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

The word “telephone” has become outdated. Mobile, cell, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) —these are buzzwords in the communications industry today as consumers embrace the ability to be anywhere and everywhere while staying connected.

Today’s business class phone systems make this possible with options designed to ring you at home, the office or while away. And there’s also the evolution of the computer as a tool for not only administrative functions such as billing, but also expediting phone calls by way of cutting-edge click-to-dial applications, says Debra Wakeley, director of product management, Time Warner Cable Business Class.

“The lines between using a cell phone and landline are starting to blur,” says Wakeley. “We see increasing demand for wireless, and a demand for mobility and the ability to work wherever you are to answer the important call and close that deal.”

Mobility is just the beginning. Businesses today can function more efficiently and effectively with phone systems that provide more features and more control, and can be accessed from any computer.

Smart Business spoke with Wakeley about the evolution of phone service and the newest features that are available to help businesses take their communications to the next level.

What phone features are available to provide flexibility and mobility for businesses?

As the lines between mobile and landline phones blur, systems such as ‘remote office’ are in development to allow a person to tell the system where calls should be directed, to wherever they may be — be it a cell phone, home office, corporate office or vacation home. Not only are calls directed to the assigned phone, all outgoing calls appear as if they are being dialed out from the office line, regardless of the originating call location.

This feature is similar to another convenience, the find-me-follow-me feature, which is a call-forwarding function in which the phone system rings all of your lines in sequential order or at the same time.

This can be combined with a remote office service for optimum mobility.

What other phone system features are making life easier for business users?

The line between computer and phone service is blurring as the computer has evolved into a platform for phone systems. For example, an application called Voice Manager allows you to make changes to your phone service from any Internet-connected computer.

If you have auto attendant, you can modify how calls are answered and where they are directed through your computer. Essentially, the computer can be used to control phone features at your convenience. You can view your bill, your call history, etc. This is especially convenient for businesses that need 24/7 access to phone system information.

In the future, you’ll see greater availability of click-to-dial applications that allow you to generate and receive calls from your computer, tablet or smart phone.

What should a business consider when developing a phone system strategy?

First, think long term. What are your needs now and going forward? Consider how many employees you have today, and what your growth looks like in the next few years.

You want to get a handle on the size and scope of the system you’ll need. How many calls do employees make? How many calls do they receive? Are there features to help you better distribute calls? Is Internet Protocol (IP) technology a smart strategy for today, or can this type of system wait? How old is your phone equipment? What is it about your current system that frustrates you? What features do you desire in a phone system?

Ultimately, ask yourself how your ideal phone system would work. Then partner with a professional who can provide knowledgeable insight on what technology is available to meet your needs. This person will help you design a phone system that meets your demands today and is flexible to accommodate growth or changing business needs in the future. He or she will also help you understand how to best use phone systems to maximize the technology you have.

How can a company stay up to date with technology without constantly reinventing its phone system?

As a business grows, so will its need for technology to accommodate communications needs. Business growth should drive the adoption of technology. Avoid the temptation to buy brand-new equipment just so you have the latest bells and whistles, unless technology is your niche and your business is an early adopter by nature.

Ask business peers about the phone systems they use, and what works and what doesn’t. Talk to local chambers of commerce to find reputable business class phone providers that can provide the customer service and consultation you really need. Get plenty of opinions before you make a leap to a different system. But also keep in mind that leaping can be a good thing.

The technology that is available today allows you to connect anytime, anywhere at your convenience. And the flexibility that phone systems continue to offer as they become more sophisticated will only serve to benefit businesses.

Debra Wakeley is director of product management for Time Warner Cable Business Class. Contact a Time Warner Cable Business Class account consultant at (877) 612-7474 to discuss your communications needs.

Published in Akron/Canton