Today, business owners are faced with increased and ever changing threats. Power outages, acts of God, fires, floods, computer hackers, virus attacks and even smaller interruptions can only equal one thing … unplanned downtime.
Whether it’s an environment-related catastrophe or small neighborhood blackout, these interruptions can cost your company thousands upon thousands of dollars in loss revenue, potential customer loss and even a reduced corporate image. Corporate executives are now being held accountable to their investors, employees, clients and vendors, which is why it’s important for all companies and organizations to create some type of disaster recovery plan or business process contingency plan that outlines steps on how an organization should deal with a potential disaster.
Yes, it’s quite possible that a company may never have to utilize this plan, but as a method to ensure best practices, it is an important step in making sure your company can remain up and running or be able to quickly resume business processes should any unwanted downtime occur – no matter how minor or major the circumstance.
According to a recent survey by the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), 65 percent of businesses feel their telecommunications is the weakest element of their business continuity plan. What’s worse is that despite the number of public disasters over the more recent years, many companies have yet to implement a telecommunications restoration plan and those that have, haven’t updated the plan on an as needed basis.
Disaster Recovery Using VoIP
Back in 2005, in the wake of an unprecedented series of natural disasters around the world, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Kevin J. Martin called for the U.S. government and its key vendors to incorporate the Internet into an emergency warning system that traditionally has been carried over television and radio stations. He said telecommunications providers need to “take full advantage” of IP-based technologies to enhance their networks.
Preparing to recover your voice systems can be intimidating and costly, until Hosted IP PBXs are considered. Within your disaster recovery plan, it is important to establish policies and procedures covering vendor services, staffing planning and security to facilitate sound telecommunications administration. Below are some best practices to help your organization assure telecommunication continuity and help meet its recovery time objectives (RTO) as it applies to your voice applications.
1. Highly Reliable Telecommunication Carrier Infrastructure
Most disaster recovery plans are centered on protecting the customer premise with costly systems at the customer’s location or at an alternative hot site, miles away. This is all in an effort to eliminate single points of failure. As you consider mitigating single points of failure at your location for your disaster recovery plan to be effective, you must first assess the resiliency and redundancy of your telecom provider’s network. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is my telecom provider’s network redundant?
- Does it have single points of failure?
- How many softswitches does the network maintain?
- Is my provider’s carrier grade phone systems set-up to be geographically diverse?
In a properly architected Hosted IP PBX model that is built for redundancy (multiple switches at many locations, with live failover), you can almost assure 100 percent inbound call capacity to any planned or unplanned recovery site. A holistic disaster recovery plan will always address site specifics and a remote recovery both at your site and your telecom provider’s.
2. Where is the Call Control Located Inside (or Outside) Your Building?
If the call control is maintained at your location, then there are many limitations that can lead to loss of productivity and revenue. Consider this: someone needs to be in the building and someone needs to call a PBX maintenance person. You can easily see how the finger pointing starts. If the local PBX vendor cannot solve the problem, then the fun really begins. Your callers will usually experience excessive wait and on hold times with the telecom carrier to reroute your calls before truck rolls (dispatching a technician to the premise). Hours literally start turning into days. Lost time means lost revenue and added customer frustration. For many who have experienced this situation in the past, it is not hard to imagine!
The ability to maintain all call control external to your building using a cloud computing model as described above can immediately satisfy most of your telecommunications continuity needs. But the real value is giving the company or the IT department maximum control over the telephony infrastructure outside and inside their demarcation (DMARC) point. With this added control that an IP PBX solution provides, your company will never miss a call. You can allow users, the IT department and/or first responders to reroute all incoming calls to home office numbers, recovery sites, or even a mobile phone, wherever or whenever you choose.
3. Component Redundancy
Traditional on-premise hardware vendors will stress the necessity of on-premise hardware redundancy and resiliency. While it is critical to have properly architected on-premise redundancy, buying redundant equipment is not always cost effective and still does not protect failures outside of your building. In a well planned hosted model, with the right network architecture, you will be able to easily mitigate most single points of failure without having to buy extra hardware. Furthermore, the customer is eliminated from the responsibility and the cost to secure their own (and their telecommunication carrier’s) infrastructure.
4. Ability to Work Remotely
If weather, illness, family issues, or a regionalized disaster preclude workers from working in their offices, remote office features from Hosted VoIP providers will allow employees to work from home comfortably, without incurring extra costs to your company. Your customers, vendors or shareholders will be unable to recognize that your employees are working from a remote location since inbound callers will not change their calling patterns (dialing and receiving calls from the same numbers as they did prior to the event). In addition, Hosted VoIP will simultaneously allow management to maintain control, having the ability to monitor exactly what their employees are doing, just as if the employee was working from the same office. This is made possible by applications that offer such capabilities such as call status monitoring, call reporting, call recording and quality control.
Below are two plausible scenarios using a hosted service that will change the impact any disaster has on your business.
Your sales team is the life blood of your company. The T1 goes down to your building and you are told it will take up to 4 hours to get it back up and running. At this point, if you were using a customer premise based phone system, any customers that are dialing your phone number will immediately receive a fast busy signal. However, with Hosted VoIP service, your sales team is still receiving calls because the call control is not located in the building. With Hosted VoIP, all calls can be easily routed to cell phones or any other phone ready device when a direct number or extension is dialed. Your customer’s call is answered, business continues, and your company does not recognize any revenue loss normally associated with a phone outage.
Your building experiences a catastrophic fire. You have a lot of work to do to rebuild and get the company back on its feet. Because you have chosen a Hosted VoIP service, during the fire your calls were still being answered by an auto attendant or voicemail. As a part of your disaster recovery plan, your calls are routed to another number or location – and it happened instantly. Within a few days, you had your employees working from home. Your voicemails were intact. With all of the things you had to deal with that day, because you opted for a hosted service, your communications were the least of your headaches.
Adopt VoIP as Your Primary Telecom Protocol
Telecommunications is a function that traverses all business units. To be successful, your plan should cover all business units, be documented (preferably online, but also hard copy) and most importantly, be tested, certified and well exercised. Maintain a centralized database listing telecommunications equipment, vendor information, such as origination of links, last-mile communications path, link endpoints and criticality of the supported business function. Create a communications structure that includes an escalation list of critical services, vendor contact numbers, and critical employee phone numbers. Most importantly, be sure to update this information on a quarterly basis and continue to test and audit your plan to ensure that it remains appropriate to the needs of the organization.
William Bumbernick is CEO of Alteva, North America’s largest provider of enterprise hosted VoIP. Bumbernick has more than 12 years of senior management and entrepreneurial experience in telecommunications, IT and managed services. Since 1994, Bumbernick has been involved at executive levels of leadership and boards of directors within the technology and telecommunication sectors. Since 2003, Bumbernick has been focused on emerging VoIP technologies with the success and tremendous growth of Alteva.