A mini case study in horizon scanning

Swissgrid has instituted smart risk management systems for spotting things that could go wrong before they happen.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 07 Aug 2020

We often don’t recognise that we’re facing a serious threat to our businesses until it’s too late, whether that's from faulty systems or under-the-radar disruptors. 

Fortunately, there are some organisations that are by necessity very good at horizon scanning, which we can learn from.

Professor Robert Kaplan co-authored a Harvard Business School case study that illustrates how one such firm - Switzerland’s electricity distributor Swissgrid - instituted three processes that distinguish routine risks from novel risks.


When a potentially novel threat emerges, for example a significant regulatory change or cyber breach, Swissgrid’s senior risk officer holds a workshop involving senior figures from all business divisions to ask ‘could this happen here’? An action plan is then presented to the leadership team.


Swissgrid installed an app on employees’ company phones to allow them to report technical problems or safety concerns in real time. Although most of these are routine risks, some may in fact be signs of a novel threat. A central team assesses them, looking for patterns and acting as the company’s “chief worry officers”.


Swissgrid created a crisis management platform shared with the country’s police, army and other state agencies. Whenever any one of them identifies an issue that could impact the electricity supply - whether it be a traffic jam or an avalanche - they report it on the platform, giving the company’s risk managers more time to recognise potentially disruptive situations.

Read more about how COVID-19 has changed how we should see risk here

Image credit: George Rose/Getty Images


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