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March 31, 2021

The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be he who controls that chaos; his own and that of the enemy. This quote attributed to Napolean Bonaparte also works in the scenario of businesses managing their own resilience in the face of uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic is one such uncertainty that caught businesses off guard around the world, with the sudden disruption causing several service-level hiccups for organizations globally. Enterprises that invested in detailed risk and recovery plans, conducted due diligence in diversifying resources, and adopted a digital and cloud strategy demonstrated better vulnerability management and consequently, adapted better during these uncertain times. Others were forced to adapt to new business models in haste.

Around 49% of organizations reported unpreparedness for the pandemic and approximately 64% have reported a significant impact on the supply and demand side1. (Source: BCI COVID-19 Resilience Report). With unprecedented situations like these, it is important to decide how to build organizations that are resilient and adaptable in the face of uncertainties.

Before we explore vulnerability management, let us look at the behaviors of human vis-à-vis nature, in general.

Natural and universal systems are complex in the sense that these tend to be chaotic and unpredictable, as was seen when the contagion spread globally. On the contrary, humans are observers who try to find cause and effect in things that happen around them and then try to build structural stability around it to seek order in life. 

The human system tends to fall toward deterministic behavior, while the universal system (for instance, weather system, or fluid flow) tends to be more unpredictable and chaotic. Chaotic systems are everywhere and are, in fact, dominating the universe. Today’s business environment is also a complex system involving multidimensional linkages between the market, its customer, the competition, technology, people, supply chain, the geopolitical situation, and nature, of course.

As has been known in a complex system, small errors at the onset could lead to a large error at the end2. How then do organizations manage or reduce the impact of unpredictability and chaos?

One of the approaches to build resiliency and adaptability in a complex system is to define a feedback loop using ’phase space’3. This means that one takes a snapshot of a complex system in all possible states at various point in time as it evolves, identify a pattern, and adjust accordingly.

Organizations should embrace and implement a chaos engineering framework to build resilient and adaptable businesses in order that they experience reduced impact of unpredictability and chaos. 

This framework allows organizations to build confidence in the behavior of complex business ecosystems. And by confidence, one means the assurance in the ability to withstand known or planned shock, at the same time provide a mechanism to expand its horizon as we learn a new deeper pattern and be more adaptable over time.

Chaos engineering principles are generally applied to technology solutions. However, as organizations are in a complex ecosystem, we propose a holistic chaos engineering framework covering technology, people, and the resources aspects of an organization.

Chaos engineering4 involves building hypotheses on the steady state of business operations and identifying what could go wrong. Simulate those situations in a real-world environment and keep running these experiments in a continuous random fashion to check system resiliency. Identify corrective actions and minimize impact by applying chaos engineering principles to people, processes, and technology.

Phase 1

In this phase organizations, look inward to build resilience and adaptability around their technological resources. It involves ingesting exact and measured amount of failures and errors to the system for the purpose of improving system resilience and ensuring that businesses continue to operate as usual or with minimal impact. This tends to ensure that there is no single point of technology failure and the safety net is available for business operations.

Phase 2                                               

During this phase, organizations look inward to build resilience around the availability of their internal human resources. This phase involves testing dependency on human resources and their collective behavior in times of crises, ensuring that businesses continue to operate effectively by reigning in chaos through the adoption of efficient processes and a framework for change. 

Phase 3

In this phase, businesses look outward to build resiliency against external forces. It ensures that it builds resiliency by introducing disruptors at various levels, including those of the supply chain, market, customer, geopolitical, and at the competitor level too in the control environment, and implement on a bigger scale to ensure business models are resilient and continue to adapt to as per continuous feedback from chaos experiments.

As the universe is unpredictable, we cannot build a foolproof business system in terms of resiliency and adaptability. But by applying a holistic chaos engineering framework, organizations can ensure that they are better prepared to handle disruption at an unprecedented scale.

References:

1-2. https://www.everstream.ai/risk-center/special-reports/bci-supply-chain-resilience/

3. http://www.atmos.albany.edu/daes/atmclasses/atm401/chaos.pdf

4. https://galileo-unbound.blog/category/chaos-and-complexity/ (Tangled tale of phase space)

Nitendra Panwar is the lead solution architect and delivery manager for IP-led solutions within the Research and Innovation (R&I) Incubation program at TCS. His responsibilities include designing solutions, coaching and mentoring cross domain teams and driving the agile delivery of IP led MVP and solutions. He has over 24 years of experience in design, implementation, and operational management of IT solutions across transportation in public and private sector organizations.

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