Speech Enables Disaster Recovery Operations

On any given day, there could be an event that drives communications off the rails. Whether it is a technical problem, weather related issue, or a major disaster, it becomes challenging for a company to communicate, operate and respond effectively. Enabling communications among employees, customers and the world within the first 24-48 hours is critical to either maintaining operations or getting the business back up and running smoothly and effectively. If you can't communicate, you can't recover.

While much time, money and effort have been spent to maintain data and network infrastructures during these types of events, businesses are now finding that they need to focus more on basic communications. During a disaster, employees may not be working from their normal location, typical communication methods may not work and callers are trying to find out what to do. Business could be grinding to a halt.

The challenge becomes how to set up an integrated communications approach that leverages the same mechanisms that are already being used on a daily basis while maintaining costs and limiting the amount of manpower necessary to effect the changes. Speech recognition allows users to trigger applications and get information with two simple tools: their voice and a ubiquitous device, the telephone.

By combining a variety of directory-based speech applications, there is the ability to provide a powerful platform to help facilitate connectivity-including call connectivity, dynamic directory updates, broadcast messaging, information centers - and the ability to send voice messages via the email infrastructure.

It is important to note that for the applications to be truly successful, people need to know that they exist and how to use them. If callers don't know how to use it, they won't. By allowing people to use the technologies for daily business processes they will be highly familiar with how the applications work when an emergency strikes.

The Bank of New York is one company that has taken this approach to disaster recovery because it was critical for them to have highly reliable and easy to use applications for keeping bank employees and customers connected should a disaster occur. Those applications allow their telecom team to focus on tasks rather than trying to locate team members and other employees during emergency situations. By promoting the applications and allowing employees to use them, the company feels it is better prepared for natural or man-made disasters.

There are six speech applications that can be used with corporate directories, existing applications, or email. When used on a daily basis they can enhance business processes. When accessed as part of disaster recovery they facilitate effective communications and support other disaster recovery, mechanisms. When a company's employees use some or all of these types of applications on a frequent basis, that company's ability to respond during and after a disaster is greatly enhanced.

1) Automated Attendant Serves as Linchpin

The basic speech automated attendant can be a linchpin in keeping people communicating. On a simple level, the automated attendant is responsible for answering and routing all calls for a company. Callers simply say the name or department and are connected. There is no need to remember extensions or wait on hold.

On a daily basis, speech helps solve many of the challenges with live operators. It helps reduce costs and provides more sufficient access to people during peak hours, after hours, weekends and holidays. While there are some companies that want to maintain live operators to answer their phones, they should still consider a speech automated attendant to use as backup, to fill in for overflow calls during busy times or after hours. It can be important during an emergency to have this in place.

During an emergency, a speech automated attendant can be invaluable. If the company is using a speech automated attendant on a daily basis, it can switch over to a redundant mirror system set up at an offsite location to start answering calls immediately. Lines can be retrunked to a redundant system and callers never know they are calling into a different location. Or for those who still retain live operators, it can kick in only during times of emergency by either taking over altogether for live operators or just helping to alleviate overflow call traffic. Operators can be on standby for more critical tasks.

2) Daily Automated Information Center Turns Into Emergency Line

An automated information center powered by speech can provide an assortment of information for employees or external callers both on a daily basis and during an emergency.

On a daily basis, employees can use an automated information center to access things such as co-workers' alternate contact information (home or mobile numbers, department information, email address, etc). This can be important when an employee needs to reach someone immediately, but doesn't know their alternate contact information. If a company wanted to ensure that only authorized individuals were accessing this confidential directory data or if they wanted to restrict particular features, they could always add a levels of security to the front end of the call (spoken password, speaker verification, etc.).

During an emer¬gency, the informa¬tion centers could allow employees to obtain more information about what's happening, what they need to do and where to go. It can provide the instructions and information they need as well as provide access to other applications to help accelerate the recovery process and assure employees that the company is working on the problem.

For external callers, an information center can provide access to information like driving directions, email addresses, office hours, etc. During a disaster or emergency, it can be provid callers with information specific to the emergency and what they need to do.

