis deployment plans change, and they will, you shouldn’t have to pay double for internet access.

As an aside, blog co-editor and Continuity Housing Principal Michelle Lowther adds that, “We’d be remiss not to mention the fact that the hotel that got Marriott fined by the FCC, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Conference Center, will always have a special place in my heart for their outstanding response and management of their staff and guests during the Nashville floods of 2010 which devastated their hotel.  These people did it right.”

My take-away?  Marriott got off easy.  It was just luck of the draw that they were the ones that the FCC singled out among the many, many other chains who committed the same violation over such a long period of time.  For now they and the other hotel chains should cross their fingers that they don’t find themselves on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit filed by the tens of thousands of companies and organizations who paid through the nose for so long in order to access the internet.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

“When I Grow Up, I Want To Be In Business Continuity Management!”

improvisation“You do what?”  That’s what most of us hear so often when someone asks us what we do for a living.  Dedicated business continuity as a profession is still in its infancy and it still gets a lot of quizzical stares when you talk about it, similar to what IT professionals used to experience in the mid ‘80’s.  “Wait, you mean that’s an actual job?”

So what IS a nice person like you doing in a place this anyway?  Did you know you’d end up on call all the time and working almost 24/7 during some future employers’ crises?  Very few of us actually planned on being in this industry when we were younger.  Sure, maybe we obtained degrees in business or project management and/or have a BC-style background in the military.  But very few of us, even several years into our business careers, were aiming at working in BC or even knew it existed.

I certainly didn’t until an organization I used to work for created a BC division to help their clients.  Once I learned about it, I was all in.  The very concept fascinates me: pre-planned, tested activities that help keep companies strong even if they’re dealt what would previously would have been a mortal blow.  And keeping everybody employed!  Crazy.  And now that I’m here, I’m here to stay.

My education and overall background are in marketing but I come from a restaurant family so we’ve always been involved in hospitality one way or another.  And that’s how I look at business continuity – making sure people are taken care of.  BC takes it a step further, though.  It’s taking care of people as well as possible when they need it the most.  And, more importantly, when their organizations need them to be performing at their best.

shareSo we practice, improve, evolve and always learn from our mistakes.  But the most important thing we can do is pass along what we know.  Mentorship is important in any industry and, just like we once were, there are always new, less informed folks coming in.  I remember my first light bulb moment when I realized not only that business continuity existed but that it was an essential business tool.  I was touring a popular FBO at an airport in the Orlando area and the owner showed me the way they sheltered their backup generator – on a trailer to get it out in the open within moments when they need to operate it – and their backup supplies to keep the business running when the next hurricane hit.  “You think general aviation isn’t pretty important to keep in business after a bad hurricane?” she asked me.  Almost 8 years later I got a big kick out of taking a much younger new coworker to the same place to show her how they prepared for interruptions.  I still remember the “Ohhhhh!” look on her face.

Especially those who have no idea what we do.

So what about you?  How DID a nice person like you end up in a place like this?  Tell us below.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

 

Next on the Business Continuity Calendar: Winter’s Finally Winding Down . . . So Here Come the Floods

Winter weather still dominates the headlines but it’s time to think about what’s next.  Typically for the continental U.S., that would be the turbulent spring weather season, which too often includes tornadoes, and then we start focusing on the tropics.  But for many regions of the Plains States and areas east, there’s something else to consider.

Noah, the movie, comes out March 28th and the timing might indeed be prophetic in that the Next Big Weather Story is probably going to be thaw-related flooding.  A much larger than usual portion of the country has been in relative permafrost  the last few months and news coverage of the Great Lakes and even Niagara Falls has been astonishing.

Lake-Michigan

The St. Joseph Lighthouse on North Pier, Lake Michigan, Jan. 6, 2014. Photo: canadianawareness.org

Bad weather is the leading cause of business disruptions* but the good news is that, as opposed to many other types of interruptions, we can prepare for it.  Keep an eye on where the flooding will probably have the greatest impact and make sure your company is as prepared for it as possible, especially if any of your assets are in regions that will be potentially affected.

Just as importantly, consider whether any of your vendors or suppliers are in a potential flood region and remember that your customers might also be affected and that the effect on those suppliers might affect how your organization provides services to those customers when they need it.

flowing-waterFlooding is bad, much worse than most people realize.  In addition to causing widespread property damage, flooding is the number one weather-related cause of death in the U.S. (see yellow 30-year average column).  And remember to never, ever drive through flowing water – or ANY water if you’re not exactly sure of the depths involved – and to be extremely careful when traversing flood waters on foot.  The rule of thumb is that each knot of speed of flowing water is equal to 20 knots of wind speed.  A single inch of rapidly flowing water can knock a person down and carry him or her away and vehicles can be swept away in only 6 inches of moving water.

