Make Your IVR a Disaster Recovery Star

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Sir Edmund Burke once said, “Public calamity is a mighty leveler.” Ben Franklin coined the phrase “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Both adages apply as much today as they did in the 18th century.

But for many, the contact center adage had always been, “Give me a dialtone and a warm body to answer the calls, and we can survive nearly anything thrown at us.” That doesn’t fit anymore in today’s challenging environment. Staffing is tight, customer expectations are increasing, and your competitors (either external or internal) are stalking your every move, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on one of your mistakes.

With foresight and good design, your interactive voice response (IVR) system can play a significant role in your organization’s disaster recovery plans. In fact, your speech-enabled platform can act as your proxy, delivering your well-thought-out decisions in milliseconds by establishing recovery routing triage and providing self-service where you do not normally offer it. 

If you haven’t already considered the transition of IVR from a behind-the-switch self-services provider to a flexible, speech-enabled customer gateway for your organization, then disaster recovery is an excellent reason for making the move.

A well-architected speech platform should first consider availability and survivability within a single site, and then extend the same to multiple sites. Load balancing calls across multiple sites minimizes exposure to disconnected calls should a disaster strike one of your sites, bringing down access to one of your IVR platforms. Design your disaster recovery routing plan so it can be put into action automatically, or very quickly, depending on whether you drive call routing from your infrastructure or depend on your voice carrier to make your routing changes.

Fallback applications designed solely for disaster purposes should be provisioned to become active with minimal administrator input. Your call routing can provide the flexibility to keep applications ready to go live by assigning trunks for disaster recovery purposes only. However, your routing plan should also consider that you might use these trunks during maintenance windows when you route a portion of load-balanced calls from your other data centers.

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When designing high-availability systems, consider the weakest link. The best-architected IVR platform can provide “five nines” availability, but if your back-office applications providing critical data for routing decisions and self-service are not available, then the IVR’s ability to assist you in a disaster is diminished. If your organization’s architecture provides high availability for your back-office applications, then it should include multiple Web service access points to those applications. Integrating those Web services in a prioritized fallback configuration should be an important part of your speech application design.

Your speech platform should never be the weak link in your organization’s infrastructure. Therefore, real-time monitoring is critical to ensuring system problems don’t snowball into preventable disasters. Well-designed IVR platforms have many inputs into event, application, and network management solutions like HP OpenView. A well-designed and well-monitored IVR can be a beacon of impending disasters in your voice and data networks, as well as your back-office applications. Rather than receiving calls that say, “Your IVR is down. What are you doing about it?” your IVR should proactively provide your organization with alerts that not all is well with your infrastructure.

Many organizations consider outsourcing for their IVR disaster recovery needs due to the availability of multiple networked data centers and their associated voice trunking capacities. IVR outsourcing providers have disaster recovery and, more importantly, disaster prevention in their DNA. Service-level agreements and their associated penalty clauses ensure that both your outsourcing provider and your organization keep your disaster recovery plans current.

Kevin Brown is an architect at EDS, an HP company, where he specializes in speech platform design. He has more than 15 years of experience in designing and delivering speech-enabled solutions. He can be reached at kevin.c.brown@hp.com.

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