Four Consequences of Today’s Global Internet Outages for Business Planning


Today, the global Internet has shaken for about an hour. Due to technical issues with an edge cloud company named Fastly, websites, including those for the New York Times, CNN, and the UK government, failed. The lessons from this event are of course IT related, but they also extend beyond how businesses should plan for their future.

We live in an era of ever faster and more substantial discontinuities. Whether it’s a pandemic, a cyberattack, or a natural disaster affecting supply chains, events occur that disrupt carefully orchestrated systems built on a presumption of predictable linear change. I first learned this lesson in 1999, when I was responsible for one of the world’s first mobile internet devices, sold by Ericsson. It was selling out very quickly, until an earthquake in Taiwan shut down the one factory, making it a critical component for our touchscreen supplier. I had never even heard of the affected business. But then I realized that I should have known about these systems. Today, it seems that metaphorical earthquakes are not fluids but routine events.

This means that companies need to plan for discontinuities, and not just for risk mitigation. These events also create opportunities. Consider how the pandemic has become a growth boon for many tech companies.

Jonathan Brill, former chief futurist at HP and author of the next book Rogue waves, puts it this way: “It’s easy to look at events like today’s internet blackout and say you can’t predict the future. The reality is that it was inevitable – and it was becoming more and more likely. You can understand the range of possible futures and this is how disruptors disrupt.

What concrete steps can you take? I will write extensively on these themes in future articles, but start with these four implications:

1. Map trends impacting your business system: Most companies look at the immediate dynamics of their industry, but think more broadly about factors like the interconnectedness of businesses, specialist businesses that are hard to replicate, substitutes for your products or services, and new ways your bottom line might be. used. Don’t just look at your business system as it is today, but think about what it might be three years from now. Draw alternate perspectives on the future so that you don’t settle for a consensus perspective, which will usually be very similar to the world as it is today.

2. Identify the dangers: Resilient businesses avoid relying on a single set of vendors or a single set of assumptions about how the world will work. They consider what may appear to be low probability events that could have a disproportionate impact if they occur. Don’t just list them, as a public company is required to do in its annual report filed with the SEC. Consider your mitigation plans.

3. Find options in opportunities: Change creates new opportunities for growth. How can you position your business to take advantage of when events overwhelm competitors, or generate new customer needs or even new types of customers? Find out how these opportunities relate to vulnerabilities and nodes in your business system. Get yourself thinking about the potential silver lining for your business in every major change that could affect this ecosystem.

4. Create systems to handle rapid change: Some events, such as a global Internet outage, are obvious and require rapid firefighting by the businesses involved. But others are more subtle but just as impactful, such as the possible effects of falling birth rates in advanced economies during the pandemic. They cannot all be managed from the C-suite. Rather, you need people in the middle of the organization with the systems and the incentives to continually detect change and develop options for growth in response. A little energy and money spent early on mitigating risk and creating options for growth can go a long way to keep your business ahead of the competition when the effects of these changes become evident to everyone.

Today’s headline is about a global Internet failure, and tomorrow’s headline could be totally different. But the certainties behind the various headlines are that 1) change is accelerating, 2) what previously seemed long-tail risks occur with more regularity, and 3) impacts on one part of the economy quickly ricochet off. others. Preparing now will help you avoid sinking into the future.


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