SOURCE: Aspect Software

June 13, 2006 08:00 ET

Confronted by Major Catastrophe -- Will Your Customers Be Able to Contact Your Business?

The Following Is a Statement From Roger Sumner, Senior Vice President of the Technology Office at Aspect Software.

WESTFORD, MA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- June 13, 2006 -- June 1 was the advent of what has been forecasted to be a very active hurricane season for the North Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center has eight to 10 becoming hurricanes for 2006, of which four to six could become 'major' hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. With Hurricane Katrina still very fresh in our memories, companies should be more aware than ever that planning and preparation, particularly with regard to critical business systems, such as the contact center, is of the utmost importance.

Both global events and legislative initiatives demand that companies take a closer look at how they would support their contact centers in the event of a disaster. There are a number of factors your organization should take into consideration when building a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

Consider All the Possibilities

First acknowledge that the term "disaster" encompasses a lot of unpleasant possibilities. Get specific about the types of problems your contact center might face:

--  Facility disaster -- the building is damaged
--  Facility downtime -- power is cut from the facility or personnel cannot
    get to the facility
--  Component disaster/downtime -- one or more hardware components within a
    facility are destroyed or disabled
--  Application disaster/downtime -- one or more software applications
    residing on hardware within the facility are destroyed or disabled
--  Data disaster -- data is corrupted or lost
--  Network disaster -- data networks are compromised or disabled
--  Security disaster -- company security for internal information is
    breeched and data is destroyed or modified
A comprehensive disaster recovery plan needs to encompass processes and solutions that will address each type of potential problem.

Ask the Right Technology Questions

So how do you know if your disaster recovery plan is current and meeting management's expectations? "Disaster recovery" means different things to different people, but whether your definition focuses on high system availability, system recovery, or system redundancy, it's important to look at both the technology you have in place and the processes around that technology.

Before you can develop an effective disaster recovery plan, you need to answer these questions about your contact center technology:

1. Is the system redundant within itself? Does it have redundant internal
2. Is full redundancy required in a disaster situation?
3. Can you run two systems, one primary and one backup, in two different
4. Can each of the systems -- same location or not -- be configured to
   handle the load for all transactions if one fails?
5. Would the two systems share the load under normal operation?
6. Does the system have a hot or cold standby if redundant concurrent
   systems are not desired/required?
7. Does the hot standby system -- a system that runs simultaneously with
   the primary system and is mirrored in real-time -- automatically start
   in the case of failure, or is manual intervention required?
8. Can the cold standby system -- a system that is only called upon when
   primary technology fails and has regularly scheduled data backups --
   automatically/remotely be started in case of failure, or is manual
   intervention required?
Build People and Processes into the Plan

It's not enough though to have just the technology backed up. You also need to have processes in place for every possible type of disaster. For example:

--  Do your contact center employees know what to do if business continuity
    is interrupted?
--  Do they know where they should go to work, or if they have access to
    hosted applications that allow them to access contact center applications
    remotely from undamaged locations?
--  Will there be agents in other geographic areas who can log in and service
    the affected areas?
--  Are self-service applications required to free up agent resources for
    critical matters?
--  Is someone charged with ensuring that your self-service options are
    automatically updated?
--  Are scripting applications in place, and up to date, to allow for uniform
    customer service in case agents have to temporarily take on unfamiliar
    roles, and have agents been made aware of this possibility?
--  Are customer relationship management applications in place, and up-to-
    date, that will allow access to uniform customer information, and have the
    agents been trained to use the applications?
Assistance in developing a contact center disaster recovery plan can be found with most contact center solutions vendors. They can provide guidance on how to manage redundancy or failover and recovery processes with your existing contact center technology, as well as help your organization document and categorize all of the contact centers and services your organization provides and determine the impact a disruption will have on those systems. Specifically, they can look at the cost of redundancy and fail-safe systems versus the mission-critical value of your centers. Naturally, some companies' centers are not as mission critical as others, so each company needs to decide if the cost has a valid return on investment.

They can also make recommendations regarding redundancy on each system, based on the suggested levels of recovery and the requirements around each of those systems. In many cases, extra components or software may not be required because the existing component is covered under the recovery plans for hardware and/or software that the contact center already has in place. This can be determined during the discovery process.

The contact center should also be sure to coordinate its disaster recovery plans with the rest of the organization. There may be some overlap, and it is important not to assume that another area of the business is taking care of supporting the systems that overlap with the contact center.

Also, if you are outsourcing any portion of your contact center initiatives, you must be sure that the outsourcer vendor has its own recovery plans in place. Sarbanes-Oxley, in the United States, requires organizations to provide evidence of business continuity plans and this includes vendor-provided services as well, including outsourced services.

The best disaster recovery plan is worthless if it isn't updated continually and tested regularly. All too often, call centers invest large amounts of time, money, and other resources into developing a plan but make the mistake of ignoring the maintenance required to keep the plan effective and efficient. The financial impact of relying on an untested or outdated plan can be devastating.

Natural and technological disasters can be business disasters as well -- but they don't have to be. Businesses that proactively select and implement the appropriate disaster-recovery technologies and processes can keep disruptions in customer service to a minimum and keep revenue flowing in spite of unfortunate events.

Roger Sumner is Senior Vice President of the Technology Office at Aspect Software. For more information, email or visit

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