Business Continuity and Single Points of….what?

Today I got home from my work and there was the new Summer 2010 edition of the Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ) waiting for me.  I always take a quick look through and make note of the articles I want to read first and which ones I will put off for another day.  There’s quite a few I wanted to read this time through (usually is that way) but one caught my attention almost immediately from its headline and within moments I was a bit perturbed.

            The reason is that the author talk about a proactive approach for organizations when it comes to Single Points of Failure (SPOK).  Now I’m in complete agreement with all the methods the author describes in how to identify a corporations points of failure and like how he describes the various ways in which to address them but there was a point noted in the second paragraph that I didn’t agree with.  He stated that a single point of failure relates to a person.  I don’t agree. 

            I do understand the point he was making with regards to a SPOF but a person doesn’t fit this description.  A person is not a failure.  Can you imagine waling up to someone and saying something like, “We’re going to look at our BCM plans because found you to be a failure.”  I don’t think so.  A person isn’t a failure however, a person can be a single point of knowledge. 

            OK, maybe some people will call it semantics but in today’s world you simply can’t say people are failures or single points of failure.  Sure, they may be a person with all the skills to do a specific job or have the understanding on how to do something else within the corporation but they are not failures.  What they really are is a Single Point of Knowledge; technology is a single point of failure.   Here’s a how I distinguish between the various “Single Point…” terms.  And for easier reference, think of that restaurant chain – known for making chicken – that got its name from a US state.  That’s K.F.C. for those who might not know (Knowledge, Failure, Contact).

  1. Single Points of Knowledge (SPOK) – Simply put, this relates to a person with all the skills and knowledge of a process or procedure or even knowing what vendor to call for assistance.  It’s not their fault they have this information and are the only ones who know it, they just simply are the only person with specific knowledge.  Instead of thinking they are failures for having this knowledge, they should be celebrated and approached in a manner that lends credit to having this knowledge.  SPOKs got the knowledge because they worked hard and in many instances, may have worked at the role for a long time and gathered all sorts of beneficial knowledge along the way – they aren’t failures for knowing what they know.  Many organizations say their greatest asset is their people so you can’t call them a failure on one hand and say they are the most important part of the corporation on the other.
  2. Single Points of Failure (SPOF) – I’ve always felt that a SPOF related to technical issues and concerns.  For instance, a gateway server that hasn’t been maintained of upgraded its software in years.  It may connect multiple production servers and push through all sorts of files but experiences an issue and the entire service line (that it’s connected to) comes to a screeching halt.  That is a single point of failure and it’s not a person.  SPOK should relate to inanimate objects, not people.
  3. Single Points of Contact (SPOC) – Do I really need to explain this one?  Of course, most of us have probably heard this one before but since I mentioned two other Single Points, I thought I’d add this one.  Simply put, it’s a person who is the main conduit into a corporation or someone who is the key responsible to initiate or help someone.  For instance, if you have a DR Service provider helping your organization, only one person may be the contact or the person that you call to get things done.  They take that information and disseminate it to someone else within their corporation to get what you need done.  For many, a call centre  – you know those 1-800/866/877/888 numbers we all love so much – are single points of contact for many organizations.  Or, if you deal with Bob Smith at ABC Company – and he’s the only one you’ve ever dealt with (and know of) then he is a SPOC for ABC Company…at least for you anyway.


Something interesting to note; a SPOC can be a SPOK.  These SPOC can become SPOK if they don’t have a backup in place.  For instance, that DR Vendor contact I mentioned earlier; if they’re away on vacation and you have an issue or question about your contract, they may be the only person who really knows or understands the relationship existing between yourself and themselves.  They – like everyone else – should have a designated alternate just in case.  Whether your roles states it or not, you both relationship builders, experts and managers (even without the title) so keep things from falling apart, you must share you knowledge and contacts. 

            If you don’t share your contacts and your knowledge, things can go awry during a disaster but is it your fault or the fault of the processes and procedures in place that don’t allow for the open communication and awareness?  The person didn’t fail, but the awareness and training strategies that allow for SPOKs and SPOCs to exist certainly became a SPOF.  Clear as mud???  😉 


The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at **



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