Melanie Lucht, MBCP, MBCI, CIC, CCM is the associate vice president and chief risk officer at Carnegie Mellon University. She launched the university’s first sustainable business continuity program as a senior manager six years ago. She currently leads its environmental health and safety, risk operations, and DR/BC efforts. Over the past 22 years, Lucht has held business continuity and risk management roles in insurance, medical device manufacturing, and banking.
In 2017, she was recognized by the Business Continuity Institute as the Continuity and Resilience Professional of the Year for the private sector. In 2018, she successfully completed the first offering of the chief risk officer (CRO) executive education program at the Heinz College. The only woman in the class of 16 executives, she was a member of the project team which achieved the program’s top honors. Lucht is a member of the Carnegie Mellon Women’s Association and serves on the advisory boards for Terra Dotta and Fusion Risk Management.
Lucht earned a Master of Science degree in administration of justice from Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University). She currently lives in Western, Pa., with her husband and son.
Rice: How would you differentiate the way disaster recovery and business continuity is approached in higher education compared with other industries?
Lucht: While disaster recovery and business continuity practices are well established in corporate settings, it is still a new and burgeoning field in higher education. My work in creating a program where none previously existed has allowed me to observe several broad concepts which may help others establish or maintain successful business continuity efforts into the future.
One of the key factors in building a business continuity program, particularly when it is not mandated by law, is fostering positive relationships with your constituents. Much of this starts with one conversation.
Rice: How did you get that one conversation started?
Lucht: When I began my career at Carnegie Mellon, one of my first actions was to meet with the committee members who interviewed me. My purpose was two-fold: 1) thank them for their confidence; and 2) seek input on how to successfully craft the framework for the business continuity program. I engaged my new colleagues, not as a subject matter expert in DR/BC issues, but rather, as a collaborator seeking their institutional knowledge to make our workplace safe and resilient.
The results were exactly what I hoped for. They provided insight and perspective on successfully navigating my new environment, and they gave me names of key stakeholders with whom I should begin building relationships. Through active listening in individual conversations, I developed my network of peers and business continuity champions. However, creating and maintaining this network takes more than just active listening; it requires curiosity, thoughtful and thorough questions, effective communication, transparency, and – most importantly – building trust.
Whether you are building or maintaining a program, these philosophies do not change. You are in a constant state of creating a network. People, processes, and technologies are in a perpetual state of evolution. This evolution occurs at a rapid pace given the advances in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and cybersecurity. The role of a business continuity professional is also evolving to meet the needs of a disruptive world.
Rice: What do you envision disaster recovery and business continuity evolving into?
Lucht: The solutions and approaches toward both business continuity and disaster recovery which worked only a few years ago may not apply today. A more holistic focus toward organizational resiliency and risk-informed decision making resonates more strongly with all members of an organization, whether it’s board members, leadership, or individual contributors. Approaching risks as though they are opportunities can be embedded into an organizational resiliency management program.
These opportunities demonstrate that, although not all risks can be eliminated, establishing a resilient culture aids in anticipating disruptions while delivering resiliency solutions. Risks and opportunities associated with an aging workforce and complex supply chains challenge us to be creative, benchmark what has worked for other organizations, and willing to try new approaches. Even having one conversation about potential resiliency strategies can minimize negative impacts while demonstrating transparency and fostering trust.
Rice: What is something today’s professionals can do to demonstrate the value of organizational resiliency?
Lucht: One of the ways in which organizational resiliency and risk-informed decision-making will blossom is by actively marketing this discipline toward the future. Ushering new generations of professionals into organizational resiliency is a responsibility we all should bear. We are the ambassadors of a profession which provides individuals with the unique opportunity to learn all aspects of how an organization operates.
Rice: Who is the resiliency professional of tomorrow?
Lucht: The resiliency professional of tomorrow will need to be someone who is not afraid to step outside of his or her comfort zone, to conduct outreach, and demonstrate more than just active listening. Curiosity, asking thoughtful questions, effective and transparent communication, and the ability to build trust will be highly sought-after attributes. Gaining the confidence of leadership and colleagues is the result of effective written and verbal communication. Consistency in quality work products and an ability to follow through on commitments are the hallmarks of our craft. This is not the profession for those who wait for business or technical requirements to be delivered to them.
Seeking and supporting the resiliency professional of tomorrow requires understanding the strategic priorities of the organization, foreseeing the potential barriers to achieving those priorities, and delivering solutions and contingencies which enable leaders to make sound decisions based upon risks and opportunities which align with their mission and values.
Rice: What are some of the opportunities you see emerging?
Lucht: Like many professions, the risks associated with rapid technology evolution, combined with an aging workforce and complex supply chains, allow us to routinely rethink what it means to be a resiliency professional. The ability to adapt, be flexible, and foster positive relationships will enable success as an organization evolves. Much of this all starts with one conversation.