Disasters can strike at any time, at any place, and a business that is unprepared can face devastating consequences. One area that can cripple a business in a disaster is the loss of its phone system.

However, with proper planning and preparation, a business can ensure that its ability to communicate will not be disrupted by a fire, flood, or other disaster.

“Planning is very important with disaster recovery,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Just because a VoIP system has disaster recovery capabilities doesn’t mean that things will run smoothly in the event of a major outage. When you’re working with a VoIP company, make sure you know what steps you need to take in order to initiate your disaster recovery plan.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about creating a disaster recovery plan for phone systems, how often the plan should be reviewed and the importance of asking VoIP providers what type of services they offer.

How should a business begin creating a disaster recovery plan for its phone systems?

The telecommunications aspect of disaster recovery plans is often overlooked. If a business loses power or the connection to its phone system, it must have a well-thought-out plan in place. Prepare for the worst-case scenario: What happens if your phone system is wiped out due to weather or a fire? How will your customers communicate with you?

There are significant differences with hosted versus premise-based systems. If a phone system is physically located with the customer and its facility is wiped out, the equipment, as well as the programming associated with the phones, will most likely be lost. In the world of VoIP, or a hosted realm, the recovery process is much quicker. With a hosted realm, the phone systems are not housed in the customer’s facility — they are virtually hosted. Even if the facility that a customer works or lives in is out of service, the phone system will still work, as it is remotely hosted and designed for backup and sustainability.

What are the potential consequences facomg a business that doesn’t have a plan for its phone systems in the event of a disaster?

If you don’t have phone service up and running, it looks like you’ve gone out of business. Often, when phone systems go down — even though the phone lines are still working — the person calling will receive a message that the number is no longer in service. Not only does it look like you’ve gone out of business, but employees revert to their cell phones and it looks like you are not prepared. This could translate to a loss of revenue and a lack of confidence by your customers in your business.

What steps can a business owner take to prepare for a disaster?

First, make sure that you have good connectivity — Internet redundancy is very important. It’s also important to have a planning session with your provider so you know what steps to take in the event of an outage or other problem. Sometimes, just knowing the right person to call can save minutes or hours in the recovery of your phone services.

In the hosted world, business owners can talk to their provider in advance and request that, in the event of an outage, their employees’ phones be automatically forwarded to their cell phones. Or they can have the calls forwarded to a remote office or another branch. This can be preprogrammed so that it is an automatic switchover.

How often should a company review its disaster recovery plan in terms of phone services?

This should be an annual event. Most large organizations have a disaster recovery exercise that they do, and phone systems should be included.

Consider what would happen if someone walked into your office and unplugged your phone system. It would have major implications for both your employees and your customers. Reviewing your disaster recovery plan on an annual basis is critical.

How have new technologies changed the way that businesses utilize phone systems?

As phone systems move away from the customers’ facilities and are hosted elsewhere, automatic redundancy and sustainability play a much larger role. Companies realize that they aren’t necessarily tied to a physical facility. They can lease less office space and integrate more telecommuters.

By diversifying its workplace and pushing people away from the corporate center and into a virtual environment, a company can build sustainability, which pays huge dividends in the event of a disaster. If you experience a major outage and employees are already operating remotely, not only will they be able to continue business as usual, they can also be part of the disaster recovery plan.

What advice would you give about hiring a VoIP provider?

Make sure the provider has a disaster recovery plan of its own. Ask what happens if it loses lines or need to redirect calls. Does it have someone who understands data recovery?

Also, ask what type of services it is capable of providing. Often when a provider says it sells VoIP, it is actually a specific vendor of one type of service and is not really the dial-tone provider. Look for a company that is both the telephone company and the service provider, so it has multiple options on the ways it can deliver service.

Not only should a provider be able offer disaster recovery through hosted VoIP, but it should also be a trunking provider. That means that if a facility loses power in its Columbus office, calls can automatically be rerouted to its Cleveland office, and callers wouldn’t even realize a change in the dialing pattern.

 

Alex Desberg is a 20-year veteran of launching and marketing internet technology. Most of his technology tenure has been with regional and national providers. At Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications, Desberg has been the development spearhead of a mature VOIP product line designed for business application and brings his support and knowledge to the B2B environment.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Published in Columbus