Disruptive Technologies Present Opportunities for Risk Managers, Study Finds

PHILADELPHIA–Disruptive technologies are used more and more by businesses, but those organizations appear to be unprepared. What’s more, companies seem to lack understanding of the technologies and many are not conducting risk assessments, according to the 14th annual Excellence in Risk Management report, released at the RIMS conference here.

The study found an apparent lack of awareness among risk professionals of their company’s use of existing and emerging technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), telematics, sensors, smart buildings, and robotics and their associated risks. When presented with 13 common disruptive technologies, 24% of respondents said their organizations are not currently using or planning to use any of them. This is surprising, as other studies have found that more than 90% of companies are either using or evaluating IoT technology or wearable technologies and that companies in the United States invested $230 billion on IoT in 2016.

Another finding was that despite the impact disruptive technology can have on an organization’s business strategy, model, and risk profile, 60% of respondents said they do not conduct risk assessments around disruptive technologies.

“Today’s disruptive technologies will soon be — and in many cases already are — the norm for doing business,” said Brian Elowe, Marsh’s U.S. client executive leader and co-author of the report said in a statement. “Such lack of understanding and attention being paid to the risks is alarming. Organizations cannot fully realize the rewards of using today’s innovative technology if the risks are not fully understood and managed.” According to the study:

Organizations generally, and risk management professionals in particular, need to adopt a more proactive approach to educate themselves about disruptive technologies — what is already in use, what is on the horizon, and what are the risks and rewards. Forward-leaning executives are able to properly identify, assess, and diagnose disruptive technology risks and their impact on business models and strategies.

This lack of clarity presents opportunity for risk professionals. In fact, previous Excellence reports have indicated that C-suite executives and boards of directors want to know what risks loom ahead for their organizations and increasingly rely on risk professionals to provide that insight.

“As organizations adapt to innovative technologies, risk professionals have the opportunity to lead the way in developing risk management capabilities and bringing insights to bear on business strategy decisions,” said Carol Fox, vice president of strategic initiatives for RIMS and co-author of the report. “As a first step, risk professionals are advised to proactively educate themselves about disruptive technologies, including what is already in use at their organizations, what technologies may be on the horizon, and the respective risks and rewards of using such technology.”

One thing companies can do to manage risks associated with disruptive technologies is facilitate discussions through cross-functional committees—yet fewer companies, only 48%, said they have one, a drop from 52% last year and 62% five years ago.

Whether discussed in weekly, monthly, or quarterly organization-wide committee meetings, emerging risks — including disruptive technologies — need to be examined regularly to anticipate and manage the acceleration of business model changes. When risk is siloed, too often the tendency can be toward an insurance-focused approach to risk transfer rather than an enterprise approach that may lead to pursuing untapped opportunities.

The Excellence survey, Ready or Not, Disruption is Here, is based on more than 700 responses to an online survey and a series of focus groups with leading risk executives in January and February 2017.

Findings from the survey were released today at the RIMS 2017 Annual Conference & Exhibition. Copies of the survey are available on www.marsh.com<http://www.marsh.com> and www.rims.org<http://www.rims.org>.

Dallas Alarms Hack a Warning of Infrastructure Vulnerability

Dallas residents were wide awake and in a state of confusion late Friday night when the city’s outdoor emergency system was hacked, causing all of its 156 alarms to blast for an hour-and-a-half until almost 1:30 a.m.

With some interpreting the warning as a bomb or missile, a number of residents dialed 9-1-1, but the number of calls—4,400 in all—overwhelmed the system, causing some callers to wait for up to six minutes for a response, the New York Times reported.

The alarms blasted for 90-second durations about 15 times, Rocky Vaz, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, told reporters at a news conference.

Mr. Vaz said emergency workers and technicians had to first figure out whether the sirens had been activated because of an actual emergency. And turning off the sirens also proved difficult, eventually prompting officials to shut down the entire system.

“Every time we thought we had turned it off, the sirens would sound again, because whoever was hacking us was continuously hacking us,” Sana Syed, a spokeswoman for the city told the Times.

Eventually the alarms were turned off, which had to be done manually, one alarm at a time.

On Saturday afternoon the system, used for hurricanes and other warnings, was still down, but officials said they hoped to have it functioning soon. They also said they had pinpointed the origin of the security breach after ruling out that the alarms had come from their control system or from remote access.

