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the silent killer: Systemic risk

Systemic risk is the silent killer of organizations and often goes undiagnosed until it is almost too late, just like uncontrolled high blood pressure in the field of human medicine.

Nobody knows where the money went by Adam_T4 on flickrWe may think that we have a rigorous approach to risk management but very often this is simply a fragmented picture of the enterprise, with some key pieces of the jigsaw either absent or yet to be identified.

Very few organizations can see the full picture – why?

Because very few organizations have an efective view of themselves; they will have organization charts and may well have some ‘architectural’ drawings of process and technology. But unless these are brought together into a meaningful and accessible systemic descripton, the organization will not be able to see the Systemic risk they are carrying.

What is Systemic risk?

Within the organization, Systemic risk is the risk of the whole enterprise collapsing. Beyond the organization, Systemic risk is the risk that the higher level(s) will fail, due to the collapse of participants [sub-systems].

Why is Systemic risk the silent killer?
Because it sneaks up on the organization – and associated stakeholders, up, down and across ‘value chain’ connections. Paradoxically, in an increasingly joined-up-world, many of these connections are invisible and therefore ‘silent.’

An example of Systemic risk
The world financial crisis which exploded in late 2007 is a clear example of Systemic risk on a massive scale; well explained in the following talk by David Harvey,distinguished Professor and Marxist, and brilliantly illustrated by RSA Animate:

How can we guard against Systemic risk?
The first step is to recognise that Systemic risk affects every organization, directly and indirectly.

The next step is to establish an effective regime for managing Systemic risk; this is likely to be quite different from your existing risk management approach. You will need to build a meaningful and tangible Systemic view(s) of your organization and connections.

The most important step is to realise that effective Systemic risk management is not a programme but a lifestyle choice for the truly sustainable enterprise. :mrgreen:

Colin Beveridge can help you deal with Systemic risk, please click here to contact him.

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More Stories By Colin Beveridge

Colin Beveridge is a management troubleshooter and mediator, with over 30 years experience of working with leading organizations in the private and public sectors. As an independent consultant and interim CIO/ IT/ IS Director, he has held top-level roles in Development, Programme Management, Service Delivery and Strategy. Colin is the author of The Finance Director's guide to managing IT (pub ICAEW 2011), Aligning IT with Business Strategy - a Best Practice Guide for decision makers in IT (pub. NCC 2004) and Guidelines for Aligning IT with Business Strategy (NCC 2002).