Finally, keep an eye on changes in flood insurance regulations. ‘Guaranteed’ coverage looks like it will soon favor property owners but the pendulum of legislation on different types of coverage is swinging fairly wide lately.  And any changes in flood insurance regulations usually take a while to go into effect.  Make sure you’re covered and start by checking to see whether or not any of your assets are in flood zones using the official flooding maps that were updated just last month.  And then let’s hope March doesn’t go out like a lion.

* Top 3 Leading Causes of Business Disruptions: 1. severe weather, 2. power outages (commonly weather-related); 3. IT failure (occasionally weather-related): Forrester Research / Disaster Recovery Journal Business Continuity Plan Survey, December 2011.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.

Continuity Insights in New Orleans in Late April – Why Should You Really Go?

The Continuity Insights Management Conference 2014 will be in New Orleans this year and it runs from 28-30 April.  There are several BC conferences around the country and CI is one of my favorites because they not only make the most compelling case for why you should go but also provide you with ample ammunition in the event that you need to convince someone else – boss, client, spouse? – that you should go.  I noticed justification letters popping up on the top pages of various industry trade shows starting several years ago but CI really ramps it up by providing an easily customizable letter that lets you drop in the relevant bits of information and you’re good to go.

Photo: Fred Rogers

Photo: Fred Rogers

So the convincing of others is taken care of but how do you convince yourself?  Advances in technology and the tightening of budgets over the last 15 years have made it ever more difficult to rationalize taking valuable time away from your job and other responsibilities and traveling, in some cases across the country, to meet people, attend specialized sessions and hit the exhibit floor.  Sure, there’s the standard spate of elements to absorb and benefit from such as information on BC program development and methodology, risk management, emerging issues and IT disaster recovery.  But you can get all that online.  The real reason to go is for the intangibles:

  • Meeting new people from faraway places and learning from them.
  • Renewing and improving friendships and relationships that permanently enhance your aggregate resources.
  • Attending can help take you to the next level of your career, which is great both for you and for your organization.  Check out the full list of presentations as of today.
  • You can earn continuing education credits.
  • If you haven’t been to ANY business continuity professional events in a year or more, attending will provide you with a shiny reboot on any of your current or future BC efforts, especially if you’re experiencing a hitch in your giddy-up.
  • It’s not just about BC.  I’ve attended and managed corporate presence in several different industries over the last 25 years and I continue to be amazed at the number of people I benefit from having met even years later and despite the fact that we haven’t worked in the same industry for a very, very long time.
  • An added benefit: Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther will be presenting on the first day of the show on Securing Guaranteed Housing For Critical Personnel: The pre-arrangement of guaranteed housing for critical staff in the event of a fail-over deployment is crucial. Professional guidance is essential in order to safeguard your hotel arrangements so that you have a watertight, worry-proof contract for staff housing. Attend this interactive presentation to learn best practices for securing guaranteed housing in the event of a disruption. Michelle is an outstanding, extremely informative presenter.  I know because I’ve seen her present to large groups  a number of times.
  • It’s in New Orleans. (Go to Crescent City Brewhouse on Decatur and get the Oysters Three Ways.  You’ll thank me.)
Sample of Michelle Lowther presenting. Click through to play. 01:32.

Sample of Michelle Lowther presenting. Click through to play. 01:32.

Most importantly, to paraphrase a former secretary of defense, we don’t know what we don’t know.  And while the business continuity profession tends to lean less toward the competitiveness found in most industries and more toward a sense of shared community and the benefit of all, it’s always best to take advantage of whatever learning opportunities there are in order to keep you personally and professionally competitive . . . and make your company or organization more resilient.

And did I mention that it’s in New Orleans?  Register today and attend.

(Shameless plug: follow me @ContHsg_Fred.)

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.


Your List of New Year’s Resolutions? Tear It Up, Especially If There’s Anything About Business Continuity On It

New Year’s Eve around 7:30 as we ate pizza for dinner, my favorite 9-year-old in the world asked me if I’d made my New Year’s resolutions yet.  She was aghast when I told her I never, ever make resolutions.  “But don’t you have to?” she asked.  My response is that you shouldn’t ever make them and when she asked why I told her that resolutions made at the peak of the holiday season are i) usually made based on a history of failed resolutions, ii) often based on snap judgments based on how we think we are perceived by others and iii) that the decisions about what to add to the list are almost always tied to the spirit, for better or worse, of the holidays and therefore based on emotion.  For both reasons, I told her, making them is a bad idea.  After all, as soon as the memories of the most recent holidays begin to fade, well . . .

