A disaster recovery strategy lives and dies on the efficiency of communication between command centres and front-line staff. Whether it is the need to evacuate employees or manage customers in the event of an emergency, staff on the ground need access to real-time information and a clear line of communication.
In this interview, Andrew Brinkworth (Head of Operations at CommonTime) discusses the role that mobile applications have to play in disaster recovery and business continuity - providing examples of how two-way communications can benefit existing strategies. Andy also highlights a number of common challenges with traditional channels such as SMS and email, such as the extra pressure these can place on switchboards and lead to miscommunication.
Read the full transcript from Andy's three minute interview below.
Disaster Recovery vs Business Continuity
Disaster recovery is the ability to completely recover from a disaster, and perhaps we'll use an example in a bit to illustrate this. Business continuity, meanwhile, is the business' capacity to get back up to a state or normality - which may not be fully recovered, but at least allows your business to progress, thus limiting any damage both financially and reputationally.
As an example, if we were to take a warehouse fire in a multi-warehouse organisation, the disaster recovery process involves standing up your new warehouse and continue working from that location in full. However, business continuity in this scenario means that not having that warehouse anymore is not massively detrimental to your organisation.
There's some great examples here of how technology could be used in order to assist people. Being able to get messages to people in the building, or people coming to that building, or even people leaving the building is vital. You need to get information to them, as well as clients and suppliers.
The Role of Mobile Applications
I think, overall, apps make a great supplement to DR (Disaster Recovery) and business continuity strategies. The majority of the workforce will already have a smartphone in their pocket. Importantly, a smartphone is usually on their person - not left on a desk and forgotten about for hours on end. Therefore, you have a direct line of communication.
People have already adopted IM and other communication methods which can run across many devices. Business continuity and disaster recovery should be able to be used in the same way.
|"Disaster communications must utilise persistent device notifications to ensure employee safety."|
More than this, however, devices are in the possession of not just employees but clients and suppliers. The ability to get messages to those people and potentially overwrite some of the settings that are on the phone, so that you are absolutely certain they received the message, is absolutely key. We know that you can push messages that are available in an instant.
There's already been a huge increase in recovery and triaging features in apps as. Facebook have even added an 'I'm OK' button within their application. Obviously, that's being used by people wherever there are disasters or issues around the world. The ability to press one button which tells people that you are alright is a massive benefit.
Now, we're talking about global disasters here. But if you were to break that down to a flood or the evacuation of a building - the benefit of having a similar feature on a phone that you know is on their person and in their possession only is going to be key to your mustering process.
SMS and Non-App Based Communication Channels
I think SMS does play a very valuable role in this process and will continue to. However, it isn't the only method of communication, in the same way that pagers aren't the only option for clinicians. SMS should augment the offering that is out there. But actually, push notifications can be used instead of SMS.
It is important to remember that SMS has a cost associated with it as well. And we often justify this by saying that SMS is more reliable. But the unspoken cost is that SMS is very much a uni-directional method of communication. You may want to send a message out to somebody, but also react on the information you are receiving back. You may want to send instructions along with the SMS, knowing that people are following the instructions.
So, yes, from a disaster recovery point of view - the ability to notify people that there is something going on, please be aware... that's great. However, if you can take that 'please be aware' message further and add elements such as 'please follow these instructions' and also 'please tell us when you have followed these instructions' - that's even better.
But imagine a situation where you are sending an SMS to hundreds or even thousands of people. The most diligent employees are going to immediately pick up the phone and call in. So you've gone from sending out a broadcast to lighting up your switchboard, therefore clogging one of the main communication channels into your organisation.
|"Uni-directional, SMS based emergency communication platforms can overwhelm switchboard capacity."|
If you could pop-up a communications platform that provides you with what is essentially a dedicated switchboard, allowing you to have frequent & bi-directional comms with employees - without having to tie people up with telephony - I think that has to be much better. That's my belief.
Can Mobile Apps Handle Full Disaster Recovery?
I think it's going to be a long time before applications take over that disaster recovery process. As people are evolving their business processes, applications can evolve as well. One of the great things we see is that people want to come back and re-visit the application as their process evolves.
I've spoken before about the idea that the best applications are the ones that improve. And, obviously, apps improve most through regular feedback. Therefore the disaster recovery and business continuity process - even though you don't want to have to evoke them - should also be evolved and improved as well.
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