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

While “location, location, location” remains a primary concern for a business choosing new real estate, the criteria used to compare buildings is shifting.

“It’s clear that hyper-connected businesses are increasingly relying on high-performance networks capable of supporting cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), business continuity/disaster recovery and other high-bandwidth applications,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “This not only makes having a highly reliable network connection essential, it also makes the advanced communications infrastructure of a company’s office space a key part of its IT strategy and daily operations.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about the rise of hyper-connected business and how advanced communications services affect commercial real estate.

How are hyper-connected tenants demanding access to advanced communications in commercial real estate?

An online poll of more than 450 building owners and property managers across the country asked respondents about the importance of advanced communications. Ninety percent said that advanced communications services are the fourth most important selling point behind location, price and parking. In high-rise commercial office buildings and with owners/managers of 2 million or more square feet of property, communications capabilities rose to even more importance.

This is as result of a changing workplace. Instead of a business hosting email servers in its office, storing backup files in its IT room and holding team meetings in a conference room, now a company is likely using a cloud service for email, with its storage backed up to a data center across the country and gathering teams via video conference. Public IT cloud services will account for nearly half of new IT spending by 2015, according to IDC research.

Can having advanced telecommunications services in a commercial building create a competitive advantage?

A majority of building owners and property managers view advanced communications services as a competitive advantage, regardless of other traits, according to the poll. A notable undecided group acknowledged a trend in the market but is unsure how it affects them; they may not have received direct feedback from prospective tenants to validate this. As businesses increasingly rely on network connections for day-to-day operations, ensuring those connections are modern and reliable translates into more uptime, revenue and customer satisfaction.

What role do multiple communication service providers play in occupancy rates?

Nearly two-thirds of the owners and managers surveyed said they have multiple providers of fiber-based communications services in their buildings. With a U.S. vacancy rate of 18.1 percent in the second quarter of 2011, a competitive climate has building owners and property managers looking for any advantage to attract and retain tenants. Nearly one out of two respondents said that access to multiple service providers in their buildings positively impacts occupancy rates by up to 19 percent. Warehouses make the most use of multiple providers, likely due to the key role they play in moving inventory, order fulfillment and related logistics that require redundant network connections to maximize uptime.

By having access to multiple service providers in one building, tenants have options for different services, plans, prices and service level agreements, and the flexibility to switch providers in the future. More important, access to multiple service providers provides critical redundancy and load balancing so the company can ensure that it maximizes network uptime and overall performance.

How often is advanced communications service a topic of negotiation with prospective tenants?

More than one-third of respondents say that in 75 percent of negotiations with prospective tenants, the topic of advanced communications is raised. This was even higher for respondents who own or manage suburban office buildings. In today’s competitive real estate market, negotiations are important, as the outcome represents a fixed outcome of revenue and cost for years to come. As lease rates often do not have much room for negotiation, other items grow in importance, including advanced communications services. If managers and owners do not have access to advanced communications services, they should discuss a plan for bringing them into the buildings and be aware of available service providers.

How can property owners and managers highlight their buildings’ communications services?

Once properties have the right communications infrastructure, ensure that marketing and sales materials list the services and providers available so these selling points stand out for prospective tenants. Highlight network access points, data rooms or other onsite communications facilities when giving tours and make sure brokers are knowledgeable about what services are offered in each building.

Do an advanced communications services audit that covers what service providers and associated products, services and prices are available as compared to competitive properties in the area. This will help you validate and communicate your competitive advantage, and identify and fill in any access gaps.

Research local service providers and discuss the requirements for extending providers’ networks, including the construction timeframe and the bandwidth capacity of the network. It’s critical to ensure that buildings have a wide range of bandwidth capacity options delivered over multiple, diverse networks so that if tenants access both, they can still be connected, even if one network goes down.

Don’t wait for tenants to ask about advanced communications infrastructure. Take the time to understand your tenants’ business and potential applications, as well as the services needed to run it. Then proactively discuss how your building’s infrastructure is suited to those needs.