She asked what I did when I wanted to improve myself.  She scowled and cocked her head when I told her that I required no further improvement so I told her the real answer: systems.  Our local YMCA and Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, agree with me.  I’ve been pondering this piece for a couple of days and so I was tickled late last week when ABC local news ran a segment about the YMCA advising people not to make resolutions at all but instead to adopt and continually perfect their exercise systems.  The station didn’t post the story but Adams’ newest book, in a much more comprehensive fashion, says the same thing.  Don’t bounce around looking for success (which is basically what making resolutions is) but instead create systems that are focused on achieving your goals.

Just say no.

Just say no.

Of course the book, How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big, which I read last month and highly recommend (and no, unfortunately, I do not get a cut if you buy the book from clicking through), also recommends a number of other ideas to help you succeed and most of them are plain common sense that most of us still probably don’t make use of.  Example: get a fundamental grasp on how psychology works because each of us uses it to our advantage – or disadvantage – every single day whether we know it or not.  And my favorite: each new skill you acquire (a new language, experience in effectively managing people, an idea of the basic business models of different types of industries, etc.) immediately doubles your chance of success.  Read that again.

In fact Adams goes further than to recommend these behaviors in that he practically dares you to argue with the logic of adopting them.  It’s a relief, really.  We all remember the 7 Habits and all the other books we were forced or otherwise compelled to read, believe in and live even if they occasionally contradicted each other.  Systems simply work better than resolutions or habits that have worked well for other people. Systems are more complex and more thought out, with backups and workarounds an inherent part of their structure.  Systems are alive and require nurturing but they’re far more rewarding and far more robust than mere proclamations.

This is especially true when it comes to improving your business continuity plan.  Don’t be afraid to adopt new ideas and technology – who among us could operate efficiently now without a smart phone? – but don’t make sweeping declarations about the effectiveness of a single decision or something you resolve to do.

So tear up the list.  On a continual basis, look at what you’re doing right and what can be done better.  Research, possibly implement and continually test the effectiveness of changes to your system.  Can you commit it to writing as quickly as you can a resolution?  Probably not.  But will it be a better, more effective use of your time?  And will it take your plan to the next level, methodical and detailed a task as it may be?  Yes.  After all, by now, just days after the beginning of the new year, lots and lots of those resolutions are already beginning to fall away.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.

Are Your Shrimp on a Treadmill or Are Your Business Continuity Meetings Actually Productive?

You’re picturing it, aren’t you?  A tiny little treadmill with a smiling shrimp enjoying his daily cardio.  The funny thing is we are not – repeat not – making this up.  With U.S. federal budget issues in the news again lately, a lot of light has been shed on interesting pork add-ons to certain bills and to some of the more interesting recent uses of tax money.  The term shrimp treadmills has evolved into code for questionable, perhaps not particularly useful ways that tax money is being distributed.

Now certainly, applied research is invaluable in the advancement of science, technology, business and our overall growth as a species.  And the study, which was part of a National Science Foundation grant, was actually a very small part of a larger cancer research program.  We’re not questioning the strategy, methodology or efficacy of the results.  But it does get your attention.

shrimp-treadmill-pullThey’re shrimp.  On a treadmill.

Just the language of it reminds us of so many business continuity meetings that are either delayed until the last minute or, when they finally occur, consist mostly of a group of semi-connected individuals from wholly different divisions within an organization who very briefly gather to run through last year’s checklist – a checklist that, due to the passing of time, changes within the organization itself and/or evolution in the productive strategy of the business continuity industry, is probably outdated and at the very least needs some tweaking.  Or even a fresh approach altogether.

Business continuity planning is such a new industry, indeed a wholly new approach, that many of us still find ourselves from time to time explaining to friends and family members what it is that we actually do for a living.  Except in a few select industries such as the petrochemical and offshore exploration trades, ‘business continuity’ in the past usually meant i) get caught by surprise by an unthinkable disaster, ii) respond ineffectively.  Because of the loss of untold billions of dollars and the impact on health and mortality by a series of events in the last few decades, business continuity preparation has understandably grown to become a robust, complex and productive part of doing business.

But it’s a living organism, all this preparation, and it requires dedicated nurturing on a constant basis.  In the past, backup or deployment housing for your critical personnel was probably relegated to a line on the checklist as something to do if and when a business interruption became imminent.  In other words, when it was probably too late because of competing demand by other companies.  Engaging in a pre-negotiated contract for guaranteed housing is an easy, effective and painless way to put some more meat on the bones of your plan.  And, pun intended, you’ll sleep better.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMO8Pyi3UpY]

Plan better now.  Seek new ideas, ask questions, realize that one of the best ways to make sure you and your organization are as prepared as possible is to look for answers anywhere but the usual places. Nurture your plan and build a more vigorous, reciprocating vessel that will result in the best possible payoff and clear evidence of your plan’s value when the time comes.