Assessing Risk

As indexers we rely upon our technology for our business and our livelihoods, yet very often we take it for granted. What we should all do from time to time (OK, at least once!) is a risk assessment. Large companies do these regularly and they can have significant benefits.

So how do you do a risk assessment? First, you list everything you can think of which could possibly go wrong and the consequences. This should be done without regard to the likelihood of these things happening, but list everything you can.

Then against each item you put a probability (say from 0 to 5) and an impact (say from 0 to 5) and multiply the two together. You then go through and look, particularly at the higher numbered items, and think what you could do to ameliorate them, that is either to avoid them happening or to make the consequences less significant.

Let’s look at a brief example:

risk assessment example
risk assessment example

The list, of course, will be specifically personal to you. For example, the impact of locking oneself out of the house might be minimal for someone living with their spouse, but could be very problematic for someone living alone.

Looking at the very brief list above, with a score of zero we can safely ignore the first event, but the process of thinking about it can lead to other, more likely ideas.

Moving on, the car crash scenario is more probable. Actually the road outside my house is quite fast and an accident would be a problem. In fact, losing the internet connection for any reason would be serious. We can think of alternatives. I could transmit and receive files from a library or Internet café (so checking that the library has computers available and where an Internet café is might be an idea!). I could also look at using a plug-in mobile phone type connection. I go so far as checking that these exist, and ensuring that they could be obtained quickly, and that is enough to convince me I could cope with that scenario. I won’t actually take any action now but I know I have solutions available.

Turning to the electricity failure, I look at uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Do they cost a fortune? Just what can they do? With a score of 16, I should probably be doing something rather than just thinking about it.

We can also extend this to the software we use on our machines. One event might be ‘wake up one morning and find browser has stopped working’. This actually happened to one SIdeline member last year, and although she knew other browsers were available she didn’t have a browser to download a new browser! Of course, the solution is to download a second browser while the first is still working – Firefox, Safari, Chrome – lots to choose from and all free, all very easy, as long as it is done in advance.

When I did a risk assessment a while ago, I thought I had loss of broadband service covered because my ISP provides a backup dial-up access service. And then I realized that the telephone number for the dial-up access was on the help pages on my ISPs website. Without my internet connection I wouldn’t be able to get it. This was quickly resolved by taking a copy of the details and keeping them on a file on my own computer, but had I not thought it through in advance, I would have only have discovered the problem when the broadband failed.

This is where risk assessments really show benefits, when you find that there are things you can do, which in many cases are low or zero-cost, but which can prevent real problems later. In my case, a year later the telegraph pole outside was struck by lightning, the line quality plummeted and my broadband actually did fail. Getting access to my ISPs help pages via dial-up really did make things easier.

Originally published online July 28, 2011, and in SIDelights (Society of Indexers Newsletter)

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