Bank of England deploys war-games to battle hackers

13 November 2018

As war-gaming and the concept of gamification continue to rise in popularity among a business world constantly called on to adapt to new challenges, the Bank of England has confirmed it has engaged a number of major financial players in a day-long event to strategise for the event of a cyberattack. Threadneedle Street said it hoped authorities and firms could find areas for improvement in their security from the game.

While it has often been labelled a buzzword, gamification has steadily caught on among the community, particularly thanks to its potential to help entities outfox hackers. By deconstructing what games actually are and by applying a games mind-set to solve real life challenges in businesses, people can see for themselves just how powerful game approaches can be within business. This means organisations can devise how they can best react to certain scenarios, without the threat of having to learn best practices via the traditional school of hard knocks.

As a result, so-called serious gaming has recently become a popular tool for decision making, testing scenarios and the transformation of organisations. Even the more traditionally-oriented worlds of the government and the financial sector are slowly but surely taking on serious gaming, with ‘war gaming’ – game forms in which (military) strategic decisions can be tested in conflict situations – gaining popularity in particular. The latest of these new champions of serious gaming is the Bank of England.

Bank of England deploys war-games to battle hackers

According to reports from the BBC, at the start of November, Threadneedle Street tested the UK's ability to withstand a major cyber-attack on financial institutions with an exercise in partnership with regulators and the Treasury. The central bank of the United Kingdom has previously expressed fears that disruption to one bank's payments could have a direct impact on the entire economy, by preventing its customers from paying for goods and services, while a subsequent ripple effect would see this spread to other banks. As a result, more than 40 firms, including leading banks, have taken part in a one-day "war-gaming" exercise designed to assess their resilience.

The Bank hopes that the day will ensure firms are able to meet certain minimum recovery standards after a cyberattack. In a statement to the press, the institution said, "The exercise will help authorities and firms identify improvements to our collective response arrangements, improving the resilience of the sector as a whole.”

Not everyone shares the optimism of the Bank of England, however. Former hacker and current cybersecurity expert Robert Schifreen informed the BBC's Today programme that he believed while taking any action was a welcome step, the exercise was ultimately unrealistic.

He elaborated, "It's going to be a nice Friday, everyone's cleared their diary, everyone knows what's going to happen, and it doesn't normally happen like this… When you get hacked, it's probably going to be on a Sunday afternoon, half the people you need to contact are going to be away on holiday and haven't told you what their contact numbers are, so it's not realistic, but it's great to see them doing something."

Related: Bank of England echoes warning of 75,000 job financial services 'Brexodus'.


Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.