What plans does your business have in place for the unexpected? Can you continue to work, service customers, and bring in an income if all your telecoms are down? It seems the unexpected is happening more frequently – think back to the Holborn fire and the West Country flooding. Unexpected, severe, and highly disruptive. It is not just these major incidents that cause disruption to a business’s telecoms - it can just be a fault.
That fault can affect one business or many as happened in Brighton when a lorry took out a complete BT cabinet cutting off over a hundred businesses for three weeks. Imagine three weeks with no phone lines and no Internet! In this case, it was interesting to notice the different levels of preparedness from the various businesses affected. Those that had plans in place coped a lot better. They could continue almost as ‘business as usual’ and ensure that the business was operational and earning.
They had also worked out what the cost of lost telecoms meant to them and were therefore prepared to pay to reduce the risk or to have a contingency plan in place.
Different levels of investment
This applies to both big and small firms – in all almost every industry. The only difference between them is the level of investment required to ensure there is a back-up in place.
Let’s look at two very different examples: Pubs and restaurants increasingly rely on PDQs (credit card machines) to take payments. Many of them have reduced their telecoms needs to just one phone line and a broadband, in order to save money. However, a fault on the line that affects the broadband late on a Friday afternoon could mean three evenings trade being affected. That could run to losses of thousands – after all how many of us go the pub with cash these days? An extra phone line would cost £150 a year – this would enable the PDQs to be connected in the event of a problem and allow them to continue to take payments as normal – no loss of custom or income. As a business you need to assess the risk and put a cost effective contingency plan in place.
At the other extreme the absence of phone communications could cost a hedge fund around £1m an hour – needless to say they’d be willing to make a much bigger investment to ensure continuity of their telecoms. For example, they could use a mixture of ISDNs and SIP from different providers and over different routings.
They would also need to ensure all calls are recorded meaning any backup solution has to have this factored in as well, in order to remain compliant.
Assessing the cost
Every organisation should assess the cost to their business of no telecoms and Internet for say an hour, a day and a week. How much revenue would be lost both in the short term and the long term? According to CMI almost 1 in 4 companies experience an interruption to their Telecoms every year. Costs could include lost orders, cost of diverting calls, reimbursing staff for using mobiles, buying data dongles plus general disruption and lost productivity. In the worst case, it could led to permanent damage to your business reputation or even the end of the business altogether.
So, ask yourself; what is the longest period of time your business could survive without telecoms or Internet at your place of work? Once that figure has been determined, potential contingency plans can be evaluated for both benefit and value for money. They don’t need to cost a fortune, but they do need to be in place and working before you need to call upon them.
Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself to work out how prepared you really are:
- If you have VOIP you can log in via a web portal and divert your calls - but do you know how to do this? Do you have the logins and passwords handy? Some modern phone systems have a similar feature although it is often a chargeable extra.
- Some VOIP solutions have automatic failover - but is it setup? Check now and get it setup before you need it.
- Got analogue lines? Did you know you can add call divert as a feature for a few pounds a month? Again, add this now – before you need it as it can take time to setup.
- If you just have ISDN services did you know you can normally only redirect all your numbers to one single number. SIP allows you to redirect individual extensions.
- Do you have the details of who to call and your account details to hand? Could you access this information wherever you are? Can your staff access it if needs be?
- Got a phone system – do you know how to set the call forward? Can it be done remotely?
- Have you thought about inbound numbers that come with an App to activate your continuity plan at the touch of a button?
These are just work arounds – but they are a start. Obviously more substantive continuity plans can be put in place to reduce the overall risk and the impact of any unexpected problems. One weakness of VoIP is that it relies exclusively on Internet access. Traditional phone systems can use analogue and IP connections – at least until ISDN ends. Having backup 4G routers sitting in the office ready to use can help if there are interruptions to broadband affecting voice and data. Having multi suppliers and duplicates is another option.
What is appropriate for one organisation will be inappropriate for another. But every organisation should know the cost of losing its connections to customers and suppliers. Once you know that you can budget for and put in place contingency plans that are suitable for your business - in case you are unlucky enough to be that 1 in 4 that suffers an interruption in the next 12 months.
Dave Millett, Founder, Equinox.
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