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High alert: Dealing with a natural disaster

High alert: Dealing with a natural disaster

Emergencies prompt organisations to assess their business continuity and customer strategy.

In the event of a major earthquake or a disaster, those directly affected will want to call emergency services and lines of communication must be up and running, says Audrey William, director, ICT Asia Pacific at Frost & Sullivan.

From an overall industry standpoint, if contact centres are destroyed by an earthquake or fire, then staff can log in from home via the cloud or they can be given access log in and phones to immediately take calls and handle customer queries, says William.

“The last thing you need is downtime and the cloud model offers backup and redundancy measures,” she says, on how organisations can prepare for and deal with the impact of a natural disaster or other emergencies.

CIO New Zealand talked to William in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the South Island just past midnight today.

She cites highlights from the recent Frost & Sullivan research Delivering true customer experience by embracing a contact centre strategy on challenges faced by organisations on public expectations of system availability and downtime in the digital era.

“Since today’s organisations are data dependent, systems failures and power outages can have detrimental impacts on businesses,”' notes the research paper.

“In the case of an emergency or crisis, customer service agents should be able to log into the system from any location,” it states.

“However, if the physical location of the customer contact centre is inaccessible during a disaster, certain types of customer contact models (on-premise and hosted) may not be able to offer business continuity. Although mirroring of critical applications to another site can act as a recovery option, it is relatively capital intensive.

“Offering remote login capabilities to the customer service agents to access the application becomes a challenge.”

Audrey William, Frost & Sullivan
Audrey William, Frost & Sullivan

The last thing you need is downtime and the cloud model offers backup and redundancy measure

Audrey William, Frost & Sullivan

Cloud computing and DR

William also took note on how the growing demand for cloud computing is a key driver in the growth of data centre services.

Cloud services providers are amongst the largest users of data centre facilities in the world. The presence of cloud services providers is the catalyst for the virtuous cycle of growth in the datacentre ecosystem, drawing enterprise customers, telcos and IT services firms to the facility.

As a result of this, there is an interesting phenomenon in the market where enterprise organisations are storing less data in-house and increasing their spending with cloud service providers for cloud computing services; which increases co-location providers proportion of revenues from cloud services providers.

From a disaster recovery viewpoint, this development is relevant to organisations impacted by a natural disaster.

William says there are at least four areas to consider:

  • As seismic events such as earthquakes here in New Zealand increase across the region, data centres cannot be offline or not backed up at a secondary or offsite location
  • Making investments with the right data centre provider will be critical. Data centre providers must look at all possible ways to protect the infrastructure, which includes server, cables and other net working infrastructure
  • The data centre should be able to sustain and protect itself from any form of electricity, power failure. This must be thought through carefully. Back-up power supplies in the event of an emergency should be looked into.
  • A data centre must have access to multiple communication networks.

Having made the move to cloud services meant its systems were not impacted by the quake today, says Lukasz Zawilski, CIO of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

“We have redundancy both here in New Zealand and in Australia,” says Zawilski, whose agency NZQA administers the National Certificates of Educational Achievement for secondary school students.

“Using cloud services has significantly reduced our reliance on one geographic location. Whether kids sit [the] exams is really down to whether their local exam centre [school] is open. If they don’t sit exams, then we have a derived grade process in place.

Lukasz Zawilski at a CIO roundtable discussion in Wellington.
Lukasz Zawilski at a CIO roundtable discussion in Wellington.

Using cloud services has significantly reduced our reliance on one geographic location

Lukasz Zawilski, NZQA


Think BIA (business impact analysis)

Analyst firm Gartner, meanwhile, recommends organisations use BIA to enable effective business continuity and disaster recovery programmes.

“Organisations worldwide must contend with the increasing frequency of manmade and natural disasters that impact their operating locations, equipment, information, workforces and suppliers. In addition, organisations are increasing their operational dependence on IT systems and services to achieve the goals of doing more things, more quickly, with lower cost and fewer resources,” cite Gartner analysts Lowell Shulman, Werner Zurcher and Belinda Wilson.

They say the top question among executives is: "What are the most critical business functions/processes that require prioritised recovery and how much investment is required to enable the necessary recovery?"

The Gartner analysts write in a recent report that the answer depends on the risks identified and on the impact of those risks to the organisation.

They state organisations should rely on a formal BIA to consider the impacts of disruption on all essential businesses processes and their dependencies. This analysis will allow the organisation to focus efforts and investment on business functions/processes that are most critical to the organisation and sets expectations for a prioritised recover timeline.

Organisations should rely on a formal business impact analysis to consider the impacts of disruption on all essential businesses processes and their dependencies.

Gartner

Initial steps for the BIA involve building an effective, cross-functional core team.

The team must have representatives from departments that drive or are significantly affected by the business functions being analysed. Thus, the team will most likely also be a cross-business-unit team.

The core team is made up of internal employees, whereas the extended teams may include member from partner companies and key vendors, the Gartner report states. An effective core team is small and nimble, and should be limited to no more than 10 members. The optimal size is between five and eight members.

Gartner then puts forward the next four steps in the BIA process:

  • Gather business impact data and recovery requirements
  • Consolidate the business impact data
  • Analyse business impact data, and company recovery practices
  • Promote, leverage and update BIA over time.

As well, Gartner recommends BIAs should have an executive sponsor and a steering committee, with a strong, cross-functional team representing all in-scope departments and stakeholders.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

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Tags customer focusdisaster recoverybusiness continuity planningAudrey Williamcontact centrebig dataBusiness ContinuitycxFrost & Sulllivancustomer serviceGartnerCloudEarthquake

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