Workplace Recovery - ensure your technical requirements are met

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The issues facing many firms considering subscribing to Workplace Recovery facilities go further than merely the location, number of seats available or subscription cost.

There are technical issues, regarding the security of voice and data systems, particularly in the event of a company sharing facilities with someone else.

Telephony solutions, mirroring of PC set-ups and the risk of your BC supplier having multiple invocations all raise issues for today's BC manager trying to ensure a fast, secure recovery. In our experience, customers are always looking for faster recovery solutions, but recent events have made them increasingly conscious of the risks of multiple invocations.

Keeping your people and your information (be this data or intellectual capital) connected is a vital part of ensuring the availability of your business, addressing as it does people issues, technology issues and communications issues. In our experience this

three-pronged 'information availability' approach is essential to moving business continuity to the next level.

Telephony

One of the key areas of concern following interruption or disaster is the handling of voice communications - in terms of both volume and technology employed. While the use of email and web chat increases, these forms of communication will never replace the need to talk to customers and suppliers. For this reason, no matter how quickly a company recovers its data and computer systems, if it is unable to make or receive phone calls efficiently, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it has ceased to exist.

The delivery of calls to the right person at time of disaster is highly complex and requires the input of customer IT staff specialising in this field. Yet in our experience telecom IT staff are rarely involved in the business continuity process, while BC managers rarely understand the complicated telephony issues.

Three problems need to be considered. Firstly, the redirection and handling of Geographic Direct Dial Inward (DDI) calls bearing in mind the second problem, that the number of calls received invariably increases in the event of a disaster as consumers look for reassurance. In our experience, to overcome these two issues cost-effectively requires complex configurations running on highly advanced telephony platforms, and in multiple invocations this creates the third problem; the swift uploading of multiple configurations onto the telephony environment without interrupting service to companies who have already recovered - and without misdirecting calls either.

Looking at these problems in turn, because of the cost involved in redirecting multiple geographic numbers (numbers beginning 01 or 02), recovery contracts tend to redirect potentially hundreds of DDI numbers to a single number. In simple telephone recovery environments, these are then answered by an operator and connected to the correct person. Whilst this sounds simple, it is worth recalling that today, most businesses receive a lesser number of calls via the switchboard operator, and most go via DDI numbers. In a disaster you have an upsurge of calls, a reduction in personnel to perhaps 20-30 per cent of workforce and a loss of DDI functionality, so the standard operator driven re-direction of DDI is based upon handling many more calls than your switchboard operator normally would. Therefore, if possible, BC managers should aim for telephony solutions, which require few or no operators, as a manual redirection process can take time and is often rife with errors. Customers calling for reassurance do not want to be put through to the wrong person.

To alleviate these problems, BC managers should look for recovery centres with telephone switches capable of delivering services such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Automated Attendant and Automatic Call Distribution. These automatically redirect calls to the right person with no need for operators or a bespoke DDI redirection service, regardless of the location of the person within the recovery centre.

If the solution is deployed correctly, staff can simply log in and out via the telephone handset when they arrive and leave their desks, and incoming calls will be directed to them using an IVR system to capture the right extension number.

SunGard believes this solution is so key to a successful recovery that it provides it as part of its standard service, with each customer provided with their own, unique configuration and DDI numbers to enable them to set up redirection with their telecom provider. With your own BC provider, insist on regular testing to maintain the telephony configuration to match the capabilities of your own system.

Multiple invocations and telephony

If telephony has been considered in the recovery plan and a bespoke configuration has been created, this is downloaded to the PABX at time of disaster. However, this creates three problems in a multiple invocation scenario. Firstly, each invoking party must have a unique DDI number to redirect calls to; otherwise calls may be mixed up. Secondly, each party needs to operate within their own, discrete and secure partition on the PABX to ensure calls are not transferred or overheard by the wrong party. Since few switches have this facility, or alternatively it is limited to a maximum of two 'tenants', maintaining confidentiality can be a real problem without the right PABX. Finally, the biggest problem to be overcome is that of loading multiple customer configurations into these discrete tenant partitions, without interruption to the PABX operation. SunGard has developed a proprietary software tool, SunGardCallControl, to establish multiple customer environments discretely, with no loss of security, functionality or speed of recovery. This is done without affecting any 'incumbent' customers.

Systems like this require the BC manager to maintain plans and send updates to the provider so they can include it in the configuration file. If this happens, on arrival at the recovery centre, the staff merely login to whichever desk they have been allocated and start to receive calls as normal without any of the delays which manual call redirection would cause.

Multiple invocation - can your supplier handle it?

Workplace recovery is dogged by a particular question - what happens if someone else invokes at the same time as me? Simultaneous invocations on the same workplace recovery facility, while dramatic and difficult to manage, are arguably less disruptive than consecutive invocations, provided the facility has been set up correctly.

In a simultaneous recovery, the invoking parties are aware of the difficulties of the other and tend to work together to mutual benefit. The result may be that while recovery times may be longer than normal, the additional disruption is 'shared' by both parties. In my opinion, the more difficult question to ask is what happens if someone else invokes a few days after me? The first invoking party has already recovered from one disaster; will he then suffer further disasters while the second or third party recovers, and while he is preparing to return home?

Experience has shown that if the first invoker is not to be disrupted, the subsequent parties will experience a considerable delay in meeting their recovery objectives. This is why we have developed technology and methodologies that ensure that whether the invoking party is first or last, the plan and recovery objectives remain the same and can be met.

Andrew Waterston is a product development manager at SunGard

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