This is the last S9 Dispatch for 2023.
It’s been a helluva year.
In this newsletter, I’ll provide an overview of what I achieved In 2023. I’ll also provide a preview of my plans for 2024. The reason I’m doing this is to hold myself accountable for my achievements and my failures.
While I’ve been actively aiming to diversify my business since the pandemic, consulting remains fundamentally important to the overall health of my business. It’s what keeps the lights on. I still love the challenges that come with consulting projects, and would still do them even if I didn’t need to financially.
This year, I was privileged to work with some of the world’s best organisations on some very interesting projects. Here’s a snapshot of some of the major projects:
I also spent time in Laos and Vietnam working on smaller projects.
Extending from my work relating to Taiwan, I provided a briefing to Asia Crisis and Security Group (ACSG) members on the practicalities of planning for contingencies relating to conflict scenarios. I’ll be travelling to Jakarta in a few weeks to facilitate a crisis simulation for ACSG members, modelling the potential impacts of the Indonesia general elections.
It’s been a busy year for writing: 104 articles and 3 new books.
You might recall that last year I wrote one article a week on crisis management in the publication 51CM. I’ve since published these articles as a compilation in a book, available here.
This year, I took on two new weekly publications. The first publication, Dangerous Travels, covered a wide range of topics relating to travel safety and security. This publication was only for one year, and has now ended. The second publication, the Business of Security, focuses on different aspects of business from the perspective of an independent security professional. I’ll be continuing the Business of Security in 2024 and maybe beyond at this new site.
In all, I published a total of 104 articles. That’s quite a lot, and arguably too many.
Writing two articles a week is hard and I’m not always sure it’s the best use of my time. However, the key benefit to me as a professional is that writing these articles helps me to deepen my knowledge in my chosen specialities. Some of the consulting projects above have come about specifically because of my writing.
In 2023, I published four new books:
51CM is a compendium of articles. The other three books are smaller ‘companion’ references that relate to other books I’ve already published.
One book I thought I would finish this year but didn’t was ‘The Field Guide to Information Security’. This book is 80% written but I’ve hit a wall. The reason is because it’s impossible to provide an overview of information security. I could just say, “use strong passwords, use multi-factor authentication, use a VPN to access the internet, set up a phone specifically for travel to higher risk locations” etc. That would probably be a short (and probably useful) book.
However, as I was writing, I realised that I’d need to explain why people need to use strong passwords, what a strong password actually is, and how to manage that password. I also realised I’d have to explain what a VPN is and how it works. Moreover, I’d need to explain the different VPN protocols and the pros and cons of each. And so on with other topic areas.
The other complicating factor has been that information security is a moving feast. Since starting the book, I’ve had to make multiple changes to take into account new technologies, particularly relating to mobile operating systems. The reality is that once I publish the book, a week later some details will be out of date.
So, this is an ongoing project. I‘ll work on it when I have spare time and sufficient headspace. Finding sufficient headspace is becoming harder due to competing priorities.
I started work on a few other books this year. More on these in the preview for 2024, below.
Earlier in the year, I was sitting in a cafe in Hanoi working on my information security book. I needed a break, so started coding an application. As I worked on the application, I realised I was onto something.
The application is called ‘Incident Manager’ (I’m good at naming things).
Incident Manager is the culmination of hundreds of hours spent in the room with crisis and incident management teams watching as they struggle to navigate complex incidents. The objective of the application is to enable teams to effectively manage an incident. Rather than being an impediment to team performance, Incident Manager gets out of the way and enables each member of the team to be more effective.
Over the last few months, I’ve been running demos of Incident Manager to people I know and trust, and have been continuing to improve the application by making it more robust, secure and resource efficient. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time refactoring controllers (the app is made of models, views and controllers - the controllers are responsible for managing the flow of data and interactions between the models and views).
The application is in good shape and almost ready for launch.
More details below in the preview for 2024.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been tinkering with making and selling bags. I made several batches of the Street Satchel, which sold out. Early in the year I decided it was time to professionalise my approach to making bags.
Enter ‘Station XV’, our in-house brand for bags and accessories.
It’s been a long and hard road to get things to where they are now. To quickly recap the year, once I made the decision to professionalise my approach, my first priority was to find a manufacturer. I eventually managed to find a small-scale manufacturer. I wasted several months working with this manufacturer, only to have them disappear. Ghosted by what probably was a ghost factory. After spending several weeks looking for other options, I reached out to the folks at Challenge Outdoor and they referred me to a manufacturer in Vietnam. This company manufactures bags for some very prominent outdoor brands, including North Face, Osprey, Mammut, and many others.
In August, I spent a week in the factory in Saigon working with the sampling team to build the first prototypes of the bags. Then, in December, I spent another week finalising the pre-production samples. Production is scheduled to start late January 2024 and the bags are likely to ship to me in Singapore some time in February.
