Contact or call centres have become vital sales and support hubs for many companies, which mean that a recovery plan forms a vital component of their business continuity strategies. But an effective disaster recovery site for a contact centre must meet certain criteria, and it’s vital not to underestimate their importance.

“Contact centres are complex institutions and many dimensions need to be considered when deciding on a recovery site,” says Steven King, business development manager, at ContinuitySA, Africa’s leading supplier of business continuity management services. “Based on our years of experience in providing this service to blue-chip clients across the continent, we believe that the following issues need to be considered when making a decision.”

* Does the recovery site operate on the infrastructure-as-a-service model? The contact centre recovery site needs to have the same level of technology as the production site, and it needs to be highly flexible in how it provides that infrastructure.

Companies that are taking care of their own recovery site may find this a challenge, particularly as they would typically use production staff to maintain it—thus spreading scarce resources even thinner. If the recovery centre is operated by a third party, it should be on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model.

Not only does this remove the expenses from the capital to the operational expenses budget, it also effectively shifts the responsibility to the service provider.

Using IaaS also means that the infrastructure can be scaled up and down, something that can be vital during a recovery.

“When an organisation invokes a disruption it will typically move around one-third of their contact centre workforce onto the recovery site, and may only provide for a corresponding proportion of normal voice and data traffic. However, it is usually the case that for the first few days after a disaster there is a significant spike in calls,” says King. “Under an IaaS model, the provider could scale up capacity, such as the bandwidth required, for that period.”

* Is the technology at the right level? When assessing the merits of a site’s technology infrastructure, the following four areas need detailed scrutiny: PBX, switches, routers and phone/ data lines. Is the PBX supported, and can it handle the call volumes? Are the routers and switches able to be configured for the desired call flow—absolutely vital in a contact centre?

A related question is whether the building is serviced by multiple telecommunications providers. A contact centre is only as good as its links to the outside world, and being restricted to one supplier is not acceptable, from the cost and redundancy points of view.

* Is the building itself adequate? Here one should consider not only the question of whether the space on offer is sufficient but also security. If the contact centre is a 24/7 operation, for example, does the security accommodate shifts? Does the building have enough generators and fuel reserves, as well as uninterruptable power supply units? Is the building on key transport routes?

* Have the seats been purchased under the right model? Seats in a recovery centre offered by a third party can be purchased either on a syndicated or dedicated basis. Syndicated seats are shared with other clients, reducing the cost considerably but are offered on a first-come-first-served basis in the event of both companies experiencing a disaster at the same time, in the same geographic location.

Even when this happens, says King, if the service provider has done its capacity planning well, it should still have enough seats for both clients.

* Can you test if your contact centre is ready for an incident or disaster? It’s absolutely essential that every element of a business continuity plan can be tested, and that regular tests are undertaken—contact centres are no exception. In practice, most companies find it hard to test an in-sourced recovery contact centre recovery site properly and regularly because of the impact on their current business operations.