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What IP Contact Center Means to Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

By Grant Sainsbury

 

Disaster Recovery is the process an organization follows to identify and rectify the cause and symptoms of a major service-affecting event. Business Continuity (BC) is the process an organization follows to ensure it can keep transacting or serving its customers while a Disaster Recovery (DR) plan is being executed.

Today, many organizations have established some kind of DR plan or have at least thought about one and understand its value. Despite the growing popularity of DR plans, a much smaller proportion of companies have created a BC plan. For the contact center, the most important question is: What is the cost to the business for every minute that the contact center is offline in terms of lost direct revenue or, even worse, lost customers which would equate to lost long-term revenue? When you look at the contact center in terms of lost revenue, the case for a sound business continuity and disaster recovery plan makes sense regardless of how small your contact center is or whether or not you outsource it.

How Do You Address Business Continuity in the Contact Center?

Business Continuity needs to be addressed in all facets of the contact center dynamic: people, process, and technology. How will different disaster scenarios impact contact center staff? If they can�t get to their usual place of work, what are the alternatives? Are there other resources in the organization that can absorb the additional workload of an empty contact center? How long might staff be required to work in an alternative location? What are the essential tools and applications a contact center needs to be effective? What are the different ways they can be provided? Will an event that, for example, stops contact center agents coming to work likely affect the availability of the technology components of the contact center?






Disasters are not limited to natural phenomenon such as floods, blizzards, and hurricanes �� all examples of things that might stop people in a region from coming to work �� but failures in technology and telecommunications, as well as malicious activity (an attack on the company Web site or worse) also constitute a disaster. A good DR plan will address all the �what if� questions and offer a solution to each.

Ways Voice over IP (VoIP) supports DR and BC plans

With a distributed workforce, contact center agents are not bound by the reach of a wired PBX (News - Alert) extension. A single IP ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) can support agents across the country or the world. Today, agents can be located anywhere IP voice can be delivered including the home or even mobile telephone extensions. The fact that the call traverses a VoIP infrastructure allows for full support of important contact center operational functions such as quality monitoring, supervisor monitoring, real time reporting, and agent state visibility and control. Because a VoIP infrastructure easily includes a distributed workforce, it also enables the distributed workforce to be used to mitigate localized disasters.

With a distributed workforce that is linked via VoIP, the core contact center technology can be located in purpose-built, geographically diverse sites, rather than in the same buildings or cities as the contact centers themselves. An IP-based contact center infrastructure is often best architected around the data network with an appreciation for the call flows that need to be supported. Purpose-built data centers are designed to withstand a greater array of disasters, while many contact center locations are not designed with that thought in mind.

As IP contact centers are software-based and often run on industry standard platforms, the time to recover from a disaster is often shortened. This fact makes it important to integrate the contact center into an enterprise�s data protection plan (backup and recovery).

Important Steps You Can Take

First, IP contact centers should be designed with no single point of failure � from the links to the telecommunications network to the phones and desktops of the contact center agents. In an IP contact center, there are typically more nodes (servers, gateways, routers, switches, etc.) than in a TDM environment, and those nodes are deployed ideally in a distributed manner. This means the net effect of a single component failure will have a diminished, hopefully negligible, effect on the overall capacity and effectiveness of the contact center.

Second, companies should consider the increased use of self-service technologies to support business continuity plans. The Web site will be unaffected by many disasters that will affect the contact center, but the challenge is how to handle the voice calls. Enterprises may opt to have additional capacity in their IP-based IVR (Interactive Voice Response) designs to allow for such an incident. In the VoIP world, IP functionality becomes a software application and node capacity is generally driven by the processing power of the server it runs on, not on the traditional limitation of voice trunk termination cards. This makes investment in IP-based IVR capacity generally less expensive than the TDM equivalent. Investments in speech self-service applications, which are capable of relatively high completion rates of increasingly complex call types, may be a viable temporary solution to business continuity even if it is not considered a mainstream channel for day-to-day operations.

If circumstances call for the contact center, or specifically its operations, to be relocated, then VoIP makes that task significantly easier than with a TDM switch. Traditionally, contact centers might have looked to other local, non-competitive contact centers and sought to make a partnership to use one another�s spare capacity in a range of circumstances. The ability to swing data circuits and re-route traffic means new temporary contact center premises can be established with remarkable speed, especially if contingency plans already exist.

Third, employees� personal situations should be considered as part of any planning process. If your contact center experiences a physical outage due to a hurricane, it is most probable that your contact center employees will also be affected. Part of any plan should include that possibility, so another region of your operation can cover for the affected area.

Summary

Good proactive planning in the face of disaster is critically important. You must think about the ways in which your people, your technology, and your business will be affected by a disaster and carefully develop a plan that takes every possible situation into consideration. Through careful planning and regular audits � as well as revisions to the plan based on new business situations, technology and objectives � a business continuity plan will stand up to the rigors of an evolving business. IT

Grant Sainsbury is Practice Director for Customer Interactive Solutions at Dimension Data North America. For more information, please visit www.dimensiondata.com.

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