To say it’s been a challenge is an understatement. Wrangling suppliers has been very time consuming and at times very frustrating. At the same time, I’ve learned a lot about materials and manufacturing, which I will be putting to good use in 2024 and beyond. I’m also very happy with my designs and with my new manufacturing partner. Things are in a good place.
(That said, I received an email from the factory today saying that the webbing they’ve received has a significant amount of quality issues, so that’s one more problem to deal with.)
A sincere thank you to those of you who have pre-orders with us. I appreciate it’s been a long wait, but I’m confident it will be worth it.
All in all, while I didn’t achieve everything I set out to do in 2023, I’m okay with the end result. It’s was equal parts interesting and humbling.
Let’s look at what may happen in 2024.
In the sections below, I’ll outline my objectives for 2024. Of course, situations and circumstances can change, but it’s important to have a plan.
My objective with my consulting practice in 2024 is to focus on high-value consulting work. Specifically I plan to focus on the following:
As part of this process, I’ll continue to iterate the crisis response and crisis team performance frameworks I developed during 2022-2023. These frameworks are unique in the industry.
In my 20+ years of consulting, all of my training has been focused on the corporate (B2B) market. The majority of this training is necessarily bespoke, focused on specific client requirements. I’ve never had the need to offer training to individuals. However, over the past year, I’ve received a significant number of requests to provide training to individuals. In 2024, I’m going to try to work out how to do that in an economical way.
My Dangerous Travels 1-year limited series on Substack is now over. Just as well, because I’ll be leaving Substack due to their choice to be okay with white nationalists. This comes hot on the heels of leaving Twitter because of their willingness to embrace the far right and other undesirable subsets of society.
I’ve devoted most of my adult life to countering extremism, and I have a low tolerance for organisations and individuals who either embrace it or stand by while it festers. Even worse when companies profit from it. As I’m not from the US, I’m less concerned about people’s first amendment rights and more concerned about what’s healthy for civil society.
A key lesson for me is to own my work and the distribution channels for that work. Rather than relying on third party services who may or may not end up embracing extremism, I’ll be buying a few domains and exploring the option of building my own newsletter application.
Today, I coded a simple website for the Business of Security. I’ll be transferring posts across from Substack and then close down that Substack publication. After that, I’ll be finding a new home for this newsletter. It’s going to take some doing, but I think it’s the right approach for me.
My first writing priority for 2024 will be to compile all of my Dangerous Travels articles into a book. As I did with 51CM, I’ll do some light editing and then publish the book as a compendium. Those of you who were kind enough to take up paid subscriptions to Dangerous Travels during the year will receive a free copy of the book.
Over the year, I’ve made some significant improvements to our crisis response methodology and frameworks. I’ve done enough work in this area to warrant a re-write of some sections of the Crisis Response Handbook. I’m also considering writing a ‘Field Checklist for Crisis Response’, designed to provide practitioners with a ready reference they can use during an incident.
I’m hoping to find time to make some minor updates to The Guide to Travelling in Higher-Risk Environments. I might eventually get around to publishing this book on Kindle. Let’s see. The key challenge here is that every time I open the Kindle Create app on my Mac, it’s kind of awful. It’s hard to match the experience of publishing from Apple Pages to Apple Books (which could still be improved, but is already pretty seamless).
I’ve been working on and off on developing The Field Operator’s Aide Memoire. It’s a ready reference for all types of things, such as accommodation assessments, setting up helicopter landing zones, convoy planning, and responding to different types of contingencies (amongst many other things). I’ll try to get this finished in 2024.
I described my dilemma with this book earlier. I’ve invested enough time on this book to make it worth the effort to finish and publish. Let’s see if I have the fortitude to get it done.
I’m aiming for a soft launch for Incident Manager late in Q1. The next steps will be to get it on production in January, onboard a few clients to help kick the tires, then roll it out in Q2.
Working with another developer, a few years ago we developed an application called Whistler. Whistler is a simple and secure application for organisations to manage their whistle blower programmes. It’s a great application and deserves more of my time. In 2024, I’ll be dusting this one off, making a few updates, and re-launching.
As mentioned earlier, if all goes well, the first batch of bags will be manufactured during January / February 2024. The objective is to finish production before Tet. Once the bags are shipped to Singapore, the first priority will be to get bags to those patient folks with pre-orders. After that, I’ll be officially launching the brand.
While waiting for manufacturing, I’m focused on several things:
During the year, aside from hopefully selling a bunch of bags, I’ll be iterating the designs and prototyping the second batch of bags. I have several new bags currently in the prototype stage that I hope to get into production before the end of the year.
So, there’s a lot going on. 2024 will be hugely challenging, balancing consulting, training, writing, applications, and bags.
A huge thank you to my clients, past and present. I sincerely appreciate your trust and support. Particular thanks to those clients that continued to support me through the pandemic. Trying times for all, but we got through it and will be stronger for the experience.
Thanks also to the kindred spirits out there who have provided encouragement throughout the year.
All the best for a happy and successful 2024.
Onwards and upwards.