SPOF – The Single Point of Failure (People)

The concept of avoiding a single point of failure is not new. Information systems have long been developed to maintain high availability and good resilience if a component part fails.

The Internet is perhaps the most powerful example of a resilient system, designed to be almost self-healing with traffic being re-routed if a single, or series, of links fail.

However, most would agree that even greater than the Internet is the power of the people who make up a business. Without them nothing happens, no value can be created and no problem can be solved.

Within this valued asset, most businesses have a select few people that drive the organisation forward, while others play a supporting role. This is a normal and healthy balance but when things are going well it is easy to take them for granted.

Have you considered if any of your people are SPOFs themselves?

A single point of failure that could seriously damage or even close the business.
There are several elements to consider:

There is a reason you have employed each person in the business and they all have slightly different skills. Often these skills over-lap, allowing for holiday and sickness cover. Occasionally there is no over lap, perhaps a long standing employee has been reliable or their absence from the business has always been tolerable in the short term.

To manage a skills-gap you must first measure it, documenting which skills are in the business and where there are weaknesses. Then a backup such as cross-training can be implemented.

Over the years people accumulate a wealth of knowledge that enables them to perform their role as efficiently and effectively as possible. Important information about the operation of the business and its facilities may exist only in the mind of the responsible person.

Committing this information to record is only part of the solution. To support this, others in the business must also have the skills to apply the knowledge.

Relationships are important in business and should not be under-estimated as a potential single point of failure. The supply chain is of critical importance and should be protected from breakdowns caused by a human SPOF.


The subject of Single Points of Failure often arises during business continuity planning, when business disruption scenarios are discussed.

However prevention is better than cure, and the threat of these events should be managed to reduce business risk.

Find out more about Business Continuity Management:

– ISO 22301


Robert Clements
Robert Clements
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