Disaster plans disregard communication

According to a recent Web poll, almost half of respondents indicated that they have no plans in place at their organizations to recover communications systems affected by a disaster.

The poll, which was conducted over a three week span in June by unified communications provider Topcall Corp., indicates that many organizations aren’t protecting their communications systems in case of disaster.

When asked which technologies were viewed as critical within the organization, e-mail came out on top with 76 per cent of respondents viewing it as essential. Phone came next with 65 per cent; 38 per cent of respondents indicated that enterprise fax is mission critical.

“E-mail has been used in a more mission critical way than voice, over this evolutionary process that we have had with business communications,” according to Denis O’Neil, Dallas, Tex.-based president of Topcall. He explained, applications for customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) often ship with communication capabilities. Although disaster recovery plans usually cover these heavy apps, protection methods rarely cover the embedded e-mail functionalities therein.

Although 76 per cent of respondents said e-mail is mission critical, only 60 per cent indicated that the system within their organizations is protected. For the 65 per cent that said voice was mission critical, only 35 per cent are protecting these systems.

This is because some systems haven’t been mission critical for long, according to O’Neil. He pointed out that companies are using advanced communications, including e-mail and even text messaging for mobile employees, more than ever before. He cited this shift in business practice as the main reason why many organizations will soon start singing a different tune when it comes to protecting the systems.

Stephanie Atkinson, San Antonio, Tex.-based business telecom analyst with Frost & Sullivan, said that although she is surprised that a higher percentage of respondents choose e-mail over voice as being mission critical, she does understand the logic behind it. She said e-mail is now considered to be a ubiquitous tool in business and is critical to revenues and sales.

“I do not, however, think that e-mail will phase out voice. I think there is a bigger chance that packet-based communications will someday phase out circuit-switch communications.”

O’Neil agreed, saying that although e-mail has gained a lot of popularity, voice communications will always have a place in business.

“As a matter of fact we have customers that instead of sending out a postal reminder or a fax that a bill is late, what they’ll send out is a voice message and it will be a nice, friendly voice message to go on somebody’s answering machine at home. Businesses think this method saves money and is less cold.”

At IKEA Canada in Montreal, voice definitely wins out over e-mail, according to Gerry Wong, manager of the company’s call centre. Wong said the call centre receives between 200 and 300 e-mails daily, but over 10,000 phone calls.

“I’m surprised other organizations are placing that much significance on e-mail. I guess that’s how they are receiving the bulk of their communication.”

Wong thinks the recent Ontario blackout will heighten awareness of the need for disaster recovery plans. He said that within 10 minutes of the lights going out in eastern North America, his call centre – which was unaffected by the blackout – became the hub of operations for IKEA stores in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We were able to update customers and put out the interactive voice response (IVR) and put information on IKEA’s Web site including what services were being provided and what stores were open,” Wong said.

O’Neil said he was surprised to learn from the poll results that business communications are not a part of so many companies’ disaster recovery plans. But Frost & Sullivan’s Atkinson said it’s typical.

“It is not a concern until it happens, and this is why many businesses are more aware of disaster planning after Sept. 11 and the [power] outages,” Atkinson said.

O’Neil agrees that recent disasters in North America will awaken organizations’ sense of protection.

“The blackout is definitely something that will make people see this. When a whole grid goes out, that is really quite scary.”