 

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

“What is it that makes budgeting for marketing so much more difficult now than it used to be?” James H. Martin, Associate Dean, Director of Graduate Business Programs and Professor of Marketing at John Carroll University, has been hearing this question a lot lately. To learn more, he spoke with a panel of experts including Sara Stashower, Visiting Professor at John Carroll University; Jason Therrien, CEO at Thundertech; and Tom Bernot,CMO at Optiem. All three had similar perspectives on this problem. They all said that there is a fundamental shift in thinking about marketing from the traditional view to a new perspective, but not all companies have made the shift yet.

Smart Business learned more from Martin about their collective insight.

What is the traditional view?

The traditional view of marketing communications has the primary objective of pushing out a non-interactive campaign message that gives the marketer total control over the communication process. This happens in three basic steps:

  • First, you create a campaign message you think your target market ought to hear.
  • Second, you select those media that will allow you to tell that message to the most people in your target market at the lowest cost per impression.
  • Third, you evaluate the success of the campaign based on changes in sales (or awareness levels, or knowledge, or brand attractiveness, etc.).

Because technology has added what seems like a tidal wave of options for media and performance metrics, the task of allocating a marketing budget across communication channels has exponentially increased in complexity.

From this view, allocating marketing resources has become a much more complicated problem simply because there are so many more options from which to choose.

Is there a better way to think about it?

The traditional view of marketing is based on the premise that communication is a controlled one-way process and media represent efficient mechanisms to get the message out. Unfortunately, this frames the problem in a way that doesn’t match the real value of the new media. You need to re-frame your strategic thinking from the traditional view of marketing communications to a new way of looking at the problem.

This new view has an entirely different premise regarding marketing communications. The new approach is based on developing opportunities for conversations with your customers on topics that are important to them and that you can contribute to because of what you do. Engaging your customers in conversations brings them closer to you. It builds trust and confidence in your brand. It creates an affinity to you that the old approach simply cannot accomplish. And that’s the real value with the new media.

But, to do this well means you have to want to talk with your customers, not at them. You must want two-way communication. You provide your expertise and they provide their input. It's about which media are the best conduits for those conversations, not which media are the best at pushing your message to your customers. This is not just a different way of saying the same thing. This is a different way of thinking.

How do you know what conversations to have?

In which conversations you engage depends entirely on who you are and on who your customers are. But, here are some pointers. Start with your expertise. Then think about who your customers are and what they want to know about.

Having trouble figuring out what your customers want to know about? Whether your customers are OEMs, suppliers, distributors, retailers or consumers, customers want to know about things that will improve their lives. They want to know how to experience less uncertainty, they want things to be easier, they want problems solved, they want to be healthy, they want to grow as a person or as a company, they want to feel connected to others, they want to feel like they are part of something important, they want a life fulfilled, they want to understand, they want to feel like they can make a difference, they want fewer hassles, they want job security, they want to do their job better, they want to be successful, they want to be entertained, they want to learn...

Conversation topics are limitless. As a company, you have expertise. How can you use this expertise to add to any of these conversations?

How do you have these conversations?

This question has a different flavor from the traditional question of how to allocate budget across media. The question is now about the best venue for creating a conversation and how to connect across media to engage and continue the conversation. The answer is a function of what conversation you are having and with whom you are having it. You want to construct a network of conversations that engage your customers in a way that builds affinity with you and your brand. The result of this engagement is that customers will want to go to your website for your expertise.

Ultimately, marketing communications is about sales, but the more direct question now is about the effectiveness of the conversations you have with your customers. Engaging customers with content that matters to them and inviting them to participate in that content will bring your customers closer to you.

James Martin, Ph.D., is Associate Dean and Professor of Marketing, Boler School of Business, John Carroll University. Reach him at jhmartin@jcu.edu.

Published in Cleveland

Communication needs are changing, and if businesses don’t keep up with new and emerging technologies, they could quickly be left in the dust by their competitors.

But with new technologies launching almost every day, it can often be difficult to know if the latest “next big thing” will actually help your business or just be a waste of money.

While there are many buzzed-about technologies being pitched to business owners, there are certain technologies that, if properly implemented and maintained, can really change the way a company carries on day-to-day operations and interacts with its customers.