Mr. Vaz said that Dallas had reached out to the Federal Communications Commission for help and was taking steps to prevent hackers from setting off the system again, but that city officials had not communicated with federal law enforcement authorities.

Security officials have warned about the risks that such hacking attacks pose to infrastructure, which is often aging and in disrepair. Federal data shows that the number of attacks on critical infrastructure appears to have risen: to nearly 300 in 2015 from just under 200 in 2012. Attacks include a 2008 oil pipeline explosion in Turkey; a 2015 hacking of Ukraine’s power grid, leaving 200,000 people in Western Ukraine without electricity for several hours; and in 2013, hackers tried to gain control of a small dam in upstate New York. Seven computer specialists, who worked for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps., were indicted for trying to take over controls of the dam, according to the Times.

Increasing Risk Complexity Outpaces ERM Oversight

More organizations are recognizing the value of a structured focus on emerging risks. The number of organizations with a complete enterprise risk management (ERM) program in place has steadily risen from 9% in 2009 to 28% in 2016, according to the N.C. State Poole College of Management’s survey “The State of Risk Oversight: An Overview of Enterprise Risk Management Practices.”

Yet this progress may lag behind the increasingly complicated risks that need addressing. Of respondents, 20% noted an “extensive” increase in the volume and complexity of risks the past five years, with an additional 38% saying the volume and complexity of risks have increased “mostly.” This is similar to participant responses in the most recent prior years. In fact, only 2% said the volume and complexity of risks have not changed at all.

Even with improvements in the number of programs implemented, the study—which is based on responses of 432 executives from a variety of industries—found there is room for improvement. Overall, 26% of respondents have no formal enterprise-wide approach to risk oversight and currently have no plans to consider this form of risk oversight.

Organizations that do have programs continue to struggle to integrate their risk oversight efforts with strategic planning processes. “Significant opportunities remain for organizations to continue to strengthen their approaches to identifying and assessing key risks facing the entity especially as it relates to coordinating these efforts with strategic planning activities,” the researchers found.

According to the study:

Many argue that the volume and complexity of risks faced by organizations today continue to evolve at a rapid pace, creating huge challenges for management and boards in their oversight of the most important risks. Recent events such as Brexit, the U.S. presidential election, immigration challenges, the constant threat of terrorism, and cyber threats, among numerous other issues, represent examples of challenges management and boards face in navigating an organization’s risk landscape.

Key findings include:

Software May Help Oil Companies Determine a Location’s Earthquake Potential

New software for monitoring the probability of earthquakes in a targeted location could help energy companies determine where they can operate safely.

The free tool, developed by Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, helps operators estimate how much pressure nearby faults can handle before rupturing, by combining three important pieces of information:

  • Location and geometry of the fault
  • Natural stresses in the ground
  • Pressure changes likely to be brought on by injections

“Faults are everywhere in the Earth’s crust, so you can’t avoid them. Fortunately, the majority of them are not active and pose no hazard to the public. The trick is to identify which faults are likely to be problematic, and that’s what our tool does,” said Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford, who developed the approach with graduate student Rail Walsh.

Fossil fuel exploration companies have been linked to the increased number of earthquakes in some areas—Oklahoma in particular—that have been determined to be the result of fracking. According to the Dallas Morning News:

Only around 10% of wastewater wells in the central and eastern United States have been linked with earthquakes. But that small share, scientists believe, helped kick-start the most dramatic earthquake surge in modern history.

From 2000 — before the start of America’s recent energy boom — to 2015, Oklahoma saw its earthquake rate jump from two per year to 4,000 per year. In 2016, its overall number fell to 2,500, but its quakes grew stronger.

Five other states, including Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, have seen unprecedented increases in ground shaking tied to the wells, although North Texas had no earthquakes strong enough to be felt last year.

The insurance industry has also been monitoring the rise in temblors. A Swiss Re report concluded, “It’s highly likely that this dramatic rise in earthquake occurrence is largely a consequence of human actions.”

According to the report:

Along with the increase in seismicity, Oklahoma has seen a growth in its oil and natural gas operations since 2008, specifically hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) and the disposal of wastewater via deep well injection. Both hydrofracking and deep well injection involve pumping high-pressure fluids into the ground. A consensus of scientific opinion now links these practices to observed increases in seismic activity. Earthquakes where the cause can be linked to human actions are termed ‘induced earthquakes,’ and present an emerging risk of which the insurance industry is taking note.