3) Employees Take Charge of Contact Information

Today, there are many employees who work from home, travel, or visit other offices. A speech application that performs automated dynamic contact management can allow employees to update their contact information on the fly to help them stay connected while not in the main office. Employees can call into the application to indicate that they will be working from an alternate location with different contact information for a specified length of time. All callers requesting those employees are then routed to that alternate number. Users could change it multiple times a day, have the change last for a specific timeframe or make the change permanent. For this type of application, a company should probably choose to verify the employee's identity (using ID's, PINs or via authenticating questions) prior to allowing access to the application.

During an emergency, extension routing may not be possible because people aren't available at their designated contact numbers. By using the same application, employees can update their contact information instantly, allowing a company to restore communications quickly rather than waiting for new contact information to be administered manually. This can eliminate a high volume of calls to the helpdesk and allows them to stay focused on more challenging tasks. This helps ensure that new callers trying to reach them will be routed to the new alternate number.

This type of application also has the potential to reduce voicemail overload and facilitate connectivity. If callers are still trying to reach employees via their old contact information it's likely they will be directed to voicemail. In an emergency, the inability to get a live person on the phone results in a dramatic increase in voicemail activity. It is common to overload the voicemail lines and to overflow mailboxes. By allowing people to update their contact information, it dramatically reduces this strain by helping people remain directly connected instead of playing phone tag with voicemail messages. The improved live communications help the recovery process move forward faster.

5) Alternate Methods for Communicating -Voice-Based Email

There are many times an employee needs to send an email without access to a computer. One way speech can help here is by allowing a caller to send a voice message as an email message using any telephone. The application simply ties into the information within the directory database (corporate, SFA, etc) to capture the appropriate email address information and sends the voice-based message as an email through the corporate email system.

On a daily basis, employees can use this application to send email when they're on the road or away from their computer. This type of message also leaves an audit trail (which voice-mail can't offer) and can be important for tracking purposes.

During emergencies, it is possible that voicemail can become inaccessible. In this situation, an auto attendant can be configured to better facilitate connectivity by allowing callers to have access to this application. If a caller is trying to reach a person whose voicemail is out of service, then the caller will be given the opportunity to send an email with the voice-based email application, which bypasses the voicemail system altogether.

6) Voice-Activated Broadcast Messaging

Voice-activated broadcast messaging for rapid group communication is a great tool for communicating updates on company meetings, IT announcements, and HR announcements, but it can be even more important during a disaster. Using speech to automate broadcast messaging helps simplify usage by eliminating the need for remembering ID numbers, extension numbers or group codes.

With speech tied into broadcast messaging, the authorized callers can send a broadcast message simply by speaking the names of whom they want the message to go to - an individual's name, group name, or a combination of these. They can then record their message and the message will be broadcast via multiple modes of communication – phone, mobile, pager, email – with the application guaranteeing message delivery. It continues to work until each and every recipient is reached. Logging and reporting tools can be used to access and view delivery results.

Since the application ties back to the main directory, it should automatically track the most up-to-date contact information. For example, if someone updates their contact information through the speech automated contact management system mentioned earlier, that new information will be available in the broadcast messaging application. Unlike traditional broadcast messaging platforms that perform out-dialing on static lists of contact information, tying it in with a dynamic speech front-end has the ability to track, update and access the most up-to-date information.

These applications show how speech can be used in a variety of ways to help improve business continuity. There are two features necessary to ensure success in disaster situations: having full redundancy and the ability to handle dynamic information for speech access. It is important to ensure that the most up-to-date information is available for voice access and that employee productivity is maximized in all situations, especially during an emergency. Directory data can be shared seamlessly with multiple voice applications to ensure that no matter where the data is being updated, it can be fed into all other applications for processing.

Heather Howland is the director of marketing for Phonetic Systems and is responsible for directing global marketing strategy, public relations, programs and corporate branding for Phonetic Systems' suite of carrier and large enterprise speech solutions.

SpeechTek Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues