The Gretzky approach to risk management

Last month the tributes poured in on television, on the radio, in newspapers and online about Wayne Gretzky’s 50th birthday, which reminded me of the best quote ever attributed to the Great One. When someone once asked him how he managed to score so many goals over the course of his storied career, he answered, “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.”

There’s something so inspiring about those words. It suggests the need to keep aggressively moving forward whatever the odds, to be daring and purposeful at all times. In some ways, however, it could be taken as a great philosophy around risk management – one that channel providers and their customers could learn from.

Just as Gretzky reached a half-decade I was hosting one of our Frankly Speaking breakfast events for a group of CIOs. We were listening to Paul Sexton from IBM Canada discussing the company’s recent research initiative around IT risk management and its implications for IT departments. Some of the data points were less than encouraging. Only 46 per cent, for example, had a formal risk management strategy in place, and just 54 per cent even had a plan for business continuity. In terms of IT security, the number of those who felt they were prepared for the worst was dismal, at 22 per cent.

All of these are opportunities for value-added resellers to contribute to the success of Canadian companies. If they can establish themselves as trusted advisors who have created a comfort level in other organizations, there is a good chance they will be considered the necessary resource for filling in the gaps pointed out in IBM’s survey. But there’s more to it than merely suggesting the right hardware and software combination.

Go back over Gretzky’s quote again. Risk management doesn’t necessarily mean the complete elimination of all risk. If it did, we wouldn’t bother setting up portals to connect with suppliers or customers. We wouldn’t conduct e-commerce with one another. There would probably be a ban on basic outgoing e-mail, let alone social media services. All technology offers as opportunity as well as the chance for misfortune to befall a company. A skill set for all VARs to develop is helping IT managers and CIOs assess what their company’s genuine risk appetite is – something that probably corresponds to the company’s growth strategy.

Done properly, IT risk management is not merely about protecting data or infrastructure from harm. It’s about enabling business to function effectively, to take the kind of calculated gambles that allow them to surpass their competitors, launch breakthrough products and services or enter new markets. Most companies don’t know how to do this well, which is the kind of thing channel partners need to hone in on.

Hockey may ultimately be more violent than technology, but the parallels are pretty clear. You can play it safe, sticking to the creases, maintaining a primarily defensive strategy to avoid the big, burly guys racing towards you on the ice. You can stick to passing the puck to more experienced players, and only going for the goal when all conditions seem optimal. And you know what? You could probably plod your way to a half-decent NHL career that way. But you’ll never be the next Wayne Gretzky.

Follow Shane Schick on Twitter: @ShaneSchick.

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