Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Business Continuity, Communications and Content Management

The panic surrounding H1N1 outbreaks appears to have diminished somewhat, but threats related to widespread pandemics and other natural disasters persist. Government and institutional leaders remain challenged to prepare and respond to these kinds of issues as communities grow more diverse and mobile. Public notices and published emergency response plans may no longer be adequate to protect today’s populations.

Mobile technologies offer freedom and flexibility for community members, but they can also complicate communications during emergencies. Community leaders can’t rely on household or employment contact data to reach everyone on time. On college campuses mobile communications are just as likely to take place via the web as they are over voice networks, especially with the growing popularity of smart phones that offer rich web collaboration. It would appear that the business community and general public won’t be far behind on this trend either.

Citizens and communities, students and schools, employees and businesses all need an easier way identify each other and communicate, particularly in the case of an emergency. Multimodal communications services can help address part of this challenge by delivering important notifications in whatever format people best respond to (voice, text, email or web). However, maintaining accurate contact records remains an issue.

It would seem that a common, trusted identity management authority delivered as a web service might help here, but the question is who can we all trust? Google, a government authority, some other organization? (Remember Microsoft Passport?)

Even when mass communications can be delivered accurately and on time, critical issues remain unanswered. How can important details be delivered effectively? What information should be shared with which members of the community? Are there better ways to guide critical resources to where they are needed most? A common web site can probably serve a community’s general information requirements, but it may not be nimble or specific enough to guide individual groups during critical situations.

While it may be impossible to anticipate all potential threats to a community or the possible response scenarios, there are processes and services that can help. Just as the web has become more collaborative and bi-directional for consumers (think Facebook) content management technologies have become simpler and more flexible for organizations to use. These web services based solutions can make developing and maintaining web sites for unique groups or communities almost as easy as writing an email. This could enable leaders to provide much more specific guidance to various groups and more easily prepare multiple scenario response options.

The combination of a mobile device enabled public joined with flexible mass communications and content management services could result in a new era better prepared to respond to natural disasters. Although there remain significant obstacles to achieving this outcome, individuals collaborating for the common good of their communities may help overcome the trust issues that inhibit contact and communication. Improved directory services and closer integration between communications and content management technologies will also improve the probability for success.

No combination of technology can eliminate the mayhem that a pandemic or natural disaster can produce. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to leverage technology improvements to help minimize potential damage and suffering. Now may be an ideal time to explore what benefits mass communications and content management technologies can provide so that you can better prepare for both your communities future and your own. I suspect that the possibility that these technologies will interoperate more effectively together in the future is a good one.

If you’re curious to take a a look at what this might become test drive the latest Blackboard Connect service and Xythos on Demand. These are both SaaS solutions that almost beg for some kind of mashup kind of integration. A smartphone focused solution, particularly the kind that can leverage geo-positioning data such as the iPhone does might represent the most intriguing combination. I hope we’ll have more to say about that at Blackboard soon.