What you will learn in this tip: Today’s call centers and contact centers use voice over IP (VoIP) technology,...
and the supporting computer systems and databases typically use the same network infrastructure. This presents unique challenges should a disaster occur. Learn about call center disaster recovery (DR) planning best practices in this tip, and read our call center checklists so you'll know what to include in your call center disaster recovery plan.
The following diagram (Figure 1) depicts two primary systems, the voice system and the information system, and how they connect. Incoming calls are processed by the call center system; the call center system gathers relevant data from the caller and synchs up with the organization’s databases via the call center information system. This latter element can be part of the voice communications system, but for the purposes of this discussion we show it as a separate entity.
Figure 1: A typical call center system
Relevant information the agent needs for the call is displayed on their system. The agent can interact directly with the company’s information systems and databases while still on the call.
Call center system elements are typically linked by a local area network, such as 10/100 MB Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet, depending on the number of agents, number of calls and the amount of data to be moved.
What should be in your call center disaster recovery plan?
As you can see from Figure 1, nearly any part of a call center operation is a potential risk to the call center. The list below covers some of the potential risks that can impact call center operations. Use this list in your efforts to assess risks. As you develop your call center disaster recovery plan, you can base it on the risks you identify.
- Loss of incoming calls through a network outage or other service disruption
- Loss of network-based information, such as caller ID, that is needed to process the calls
- Loss of physical connection from the network side to the switch side due to a cable cut, lightning strike or trunk interface failure
- Loss of the call center switch due to a power outage, circuit board failure, software failure or human error
- Loss of the database and other supporting information systems due to a power outage, server failure or storage element failure
- Loss of the local area network (LAN) connecting all components due to a power outage, network interface card failure, cable problem or cable connector problems
- Loss of the agent workstation due to power outage, system failure or software failure
- Loss of the agent due to illness, union-based work stoppage, or the need for additional training
A call center disaster recovery plan is an essential part of a call center because it can help minimize the impact of disruptions to the network, information systems and people. Well-managed call centers not only regularly train their agents but also regularly analyze their systems and infrastructures to ensure they're all are functioning normally. A well-documented and periodically tested call center DR plan that identifies the strategies and steps to take in an unplanned disruption completes the process.
Call center disaster preparedness checklist
Like any specialized technology, call center systems have their own attributes, especially older call center systems that operate independently of data networks and the Internet. With newer systems, such as VoIP, some of the issues addressed below may be superseded, but it’s a good idea to factor them into your planning.
The following checklist can be used to determine you call center's preparedness.
- Location of the equipment in a separate room as opposed to sharing space in a room with other systems; location of equipment in agent work areas
- Need for separate heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) facilities
- Need for separate power supplies, including commercial power outlets, battery backup systems, proper grounding and lightning protection
- Need for access to specialized local access lines for connecting to local and long distance service providers; may also need separate Internet access lines
- Specialized peripheral subsystems, such as call detail recording, source for music on hold, voice mail and computer-telephony interface (CTI) technology
- Specialized phone devices for agents as well as individual users
- Connectors for agent phones (e.g., RJ-11 or RJ-12, as opposed to RJ-45 typically used in VoIP systems)
- Unique call center operating systems and frequently-changing databases that must be backed up periodically, both on site and at the vendor’s tech center
- Unique call center system circuit boards that may need to be replaced quickly following a disaster; supplies of tested boards should be on site and readily available from vendors
Checklist for a call center disaster recovery plan
Before you begin developing a call center disaster recovery plan, be sure you have/address the following 10 items so you will initially be able to respond and recover from a disaster.
- Ensure that call system maintenance plan covers disaster situations
- Ensure that service-level agreement (SLA) provides remedies for disruptive situations
- Have battery backup system(s)
- Have spare circuit boards and/or telephone instruments
- Have backup (and up-to-date) copies of all system-level software, including call center system and all other ancillary system elements
- Contact list for all vendor and network service providers is up-to-date
- Contact list for all agents
- Contact list for any other stakeholders in the call center
- Ability to reconfigure call center so that agents may work at alternate locations
- Alternate space for emergency relocation of call center
Creating a call center disaster recovery plan -- one that responds to and eventually recovers the systems and/or network services -- is largely a straightforward process. The keys to success are to understand the risks to the call center systems and CTI technology, network infrastructure (both internal and external) and staffing; partner with vendors and network service providers as much as possible; define step-by-step procedures for response and recovery; validate these actions through periodic exercising; and keep the plan and its various components up to date.
About this author: Paul Kirvan, CISA, CSSP, FBCI, CBCP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He has been directly involved with dozens of IT/telecom consulting and audit engagements ranging from governance program development, program exercising, execution and maintenance, and RFP preparation and response. Kirvan currently works as an independent business continuity consultant/auditor and is the secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA chapter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.