Redundancy vs. Duplication: Understand the Difference

Disaster-resilient organizations will have a level of redundancy that others don’t have.

by / November 14, 2014

Many people use the terms “redundancy” and “duplication” synonymously. They are not synonymous, especially when it comes to how we should use them to describe actions that increase our disaster resilience.

The real problem we face is that modern business practices have sought to save money by wringing every dime out of the cost of doing business by eliminating what’s seen as duplicative processes and capabilities.

These changes have been manifested in a number of ways.

Lean manufacturing: Seeks to eliminate any type of function that does not contribute to the manufacturing process to achieve the maximum efficiency from people and equipment. Overhead is kept to the absolute minimum.

Just-in-time inventory: Not long ago, there were warehouses with supplies that varied from raw materials to finished subsystems and components that were used in manufacturing. This is no longer the case. Now your inventory system is located on ships, trains and trucks that arrive just in time to be used in the next production cycle. 

Reduction in capacity: Excess capacity is something that takes away from the bottom line. Supply should meet demand and only when demand exceeds the existing capacity and running three shifts, seven days a week might you consider adding more capacity.

The Internet and globalization have enabled and accelerated many of the above factors, allowing the off-shoring of supply chains, and in some cases, manufacturing.

The interdependent nature of how systems operate today is often invisible to those who depend on others to provide basic services. It may require a bit of digging, but a cascading impact of system failures outside your control should be an element of one’s planning. What might you be able to do to absorb a loss and continue operating?

In doing the above, people and organizations have unwittingly been winnowing out levels of redundancy across the board. 

I’ll agree that duplication can be called a waste of resources. However, redundancy is the built-in capability to continue operations when people and systems are stressed and begin to fail. Business continuity planning and continuity of operations planning are the essential elements of figuring out where potential points of failure are located and to identify options for either replacing a system or process with another existing or alternative one that allows operations to continue. 

Sometimes we as emergency managers see an event happen in another locality and see how those events are directly transferable to our jurisdictional and organizational settings. That transferability is not always clearly evident to decision-makers who are more interested in the bottom line. It may be terrible to watch on television, but the invincibility factor of individuals is a strong element when it comes to allocating resources that could be directed to what are considered more productive and income-producing investments.

Previous minor events that have been called “disasters” can give people a false sense of security. “We survived that event; what do we have to worry about?”

I recommend that you listen for people using the words “duplication” and “redundancy.” Verify what they mean when using these words and then suggest that while duplication might be bad, redundancy is a value we need more of in this increasingly dangerous world.

Disaster-resilient organizations will have a level of redundancy that others don’t have. Now there is a competitive advantage waiting to be harnessed.

Eric Holdeman Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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