When the British rock band, The Police, wanted to send an 'SOS to the world' in 1979, their chosen delivery mechanism left a great deal to chance. Fortunately, rapid technological advances have meant that communications have come a long way since then.
So why is it that, when faced with critical incidents that require an urgent response, many modern businesses still rely upon dated, inefficient and flawed communications methodologies that are akin to sending a message in a bottle?
A common inability to disseminate, access and track incident data currently prevents many companies from escalating a timely response to emergency situations. This can undermine disaster recovery and, in the worst instances, lead to costly operational paralysis.
But these problems are avoidable. Moreover, the solutions to help address them are not only prevalent and rely on familiar, everyday communications channels, they are also easy to deploy and affordable.
It's time, quite literally, for businesses to get the message – and do something about it.
Real-world challenges, real-time response
Effective incident management is crucial to maintaining business continuity. When, for example, a network fails, a service malfunctions or a product needs recalling, organisations need to act quickly to minimise the impact and mitigate risk. Failure to do so can have major implications for service delivery, customer loyalty, brand performance and, ultimately, profitability.
In some cases, a sub-optimal response can even threaten employee or customer safety. Yet historically, incident notification procedures have been managed by telephone – relying on slow, resource-intensive and manual processes that rarely meet the requirements of real-time response.
Likewise, incidents seldom occur at a time of convenience. The need for real-time response will generally come up against real-world constraints; service engineers may be otherwise engaged, out of reach or, in the small hours of the night, fast asleep. And yet to perpetuate the problem, communication with these key stakeholders is often passive – relying on one-way notification and a general inability to determine whether the message has been received, acknowledged and escalated.
And all the while, the clock ticks and the potential cost of service disruption itself escalates. It's the epitome of sending a message in a bottle – sluggish, ineffective and, ultimately leaving the messenger blind to the notion that the message has got through. An SOS to the world, delivered on an uncomfortable ship of hope.
The new communications manual: automate
The rapidly-evolving technology landscape has, of course, provided more modern means of communication; SMS, email, mobile and social media have extended communications pathways and each present powerful mechanisms for real-time, instant messaging.
But, despite being strengthened by a whole raft of communications channels, incident management processes are all-too-often dependent on a monologue, where there is little or no interaction between either party. These models are a hostage to fortune – and, as incident resolution times naturally extend, they can potentially cost a fortune too.
The key to progress, with all the inherent benefits of operational efficiencies and productivity gains, is to make the journey from manual to automated processes. Yet in today's fast-paced and hi-tech business environment, it's surprising to learn that, despite the relatively straightforward opportunity to build automation into their communication infrastructure, few organisations have integrated 'messaging' into their CRM workflow and business processes.
And in the rare examples where companies have made the leap, automation is often focused solely on outbound notification and has no ability to handle replies, correlate responses and appropriately escalate incident management in a controlled and measurable fashion.
Right said thread
To deliver a more interactive – and auditable – model of incident management, companies should consider adopting innovative 'threading' technology. Threading allows matching of messages between companies and end users, irrespective of the quantity and sequence of messages – and without the need for complex and error-prone identifiers in the body of the message.
This simple technology can be used to enhance all types of business communications – both internal and customer-focused – but it is particularly effective in the sphere of incident management and in instances that require urgent response.
Threading software works across multiple communication channels and can help manage escalation pathways during critical incidents – allowing organisations to expedite response, minimise disruption and maximise operational efficiencies. The effective identification of – and interactive communication with – relevant stakeholders triggers a cascade of pre-configured actions and responses – underpinned by ongoing communications until incidents are alleviated.
The availability of a reply path provides organisations with an audit trail that accounts for the status of its stakeholders – allowing additional follow-up action to be managed by exception. Fundamentally, by building automation into workflow and business processes, threading opens up a transparent dialogue between key stakeholders to assure operational teams that incidents are being appropriately escalated, addressed and rectified – and that the safety of employees is monitored and protected.
Optimising incident management
The most proactive businesses are recognising the benefits of bringing automation into incident management processes, and are deploying leading-edge technologies to reconfigure and align escalation pathways with incident procedures and SLAs. And in a burgeoning communications landscape where users 'consume' media across a variety of devices, the most effective models of automation will harness multiple channels to ensure that critical incident data can be accessed, acknowledged and administered by relevant stakeholders, irrespective of users' communications type.
The resilience of having multiple distribution channels available to fall back on in the event one goes down substantially increases the likelihood of reaching key stakeholders, accelerates problem resolution and, in the process minimises the human, operational and financial costs of critical incidents.
Software to support incident notification and management has an application across every industry. From transport to retail, manufacturing to healthcare – and, indeed, the quite topical management of environmental disasters such as flooding or power failure – agile and interactive communications tools can dramatically alleviate disruption and expedite activity.
Such solutions also have a powerful utility in the rapidly-expanding machine-to-machine (M2M) environment, which is currently estimated as a £19 billion global marketplace. Organisations are currently investing heavily in M2M infrastructure, but as the practice becomes embedded, many are going to find themselves with thousands of alerts rolling in, but with no idea how to manage them.
Innovative threading technology can open up transparent dialogue between employees and end users, and can significantly enhance an organisation's ability to manage, escalate and resolve incidents, quickly and cost-effectively.
The Sting in the tale
The effective management of critical incidents can have a major bearing on business productivity and profitability.
A failure to address this important area in line with the changing paradigm of business communications will not only leave companies reliant on the modern-day equivalent of a message in a bottle, but rather like The Police, the most recognisable outcome will only ever be the Sting in the tail.
Peter Tanner is the CEO of Boomerang