Instant, global communication is an increasingly critical component of modern business, but when incidents occur – from mundane to life-threatening – the usual channels might not be fit for purpose.
We talked to Bosbec’s owner and Chairman Jakob Sjöberg about the need for an incident communication service that can step in when the unexpected occurs.
You’re particularly passionate about the ‘incident communication service’ that you’ve developed for users – could you explain what that is?
In the event of an unforeseen incident – whether it be IT failure, fire, or any event which affects a company’s operations – quick, efficient and disciplined communication between stakeholders, both internal and external, is critical.
In these situations, an incident communication service (ICS) helps you to ensure that the right people get the right message at the right time. You need to convey certain information to certain groups, have an ongoing dialogue with them, get approval that the right decisions are being made, confident that you’re not spreading the wrong message and causing further confusion. Coordination is key to achieving this.
Why do you feel there is a need for such a service? Presumably, there are already other ways to communicate?
If you have an incident or a crisis one of the most critical things is to coordinate communication. Conventional methods, whether they be via email, phone, SMS – they’re all part of the process, but without the oversight – the big picture of who’s doing what – and a clearly communicated plan, it can quickly become chaotic. Response time and constant monitoring are critical.
Do you feel that business is sufficiently aware of the need for this service?
In many post-event evaluations of crises and incidents, one of the most criticized factors is indeed communication, so there is some awareness that this is a problem area. However, most organizations do not take this seriously enough. Very often, they just create a quick fix to remedy some of the shortcomings – but by not addressing the root of the problem, it’s almost certain that they will repeat their mistakes and have the same or similar problems the next time.
Describe an example of a typical ‘traditional’ incident communication setup which you’ve encountered?
Typically companies will have some information on what to do in the event of an incident, but it will be located on a company intranet – not necessarily quickly and intuitively available to all the team. There might also be a system in place to broadcast information via SMS or email. However, there are a number of downsides to this kind of setup. If you’ve just got a list of phone numbers and emails, there’s no granularity – no ability to filter the information sent out. You’ll end up sending all the information to all the team, resulting in information overload.
Additionally, there’s no way to manage an approval process – who validates the information that is being sent out? And how do you check that the tasks assigned to individual team members have been completed? It’s a one way street with no way of ensuring oversight of how a given crisis is being dealt with.
Another major flaw is that a large part of this system – action plans on the intranet and broadcast email – becomes unusable if your IT infrastructure is down…precisely one of the crises you’re most likely to encounter.
How does an ICS solve these problems?
For a start, it’s really easy to use – you need a service that has a really shallow learning curve, particularly in a crisis, when you’re likely to be distracted by a range of other factors. You need to find the group with whom you want to communicate and quickly establish a dialogue. You need to have just the features you need, cutting down on distracting options and speeding up crisis response times.
Cloud-based systems can also be accessed through cell phone apps, solving the problem of a non-functioning company IT infrastructure. They can keep the company going when everything else has failed.
You serve a wide variety of industries – could you explain how an ICS can be applied in the real world?
There’s no one industry that specifically benefits from an incident communication service – all businesses encounter problems that need quick, accurate communication to resolve.
For example, imagine there’s a fire in a school. The fire alarm goes off and you need to evacuate students and staff. You’ll need two separate groups to manage the evacuation, both receiving information specific to them, but related to the other group.
The first group needs to ensure that the school is empty. Typically, a school will be divided into sections – each section needs to be checked by an individual, but since different staff work on different days, a group message needs to be sent to all relevant staff. Individual staff members will choose which section they’ll check and sign off when it’s clear. This real-time ‘reporting back’ is the crucial difference between sending a standard group email or text and an incident communication service – with the latter you can check that information has been received, by whom, and that it has been fulfilled.
The second group needs to check in all the evacuees at the meeting point. The information they receive will be a complete list of all school attendees that day. Again, with real-time reporting, it’s possible to determine who is doing the check-in, the status and location of evacuees, plus who remains unaccounted for.
By having complete, instantaneous oversight of the process, staff can respond much faster, locating missing evacuees as quickly as possible – in a situation where seconds and minutes could be the difference between life and death.
Ok, I understand the ‘life and death’ scenario, but are there other applications?
Almost too many to mention! Supermarkets need quick communication across a complex supply chain in the case of, say, bad meat being sold. Pharmaceutical companies might need real-time alerts and reporting if, for example, refrigeration for drug stocks fails. City or state authorities need to manage the information flow in the event of water leakage or power disruption.
These cases are all different, but they have one thing in common, which is that all the stakeholders need different pieces of information to quickly and effectively respond to an incident – and management needs oversight to ensure that all the actors involved are doing what they need to do, when they need to do it. That’s what a good ICS provides.
How complex is it to set up?
In the case of Bosbec it’s very easy. There’s no technical implementation from our side, so there are just a couple of choices that the customer needs to make:
We’ll often set up specific ‘triggers’. For example, if a connected device detects an event (eg. a fire alarm or a temperature sensor in a fridge), certain specific groups will automatically be contacted and convened.
Additionally, if recipients need to be automatically updated from another source, then this needs to be integrated.
If neither of the above is required then there’s no real technical setup needed. Our main challenge is to ensure that the customer has a complete and up-to-date set of information, regarding contact information and similar.
The customer’s requirements are generally quite straightforward – they just want to have a system that is dependable, easy to use, and provides a secure and effective means of communication in case of an incident or crisis. Interestingly, once set up, the customer often finds ways of integrating it with additional processes, further streamlining operations.
Aside from the financial benefits of reduced downtime, are there other, less tangible ones?
I think it’s mainly about control and trust. The ability to have complete oversight of a process is not only much more efficient when it comes to monitoring and solving a situation, it allows for all involved to feel connected – they’re not siloed and isolated, so they can have faith in the fact that everyone is doing exactly what they need to do to bring about the best possible outcome. They can trust in the service to keep working, to keep them informed.
Is it possible to measure the return on investment of an ICS?
To mismanage a crisis can cause millions in costs. To have tools that help you to do things the right way – first time – will radically minimize these costs. It’s obviously on a case-by-case basis, but the savings go beyond just operational damages. Reputation can be not just expensive to rebuild – it can be impossible.
What’s next for Bosbec?
We’re always evolving and developing our service. Right now we’re looking at expanding the range of data sources we can integrate. With the right application of AI we can actually help customers predict potential crises, allowing them to at best avert them, or at the very least start the recovery process much earlier. That’s pretty exciting. We never forget that, in a crisis, good communication is definitely in the top three factors when it comes to a successful outcome.
To learn more about how Bosbec’s incident communication service can help your business, visit www.bosbec.com/incident