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How to Plan to Prepare Your Contact Center for Disaster-Related Disruption

Disaster prep 

With the disruptive effects of the coronavirus at the forefront of our minds, many contact center communities are reviewing their disaster readiness preparation. To help with that conversation, we have adapted a recent article from our sister publication, HDI, on how to build a business continuity plan. This introductory overview was provided by Mike Hanson, who serves as global operations manager and leads the asset management and fulfillment teams for Optum, Inc.

To prepare for your business to navigate a natural or manmade disruption or disaster, you should create a business continuity plan (BCP). This plan should identify teams to navigate potential disruption, as well as critical infrastructure and vendors for your business. Part of the documentation of the plan should include a time-based checklist. This details what happens at each stage of an event. There also should be clearly documented steps that occur when the BCP is activated.

Build Your BCP Teams

The first step is to build the BCP teams. Each group should have a distribution list and a call tree. Keep in mind, in a continuation event, not everyone may have access to email or voicemail, so a clear communication plan is necessary. For best coverage, it’s best to use more than one media for points of contact for each team member.
With a call tree, instead of one person trying to reach out to entire teams, a tree structure is created in which specific contacts call others, who in turn call their contacts, and so forth. This is a straightforward means of contacting everyone that should work across almost any sized organization; in larger, more complex environments, it may be possible to automate the notification process.

Let’s define the teams:

  • The BCP Committee is made up of individuals representing key functions. These should be people who have the authority to make decisions that impact their areas of responsibility - preferably managers or their delegates. Each of these individuals will own their functional areas’ specific response to a BCP event. There should be two people designated as the overall decision-makers for the BCP: a primary and an alternate. Additionally, it often makes sense to have two people assigned as document owners who are responsible for maintaining the actual contents of the plan.
  • The BCP Response Team is made up of people who are activated in the case of an event. Using the primary/alternate model, key sites would have specific representatives, and key functional owners would be represented. The overall decision maker would be in this group to make on-the-spot decisions as events unfold.
  • Finally, BCP Consultants are those individuals who need to be kept informed of progress; an example would be members of senior leadership who are not on the above teams. Other members of this group might be people who have specific skills or knowledge that may need to be called upon depending on the type of event, its duration, or other predefined criteria. This team could include other IT partners, business leaders, or even vendor representatives.

Identify What's Critical

One of the jobs of the BCP Committee will be to create definitions for what is considered mission critical. This will vary depending on things like the size of the business or the industry.

Here are some categories to consider:

  • Critical Sites. How a critical site is defined depends on what is housed at the site. In a large, distributed company not all sites may be considered critical. For each critical site, there should be a clear response plan. That plan should document how to keep employees working in the event the site becomes unavailable. If the site contains a critical function, the documentation should lay out the business impact of losing that function over time. It also should lay out the process for the workaround or for moving the function. If there is only one site that can provide this function, determine if there’s a possibility that a vendor could provide similar services, both in the short term and the long term.
  • Critical Applications. These are applications that, if lost, will have a measurable negative impact on the business. For most enterprise productivity applications, there are alternatives and workarounds. For other applications, however, it would be beneficial to have an off-premise instance of the application that is isolated from the normal business network; this application could either be reinstalled or spun up by a designated vendor. As part of the plan, document the impact over time of losing this application, establishing when it would become necessary to reinstall or utilize an outside source.
  • Critical Vendors. Every business has vendor partners that are important. If one of your vendors has an event that impacts availability, it’s important that there’s a documented workaround or alternative. In some cases, there’s an obvious choice. For example, there are a variety of shipping companies that could provide similar services, or there are a number of computer hardware manufacturers that could offer machines built on a common architecture. However, other partners that offer products or services that may not be readily available might be harder to replace.

How to Make Sure your BCP is Ready

A key function of the BCP committee is to review and keep the plan up to date. At minimum, there should be a quarterly document review that identifies changes. If the plan is kept current, these quarterly meetings shouldn’t take much time, only a quick evaluation to determine if site contacts have changed or if any of the applications or vendors need to be updated.

Finally, a best practice is to have regular practice in implementing the BCP. This means testing the distribution lists and call trees and documenting the response. It also means that you need to hold regularly scheduled simulations where the BCP Response Team works through a scenario. This should happen at minimum once a year, and it would be better to have it twice yearly. This allows the team to work through the checklist and document areas for improvement.

If done properly, a BCP can be invaluable even in the case of minor incidents and a huge benefit in the unfortunate event the full BCP has to be activated. Being prepared is the key to success or failure.