So where are you vulnerable?
In an era when the transfer of information around the world takes only seconds, waiting hours, or even days, to re-establish a company’s communication links with its customers is simply not an acceptable solution. Clearly, your telecommunications system is the “weakest link”.
According to Philip Jan Rothstein, FBCI, President, Rothstein Associates Inc. “The unforgiving nature of continuous availability of business and web-based processes goes far beyond the technical complexities of recovering disrupted computing platforms, office operations or networks. Customer service, help desk, and call centers are integral to any business.
Surprisingly, until recently, the tools to maintain robust availability of these critical customer-contact functions have been lacking”.
Further, Richard Cooper, CEO of Business Protection Systems a leading business continuity planning solution provider commented, “As part of our holistic approach to business continuity and risk management planning, Business Protection Systems have looked for best of breed solution providers to compliment our planning deliverables.
Telecommunications recovery is a concern for every company. Until recently a company had to rely on their Telco provider and/or expensive redundant systems”.
Disaster recovery solutions for telephone systems have come a long way due to advances in technology. In years past, recovery was based upon the concept of the ‘Recovery Vehicle’ providing a replacement switchboard (PABX) or “switch” within a specified period - normally within 12 -24 hours. A further period of up to three days may also be required if the selected ‘back-up site’ needs to be cabled to receive the replacement system.
More recently, alternative solutions have become available through the advent of ‘Hot Sites’. These facilities contain conventional switches that can be specifically programmed to ideally replicate the switch that is no longer available as a result of the ‘Disaster’ that has just occurred in a Client’s premises. In theory, a Hot Site facility may appear to constitute a viable Business Continuity solution in that it provides a readily available alternative location from which to work. In reality, migration to such a facility can present additional problems that must be addressed before re-establishing ‘Business as Usual’. A successful ‘transfer’ relies upon the availability of the switch programming engineer or the regular updating of the configurations to reflect the constant changes of staff, schedules and other HR related issues. It is likely that the ‘back-up’ switch will inevitably require a certain amount of ‘adjustment’- which, again, will delay an effective return to handling customer’s incoming calls.
The number and availability of ‘Hot Sites’ is increasing, however availability of such facilities remain limited due to location. Consequently, relocation to your contracted Hot Site may require additional traveling to and from that site by your workforce - which needs organizing at extremely short notice. Relocation of all or part of your workforce creates a separate list of personnel issues that require detailed planning and execution.
It is not economically practical for a company to consider relocating 100% of its workforce to an alternative ‘Hot Site’ location, which is needed to effectively duplicate most, if not all, of a company’s office overheads. In reality, many companies choose to relocate only their ‘mission critical’ personnel. This amounts to anywhere between 20/25% and 80% (in the case of financial institutions and the like) of the workforce. Of course this poses two fundamental questions, namely, where do the rest of the workforce go to carry on working? In addition, how does a company’s customers continue to communicate with these staff in a seamless and efficient manner?
Another possible disaster recovery solution for a company’s telephone system would be to add a duplicate switch. Duplicate switches have provided large corporations some level of redundancy that meets certain mission critical requirements although economics and availability of technical resources play a major part in this alternative.
So, what does a company do first when considering Business Continuity or Disaster Recovery?
The need for a comprehensive Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery plan, for a company’s IT and data systems, has been accepted as good business practice for a number of years. At some stage, most, if not all companies that rely on computer technology have considered the implementation of a Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery plan. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a company’s telephone network. This is perhaps surprising given every company’s increasing reliance on global communications. A company’s individual telephone system has many applications such as the transfer of data via Wide Area Networks, access to the Internet, e-mail, e-commerce, video conferencing, etc as well as conventional voice and fax communication, including the delivery of Direct In Dial (DID) functionality. Therefore, the inability to use a company’s telephone system affects many aspects of business functions.
While the writing of a plan is important to the overall success and survival of your business, there are common sense steps you should take along the way.
