Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst

By Michael Dozier

Disaster can strike your business at any time and in a variety of ways. Once an effective, well-designed, and professionally managed telephony disaster recovery plan is in place, you can rest secure in the knowledge that fire, flood, power outage, natural disasters, or other problems don’t mean a change in your business’s fortune.

Statistics about Disaster Recovery:

  • There were 102 disaster recovery declarations by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in 2016 and 136 in 2017. An even larger number of security, technology, network, and telecommunications outages and disruptions occur annually.
  • A Gartner study states, “Two out of every five companies struck with a major disaster are unable to recover. Of the survivors, one-third goes out of business within the next two years.”
  • Twenty percent of businesses experience an emergency failure in any given year, and 80 percent of those businesses will go under in just over a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Nearly 40 percent of small businesses close after a disaster, according to FEMA.
  • Only 25 percent of businesses that close due to a major disaster ever reopen, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Technologies and Mitigating Strategies:

In such circumstances, what technologies are available to businesses that might be used to keep telephony up and running 24/7? Start with session initiation protocol (SIP). SIP trunking offers high flexibility in the event of a disaster and has the capability to provide disaster recovery options for your business telephony. Most service providers offer:

  • Automatic Failover: In the event the primary T-1 or internet connection fails, calls automatically switch to a secondary, tertiary, or 4G LTE connections.
  • Automated Distribution and Rerouting of Calls: If your location fails to receive calls, calls are automatically rerouted between geographically diverse sites, to a designated off-site number, or another call center. This allows you to maintain receipt of inbound calls in the event of a power, system, or circuit failure.

Next look at disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS). Voice over IP (VoIP) needs to be at the core of any well-planned communications recovery strategy and should be used to bolster disaster recovery plans. Call centers with VoIP can expect a high availability in the event their system (either premise-based or hosted) fails or they lose connectivity to their system. Some key attributes of a failover, cloud-based backup system are:

  • Calls are automatically delivered directly to operator desktops via softphones.
  • Calling party ID and customer name or account number are delivered to the operator.
  • A cloud-based IVR provides multiple call queues, skills-based routing, and redirect of calls at the DID level.

The best line of defense in the event you lose the ability to work from your existing location due to fire, storm, power outage, or another disaster is a hot standby emergency system for remote continuity. Send employees home or to locations with internet access to work with a computer softphone and headset. You may be able to resume critical functions in minutes at a temporary location. The same key attributes of a failover, cloud-based backup system are available.

Finally, realize that communication continuity also depends on redundancy in the business continuity and disaster recovery provider’s infrastructure. Here are some criteria to consider:

  • Does the provider utilize redundant, geographically diverse data centers?
  • Are these data centers Tier 3 high-availability data centers or Tier 1 and Tier 2? Organizations selecting Tier 1 and Tier 2 solutions typically do not depend on real-time delivery of products or services for a significant part of their revenue stream.
  • Tier 3 data center services providers depend on colocation services for the critical lifeline of their business. Rigorous uptime requirements and long-term viability are usually the reasons for selecting strategic solutions found in Tier 3 and Tier 4 site infrastructure.
  • Is SIP trunk redundancy available? Insure connectivity of each SIP trunk to geographically diverse data centers, so if there is a data center issue, carrier issue, or other problem, the other takes over for all trunks and DIDs.
  • Is toll-free number redundancy available? In the event of a major failure at one carrier, all toll-free numbers are activated on a secondary carrier.
  • Do they provision DIDs to multiple carriers to terminate traffic? In the event of a major failure at one carrier, not all DIDs are out of service.
  • Does each of their data centers have connectivity to multiple national networks? If there is a problem with quality or service issues with one network, calls are routed to another.

A true business continuity telephony solution needs to be able to handle any kind of problem, no matter how big or small. Whatever disaster recovery methods for telephony a company uses, the effectiveness of the whole recovery plan will have a massive impact on how well a company deals with the disaster.

Create a Telecommunications Disaster Recovery Plan:

  • You need a serious plan if your regular communication method fails. Consider how your employees will react to the change in communication as well. Both customers and employees are key to your business running smoothly. Take both into consideration as you develop your plan.
  • Create a well-written document regarding how your telecommunications systems operate. Include important information like failover specifications and remote capabilities. Some issues can be resolved remotely with the proper plan in place. Be sure to document any critical operation functions and any service level agreements associated with them. Include the technical support reporting processes and escalation processes and contact information for all critical providers.
  • Identify the potential crisis that may affect your business telecommunications systems and create well-defined procedures to handle each crisis. Make sure various departments within your organization review the procedures, and make adjustments and addendums as necessary. Be sure to plan for the transition for resumption of service. Lastly, create roles and responsibilities for employees overseeing business continuity and recovery efforts. Does staff know where they should work from in the event of a disaster recovery plan being implemented?
  • The best way to ensure that your disaster recovery plan is effective is to implement a test.

Establish, develop, and manage strategies, plans, policies, and procedures to protect your people, facilities, and supporting technology in case of a disaster. Make sure your organization is prepared for the worst.

Michael Dozier is president and CEO of Pulsar360, Inc., a leading provider of SIP services and disaster recovery solutions for call centers.