“The business world is always changing and, with the proliferation of new technologies, that change is exacerbated,” says Kurt Fennell, vice president of product management for Time Warner Cable Business Class. “You don’t need every new technology that comes out, but there are things that can really make a difference for businesses of all sizes.”

Smart Business spoke with Fennell about current technology trends and what businesses should be paying attention to.

What current technology trends should business owners be most aware of?

There are three main technology trends right now that business owners would be wise to pay attention to:

  • The migration from TDM to IP. Businesses are looking for increased flexibility, scalability and value, and moving from time-division multiplexing (TDM) to Initiation Protocol (IP) applications helps them achieve that. Traditional services such as voice and conferencing can now be run over IP infrastructures, thus simplifying integration, enhancing communication and improving interactions.
  • An increase in mobility. With more companies employing mobile workers (people who work on the road) and teleworkers (people who work from home or some other remote location), there has been an increase in wireless applications. These applications allow employees to be more productive and more collaborative, regardless of where they may be working.
  • The emergence of managed services. With companies now able to get more bandwidth, flexibility and scalability due to the migration from TDM to IP, we’re seeing an increase in mobile managed services, such as storage, messaging and security.

How are the phone needs of businesses changing?

There are two key things that today’s businesses want:  the ability to self-manage and the ability to utilize more advanced features.

Self-managing means that a business has remote access to things such as call forwarding or hunt group configuration. A hunt group is the ability for a call to be routed to a station or person based on a set of rules. For example, you could have one telephone number for your sales department. If a call comes in to one of your phones and that salesperson can’t answer it, the hunt group will route the call to another salesperson who is available to take the call.

Advanced features include capabilities that allow your people to interact with customers in the way they want to — like having an auto attendant or Web access for live chats.

How are Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) changing the way employees do their jobs?

A VPN enables two locations to be connected together on the same network, so you can transparently and securely share information between those two locations, as if they were existing on one network. An example of this would be a company’s headquarters connecting to its branch offices, so that employees in the branches could access the file server, e-mail server and/or Internet connection of the headquarters.

Another aspect of a VPN is the ability to tie in mobile or remote workers to that network environment. Normally, this is done through software components that talk back to the VPN, connecting the remote or mobile workers to the network. This offers increased mobility and the ability to access company resources in a secure fashion. Secure remote capability is vital to doing business in today’s technological business world.

How does mobile Internet tie in to all of this?

With a large increase in mobility and the need for employees to be connected while on the go, applications such as productivity tools, messaging systems, video, etc., need to be always available and as fast as possible. Whether employees are connecting their laptops or smartphones with USB cards or Wi-Fi devices, they need to be able to access the applications they need to do their jobs. They also need to be able to connect and interact with colleagues and customers across the country. With the proliferation of 3G and now 4G networks, the mobile Internet allows workers to always be connected.

What would you say to business owners who don’t think they need all this new technology?

There are more traditional businesses that are not on the forefront of the adoption of technologies, and there are other more tech-savvy companies that always adopt technologies early on. There’s no hard-and-fast rule as to when to adopt a new technology, but it does make sense for a business to take advantage of those technologies that could improve productivity, enhance operations and save money.

If you have a business that has employees who need to collaborate in any way, or need to maintain a flexible work environment, you should look at what these technologies can do for you. Doing so can not only help you attract and retain the best and brightest employees, it can also help you remain competitive with other businesses that may have more resources than you do.

Kurt Fennell is the vice president of product management for Time Warner Cable Business Class. Contact a Time Warner Cable Business Class account consultant at (877) 407-4260 to discuss your communications needs.

Published in Akron/Canton

The importance of disaster recovery has not changed. However, the term itself and the impact a disaster can have on your business has changed dramatically, especially now that businesses rely so heavily on technology.

“Not too long ago, a disaster could simply be defined as inclement weather,” says Joe Hovancak, manager, Enterprise Ethernet Division, Comcast Business Class. “Today, the term takes on a whole new meaning.”

Smart Business spoke with Hovancak about the changing field of disaster recovery and how to be ready when disaster strikes.