First, examine why you want to write a telecommunications business continuity plan:
Many companies have valid reasons for not writing and implementing a business continuity plan.
Believing that “it can’t happen to me”, lack of funds or other priorities are just a few of the more popular arguments we hear. The desire to continue a viable and functional business, in the face of any business interruption, is a serious commitment that starts at the top and is supported at all levels in the organization. Commitment requires focus and establishing business continuity as a business priority.
Second, a company must evaluate where they are today:
Once the company is committed to developing a plan, it must look at the business and decide what could go wrong and what effects will it have on the overall business. If you live in California, you can expect to deal with earthquakes and rolling blackouts. In the Midwest it’s snowstorms, flooding and thunderstorms and in the east it’s hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters.
All communities face environmental risks and the growing threat of domestic terrorism. Define the known risks and define the impact they will have on your business.
Third, clearly define where you want to be:
What is the minimum level of service you can deliver to your customers? What level of communications can fail and for how long? What would happen if you lost your telecommunications capability for 1 hour, 4 hours or even several days? When you least expect it, you may find that the weakest link in your telecommunications system is the underground cable that is cut two miles up the road. What will you do then?
Fourth, now that you have committed to having business continuity as part of your corporate culture, defined the risks and business impact, defined what it takes to keep your business as a viable entity; it is now time to generate a plan:
With the growing awareness of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery, we have seen the emergence of many organizations that can help you develop the plan and take you through the process. While you may choose to seek professional assistance in the development of your plan, always remember that it is YOUR PLAN and it is what YOUR survival depends on.
Lastly, once you have a plan always remember that change is a constant. Update and review your plan on a regular basis that fits your business, your environment and your people.
So, what is your weakest link? Most likely, it is your telecommunications links.
inding a telecommunications model that fits your needs requires you to look long and hard at what is needed when a business interruption occurs. This interruption can range from sliced telephone cables serving a particular premises or evacuation of your building following a simple gas leak, to the more serious fire, flood, earthquake or explosion. Most interruptions affect people’s ability to get to their telephones. A credible Business Continuity solution for any telecommunications system (voice and data) must provide a flexible means of re-routing calls, on an individual (DID) and/or group ‘service’ basis, to 100% of the workforce wherever they may be (re)located. It is imperative to your business that this process is done quickly, seamlessly and efficiently.
An ideal solution would be one that is capable of delivering a very flexible re-routing of calls with ‘real time’ and remote management control - all as the disaster unfolds. True flexibility allows for 100% of the calls to be automatically re-routed on an individual (DID) and/or group basis, all according to a pre-configured Call Plan set up prior to the actual disaster. The individual calls can then be rerouted to any global site that has access to a standard telephone such as an employee’s home, another branch office, a mobile phone, etc.
In dealing with a business interruption, management control is critical. As the scope and nature of the interruption unfolds, supervisors, managers and executives, located anywhere in the world must monitor what is happening on a real time basis. Telecommunications real time operating statistics are critical. Management must be able to re-prioritize and re-schedule call plans as the nature and demands of the interruption becomes clear.
Simply stated, your telecommunications recovery solution must give you the ability to remotely monitor what is happening to all of your incoming calls and to efficiently manage them by making changes (fine-tuning) to a company’s Call Plan ‘on the fly’ on a real time basis. Your solution must be engaged in seconds or minutes, not hours. Nothing less should be acceptable.
Being a guest of Anne Robinson on her show may be fun or it may be challenging but living with the weakest link in your business can be critical to your company’s existence.
Richard E. Floegel currently serves as the CEO of GemaTech, Inc., a recently launched expansion of GemaTech UK. It develops and markets (respectively) innovative infrastructure products for the Telecommunications industry, specifically - Virtual Call Center, Remote Worker, Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery, and other associated solutions such as Voice Recording and Least-Cost Call Routing. Mr. Floegel has 30 years of experience in the information processing industry.