Posted by: Long Huynh | May 4, 2009

The CIO in time of Fear – Uncertainty and Doubt

Recent news about the potential Swine (now renamed H1N1) Flu Pandemic prompted me to think about the role of a CIO in time of Fear – Uncertainty – Doubt (FUD), especially when those FUD factors threaten the business continuity. It is easy to dismiss the news as “hype” by the media hungry for sensational reactions – pictures of the Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-1920) come to mind. However, in my opinion it is also dangerous for the CIO to take the high ground or stay mum about the subject.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on April 29, 2009 that the H1N1 Flu has reach the level 5 alert, meaning that a pandemic outbreak is imminent, I have searched the Web for signs of response from the IT Leadership and found very little. Apart from a series of to-be-expected advisory articles by industry analysts such as Gartner, IDC and the like, there were just a smattering number of articles related to the positions or actions of CIOs, especially in the private sector. It appeared that either the majority of business organizations are prepared to deal with such outbreak or they take the position of “ignorance is bliss”.

Without going deep into a debate of whether such preparedness is true or not, what does concern me is the dearth of visible actions (i.e. communications) from the IT Leadership. I don’t see or hear much about CIOs jumping to the opportunity (yes, even a crisis could be viewed as one – dangerous but still an opportunity) to show their business acumen or leadership mettle. May be I am not being exposed to the right channels of information, being in my neck of wood in Canada, but here are some potential activities that I am not aware of:

1. Seize the opportunity to reassure the Board of your control of the situation as it unfolds. For many of you who have the foresight to have a Business Continuity Plan developed (mostly to address the Avian Flu situation in 2006), this is an opportunity to have face time with your boss to discuss business impact of various scenarios (executives love to have options to choose from). For those who don’t have such a plan in place (and according to a recent Gartner study [Ref. 1], only 25% of respondents have a BCM/DR plan in place, and that most of these plans do not cover all applications), what do you have to say? May be this is an opportune time to push through one of the investment initiatives to support remote operations.

2. Seize the opportunity to enlist the support of your peers in Marketing, Sales, Operations. If you do the Business Continuity Management / Disaster Recovery (BCM/DR in Gartner jargon)correctly, it should cover all aspects of business and not just the IT facilities. A discussion with the business operation heads about impact of potential disruption to the supply chain or with the marketing & sales heads about similar issues with distribution channels should bring you closer to your peers. Did you have such discussions recently? Dis you update the Business Impact Assessment (BIA) document – and have their names included as co-authors of the report?

3. Seize the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the eyes of your staff/members/associates. Like it or not, the threat of a pandemic touches on people, your people, directly. Their concerns and worries are legitimate and need to be dealt with seriously. It is time to show that you care for their safety and well being. The Human Resources and Communications departments can help you drafting the memorandum, bulletin boards and what not, but the contents of Who should do What-When-Where-How in different situations and scenarios should come from you. What kind of information that have been communicated to your troops? If nothing done, you are leaving it to the media at your own peril.

This is a call for action, not a sound of panic. You should treat the situation as “business as usual” (BAU) but with the full knowledge that BAU also means to seize all opportunities to add values and reinforce the positive image of you as a business leader.

I like to hear your comments on this subject.


[Ref. 1] ‘Swine Flu’ Means Test Transaction Document Recovery Plans Now – Gartner Research Number G00167835, published April 28, 2009.



  1. I’ve done a lot of leadership training through my career. I really like the analogy you use. H1N1 may not actually be the factor that kills us. Fear will however. As a leader we are responsible for the illnesses that may spread and for the havoc they cause.

    Thanks for letting me in your collabration group!


  2. Hi, interesting post. I have been pondering this issue,so thanks for blogging. I’ll probably be subscribing to your site. Keep up the good posts

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