How has disaster recovery changed and how can a business develop a recovery plan?

Today’s businesses are not limited to just natural disasters, such as floods, storms and fires. There are also man-made disasters like computer viruses, sabotage, negligence, software failure, power outages, gas or chemical leaks. Those factors all have to be encompassed in disaster recovery.

Conducting business today demands a much greater reliance on technology and communications solutions. Being without either of them is significant. That is why disaster recovery plans are now a fundamental part of business to protect a company’s sensitive information and production environments from catastrophic outages and ensure that your organization stays up and running, no matter the situation.

Businesses should start by identifying the business processes that are the most critical. Then, they must determine what the impact to the business would be if those processes were interrupted or failed. For example, how much would it cost your business if you experienced an outage? You have to consider lost revenue, time to recover, any impact to your reputation and your brand and, depending on your industry, even financial penalties for noncompliance with regulatory requirements such as HIPAA, PCI and SAS70 Type II.

Once you understand how a disaster can impact your business, then you can prioritize your business processes and begin to identify the means to maintain your uptime. So if you lose utility power, do you have a contingency plan in place to failover to a back-up power source? If you lose communications do you have an alternative communication provider contracted to re-route traffic? If you experience a denial-of-service attack, do you have a back-up and recovery solution in place to recover your data?

What steps should companies have as part of their disaster recovery plan?

Develop a business continuity plan to address events that cause disruption to your business. Review and revise the plan annually as changes to the business develop. Designate a company disaster recovery coordinator to develop and implement a corporate response and recovery plan along with a current contact list of all team members. Then, distribute that list to all employees. Outline how your critical resources, e.g. power, telecommunications and computer equipment, can be restored. Again, it’s crucial to identify your critical business services to include:

  • Communications — voice and data
  • Facility — power, cooling and security
  • Administrative, product and customer support

Ensure that you have a plan in place to keep those critical services functioning. Identify an alternate work location and administrative procedures, and media communications.

Some people create a recovery plan, but then never look at it again. You have to update, test and validate the plan regularly to make sure it works. If you have an alternate carrier to cover your communications, test the failover on an annual basis to confirm they can support current bandwidth requirements.

Make sure all departments are informed about the plan and receive necessary training.

Why is backing up communications important?

As leaders in the industry, Comcast’s Doak Field, senior director, Enterprise Fiber Services, and Steve Schmitz, vice president of Business Services, drive the message of delivering superior customer experience and assisting customers with growing their business. If your communications were interrupted or if your data were compromised, can you deliver superior customer service, achieve your growth  goals and recover critical files and applications? Not backing up your communications and data can adversely impact many parts of your business, from sales to customer confidence.

What can be done to prevent a complete shutdown of communications?

You have to develop, implement, update and test your disaster recovery plan on an annual basis to avoid the loss of communications. Understand your carrier network. When looking at a backup solution, make sure you invest in a true redundant network connection. For instance, your main network carrier utilizes a Tier 1 provider and your backup carrier is a company that may brand itself as a redundant carrier, but its network rides on the same Tier 1 backbone and it resells services. You may think you are on a redundant path, but if a disaster occurs and the Tier 1 provider is affected, both connections will go down.

Make sure your primary and failover connection is from a true redundant Tier 1 provider. Many companies still rely on legacy technology, but today everyone’s business is growing faster than the speed of T1s (1.544 Mbps). Today, private fiber optic networks are providing the reliability, security and faster speeds that companies are demanding.

When looking for a partner, make sure they provide high network availability, minimal latency and low packet loss, and that they have a self-healing, redundant core network architecture. Then, if there is a break somewhere there is a true redundant route to use. Also, look for manageable services that grow with your business and provide bandwidth in flexible increments from 10 Mbps up to 10 Gbps. And one of the most important elements is to ensure that your communications partner owns and operates their network from the first to the last mile. One great place to look for true network redundancy is Comcast Ethernet Business Services.

Joe Hovancak is a manager of the South Florida Enterprise Ethernet Division with Comcast Business Class. Reach him at (954) 514-8650 or Joseph_Hovancak@cable.comcast.com.

Published in Florida