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Thursday, 03 December 2015 06:00

Business Communications Continuity Goes Mobile

Written by  Andrew Silver

When your business communications network is down, or when weather or other disasters keep your employees from getting to the office, you're losing money with every minute. There is no doubt that business continuity is critical, but the question becomes what approach is best for you?

An AT&T survey found that 67 percent of companies have included wireless network capabilities as part of their continuity plans. In today's mobile-dependent world, that is no surprise.

There are ongoing costs associated with any emergency communications back-up plan. The ideal is one that assures continuity, but as cost-effectively as possible. Because any back-up plan costs you money during the 99 percent or more of the time when you don't need it, you want the best option and the best value, making a mobile phone-based approach worth looking at.

Disruptions

The first thing that comes to mind when people think about business disruption is an IT outage, some technical glitch that takes down the ability to communicate. That is far from the only potential problem.

The power might go out at a facility or remote site, with an outage lasting longer than the back-up power can handle. Weather problems and natural disasters – from blizzards to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and fires – can shut down sites or make it impossible for employees to get to work. There may be criminal or other security incidents that force a site to close temporarily.

Whatever the cause, your company needs to be sure that employees can continue to talk and text with customers, vendors, and each other.Silver-1

The Traditional Approach

The customary method of ensuring business communications continuity is to purchase redundant equipment for each company site, as backup in case of network problems, and then lease redundant circuits from the telephone company to assure connectivity.

This involves remote survivable gateways to make sure the site can remain connected to the main PBX or call handling system. When there is a network outage, the gateway becomes the lifeline, and the redundant phone circuits are pressed into use.

This approach has worked successfully for companies for years, but it is a costly option. Purchasing survivable remote gateways can cost up to $4,000 each, and at one for each site, a multi-site company can incur a significant equipment investment. Similarly, leased back-up circuits from the phone company can cost up to $450 each per month, and again, these need to be in place for each corporate site.

There are situations that the traditional approach cannot overcome. If a key phone company cable is cut by a backhoe, for instance, that precludes calls made over the phone network unless the local carrier has an alternate way to move those calls around the problem.

Also, if the problem is within the facility or is weather-related – such that the worker can't get to his or her desk phone or can't even get to work – the back-up equipment can't be accessed.

The Mobile Approach

Taking a mobile-centric approach to continuity leverages the mobile phones of employees. It's not important whether those phones are employee-owned, as in a bring-your-own-device environment, or company-provided.

With a software application added to each of those mobile phones, they could become back-up communications devices within seconds of any network outage.

An application that enables a dual identity on the phone presents two personas: business and personal. The business identity would display the employee's usual dial-in office phone number, and any calls or texts to or from that number would appear as business contacts. By separating the business side of the phone from the personal, it maintains privacy for the employee while presenting the business "brand" to customers, vendors, and others.

Such segmentation also allows the company to track all calls and texts made via the business identity, if employee reimbursement is necessary.

One advantage of a mobile-centric approach is that it uses the dependable public wireless network as the redundant path back to the data center and corporate network, eliminating the need for other forms of redundancy. The other advantage is cost, with the application requiring only a small monthly fee per phone, as opposed to communications hardware and redundant phone circuits.

Andrew SilverSilver-Andrew is CTO and co-founder of Tango Networks, which provides mobility solutions that make employees more productive and allow them to work more freely.

Determining the Cost of Downtime

There really is no "average" cost of downtime, despite what some people may argue. The reason is, there are so many factors involved that an "average" estimate is meaningless for your organization. So here are some basic calculations that can help you determine how downtime affects you:

Personnel costs and lost revenue are easily calculated, as you will see; more difficult to measure is the damage to your business due to customer dissatisfaction or bruised loyalty.

To determine the personnel cost, in this calculation W represents the number of workers affected, C the average hourly cost (pay plus benefits) of those employees, D the number of hours of downtime, and P the percentage that the employees are affected. The equation: W x C x D x P = your cost.

Let's say 50 employees are affected, at an average hourly cost of $28 per employee, for six hours, with their jobs impacted at about 70 percent. That works out to 50 x 28 x 6 x .7 = $5,880.

For potential revenue loss calculation, AR represents a company's annual gross revenue, while TH equals the total number of hours the business operates per year. PI is the percentage of impact (100 percent represents total inability to earn revenue). Finally, D is the number of hours of downtime. The equation is then (AR/TH) x PI x D.

Example: a company with $18 million in annual revenue, with 2,600 hours of annual operations (based on 10-hour weekdays), affected at 70 percent for six hours. The cost would be calculated at $6,923 per hour ($18 million/2600 hours) x .7 x 6 = $29,076.

In this scenario, the total cost of six hours of downtime for this company would be $34,956. It doesn't take much downtime to do real financial damage. Gauging the harm done to a company's reputation and customer loyalty is another matter. The question you have to ask yourself is how forgiving are your customers?