Amy Webb is an author and futurist
and the founder of the Future Today
Institute, a leading forecasting
and strategy firm that researches
technology for a global client base.
She is the author of The Signals
Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is
Planning for That
Inevitable Tech Disaster
It will happen one day—
and that’s why you should
think about it now
All business owners remember every cata-
strophic tech failure they experience. Few ever
anticipate and plan for one. By the time we’ve
psyched ourselves up to adopt a new technology, we
believe it will work forever. It’s easy to forget that
people are still, for now, in charge of the machines.
Last year, Nest users discovered that their
thermostats had suddenly turned o; in the middle
of winter, leaving thousands without heat. It was a
glitch in the code a developer had written. In 2012,
a team at financial services company Knight Capital
Group accidentally deployed some bad software,
which made the company lose $440 million in 30
minutes. In 1998, Toy Story 2 nearly vanished after
a Pixar worker executed the wrong computer com-
mand and the system started deleting files. Two
months of work disappeared in minutes; someone
literally yanked the power cord and network con-
nection from a server to save the rest of the files.
Until our robot overlords arrive to control all
our systems, we must be smarter about our emo-
tionally fraught relationship to technology—and
take a cue from cognitive behavioral therapy by
diving straight into our fear and anxiety.
How? If tech isn’t your strong suit, graph your
knowledge gap: What know-how are you missing,
and who or what can fill in the blanks? Resources to
know include security sites like Schneier.com and
the How To channel on Cnet.com, professional
associations you might belong to, and even, perhaps,
an old pal. Then, designate key sta;ers to consider what crises might occur. Ask them to think
about how your business uses a particular tool or device, and how it fits into company processes.
List all of the hardware, software, and services you use daily, and then ask: What would you do if
your connected machines went o;ine? If your sta; lost access to email? If all printers shut down?
Think through each scenario. If your sta; loses email, what’s a realistic plan B? If your email
system gets hacked or held for ransom, how will you respond? Write your answers down—on
paper—and include the names of key vendors or individuals and their contact information. A
solid plan will ensure you won’t be paralyzed by fear, as my friend was, when a crisis hits.
That friend didn’t have a disaster plan. But he did have me on the phone. I asked him if, by
chance, his server was plugged into a power strip—and if that strip was under someone’s desk.
“Why would that matter?” he asked, rushing over to take a look.
Because people have feet, and we brush them against things when we’re not paying atten-
tion. Like, say, the on-o; button on a power strip. And, sure enough, a crucial one in my friend’s
o;ce had been mysteriously switched o;.
;AFE W MONTHS AGO, a friend from college called me in a panic. He’s a smart, tech-savvy entre- preneur—a physical therapist who grew his practice into a regional health care company with multiple locations and his own line of branded exercise equipment. He’d installed a sophisticated computer system throughout all of his o;ces, which promised to automate
mundane tasks such as scheduling patients and maintaining records.
He was convinced that this new system would help eliminate human
error, which had become an issue as his business grew.
Then, one day, the monitors went dark. His o;ce was full of
patients and the sta; had no contingency plan. In an instant, every-
one’s trust in that magnificent technology was lost. He called me.
“I can’t get the computers to turn back on!” he shouted, short of
breath, into the phone. “Something’s broken—I can’t figure out
what! Years of data, all gone! What am I supposed to do?”
INC.500 ; TECH 110 - INC. - SEP TEMBER 2017