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Issue Date: August 2000 (es)

Lessons in disaster recovery

August 2000

Many call centres or IT managers fail to realise the importance of proper disaster recovery and contingency planning (DRP), and learn the hard way how costly such inadequacies can prove to be to their operations. "When disaster strikes you need an air-tight DRP in place, one that works and where everyone needed is readily available. Our computer room was destroyed by fire some time ago and we learned this the hard way when our DRP proved inadequate", says Evan Fraser, Consulting IT Manager at Care Assist.
"Usually, provisions are made for an alternative site with the necessary technology, but no arrangements made to move staff to the DRP site. Who is responsible for letting your staff know where to go or what to do? You also find that a DRP plan is put in place which relies on a 'back-up' call centre that is in the same location or connected to the same Telkom exchange. You wonder, then, what happens if the exchange is lost or something makes access to the town/suburb impossible?" asks Fraser.
Another shortcoming in many DRPs is the lack of testing and updating of the plans. Staff changes - particularly in the call centre industry - means that the after-hours contact details for your call centre have changed, or that the back-up staff you need in the event of a disaster are no longer with the company. Who is responsible for updating this information? Of course, never forget that Telkom is the key to the success of a call centre DRP! What do you do when you want your DID number ranges to be rerouted in the case of a disaster?
Says Fraser, "Fortunately, when we had the fire, our call centre at Care Assist was down for no longer than 20 minutes. But a few valuable lessons were learned." These include the following:
1. DRPs must encompass more than a technology recovery plan; do not forget the people. They are the ones to man the new site and you need to get them there quickly, calmly and efficiently. Give responsible people a role to perform and focus on when disaster strikes.

2. Make sure back-up data is stored off the site daily and is easily accessible any time of the day or night.

3. The DRP must be up to date with all new trigger numbers and free/sharecall numbers.

4. It must contain contact details for the Telkom account manager and free/sharecall services.

5. Make sure that the DRP contains a complete plan for the disaster recovery site, including directions on how to get there, responsible people and start-up procedures. Remember that you can never have too many contact telephone numbers (especially cellphone numbers!)

6. The rule of the DRP is to keep things as simple as possible. Be sure that the DRP meets your needs and that your service to your customers does not suffer. Unless it is really necessary, do not duplicate your current site unless you can afford to ... and then be sure to keep the configuration of the ACD, IVR and telephones up to date! Never fear paper-based DRP processes and use them if you have to.

7. Update the contact lists for your staff and make sure that you can get hold of them after hours.

8. Test, test, and retest your DRP. You can never do this too often!

9 Finally, do everything in your power to avert disaster. Secure your IT and call centre systems with fire protection, alarms and access control. Share the load to Telkom with GSM premicell via MTN and Vodacom. Have a back-up microwave link if the nature of your business (and your pocket) justifies it. Train your staff in evacuation procedures, first aid and fire fighting.
Other aspects to consider are to convince management that DRP is essential. If you can, get approval at board level and make sure that your company is behind you all the way. Finally, budget for the cost of it so that they realise that you mean business; it is certainly not cheap.
For details contact Evan Fraser, Consulting IT Manager at Care Assist on tel: (011) 359 5000, fax: (011) 359 5001 or e-mail:

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