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Technology Changes Your Job, and Vice Versa

Later in this series, we'll discuss some of these topics in more detail, but first we'll briefly summarize the basic principle at work: Any change in business processes and/or technology leads to a common series of events. For example:

  1. Changes in technology almost invariably outpace the ability to back up that technology.
  2. Recovery resources and technology eventually catch up; as a result, new standards and practices are adopted for dealing with the new technology.
  3. Commercial enterprises generally adopt these standards and practices as they become widely available and affordable.
  4. The new standards and practices then become the responsibility of the corporate or private-sector contingency planner.

Let's consider how this system works in practice:

Consider "first alert" systems circa 1979 in use by the United States military. These systems utilized multimillion-dollar AUTOVON switches, satellite communications, and various types of radio backup systems such as tropospheric scatter systems.

Since the purpose of these systems was to detect missile attacks and other threats against the United States, they were mission-critical to the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Americans and their allies. Therefore, they were funded by the government, but certainly not required by commercial organizations—the cost was simply out of reach. The switches were superb for maintaining what the military calls "4Ci" (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence). They could get word to policymakers in seconds in any situation, whether it was a possible missile launch or a call from the President. The switches also contained features whereby high-priority calls could preempt low-priority calls to ensure that the most important instructions always got through. But they were extraordinarily expensive to deploy—well into the tens of millions of dollars.

Now fast-forward to the present. Today, the capabilities of what used to be a $50 million AUTOVON switch fit in a $1,000 server. Moreover, things like satellite communications are available commercially, affordably, and practically anywhere. Even the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is extraordinarily diverse, compared with the networks of 30 years ago. Services that were prohibitively expensive in days past are available everywhere today, in the form of wireless networks, Voice over IP (VoIP) services, and other technologies. Even the multi-level preemption feature enjoyed by the military 30 years ago is available (after a fashion) under IP Version 6 or alternatively under programs like the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) for landlines and Wireless Priority Service (WPS) for mobile phones. These government priority services allow for priority in a disaster, and while such government-sponsored priority schemes must be arranged in advance, they're certainly affordable.

When a technology becomes more affordable, there's less reason not to adopt and use it. For the planner who opts not to use such technology even after the reduction in cost, the exposure for possible negligence increases. Stated another way, a planner could not be found negligent for failure to acquire and use a switch costing $50 million. But saying no to a $1,000 server that could have averted disaster? That's a different story.

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