IT should prepare for a crisis

Plus, Great Britain overtakes the United States in online ad sales

The former Soviet Republic of Georgia revealed last week it had foiled an effort by a Russian man to sell 3.5 ounces of weapons-grade uranium on the black market. While not enough material to build a bomb, the incident was a strong reminder that we’ve been living in a relatively stable period, crisis-wise, since hurricane Katrina -- and that we shouldn’t get lulled us into false complacency. Yes, the stock market has been doing well. Oil prices have fallen. And Jennifer Aniston did recover nicely from her breakup with Brad … But nonetheless, we need to be on guard against potentially disruptive events.

How prepared are large enterprises for catastrophic crises? It’s a mixed bag, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey. The study looked first at how many U.S. multinational companies had been struck by major “showstopper” crises over the past three years, and almost half of them (49 percent) had. Natural disasters topped the list, followed by business unit shutdowns, SEC/SOX problems, management upheavals, fire explosions and toxic leakage, IP loss or theft, and a host of other miscellaneous calamities.

With recent experiences like this, you’d think corporate America would be drilling and girding itself for future disruptions. Yet when asked whether their business processes were “well-prepared for future high-level crises,” only 21 percent to 65 percent said yes, depending on the business process in question. “Legal and insurance services” got the biggest confidence vote, at 65 percent, with marketing, logistics, HR and procurement all near the bottom, under 40 percent. IT claimed the middle ground, with 54 percent expressing confidence -- not exactly a chorus of affirmation.

Even more interesting was how confidence varied between those companies that had previously experienced a disruptive crisis in the past three years and those that hadn’t. The former had less confidence than average -- or really, less false confidence -- in the preparedness of their businesses, having lived through the real thing.

Although the study’s authors concluded that many corporate execs are in denial about crisis preparedness, and perhaps are even avoiding the topic altogether, my takeaway for IT is the more pragmatic one: Just get prepared!

‘Add to basket’ dept.: In the 1990s, the United States was the undisputed leader in Internet adoption. But lately it seems the British have caught up and surpassed us in one unlikely area: Internet advertising. According to a recent New York Times report, online advertising is growing at an astounding 40 percent annual rate in the United Kingdom, and may have accounted for as much as 14 percent of all advertising across the pond, compared to single digits in the United States.

The reasons? Broadband penetration in the United Kingdom has surged ahead of the United States, going from 5 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in 2006 (compared with 15 percent to 44 percent in the United States). Also, the British spend more time on their computers, 23 hours a week vs. 14 hours for us. And Web ads may be easier to buy in the United Kingdom (they’re mostly bought direct, vs. through ad networks) and they may get better results for retailers because it’s physically a smaller country.

Still, this doesn’t quite add up. How did we lose our lead in advertising, of all things? Isn’t ad leadership our American birthright? Don’t we hold all the patents on schlock, spin, and sizzle? Maybe we should impose a tariff on Adobe Flash to level the playing field … or dump their routers into the harbor. Let them read … newspapers. i

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