The Cloud: Your Disaster Backup for Business Continuity

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I hit a deer on my way to work one day.

Actually, the deer hit me, since I was minding my own business when it leapt into the path of my car.

Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt and the damage to my car is manageable.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the deer.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t live or work in the woods.  In fact, this happened in the middle of suburban Bloomington, Minnesota.  Bloomington is the home of the Mall of America and isn’t some backwater country village – at least not by Minnesota standards.

Still, there are enough places for deer to scratch out a living and come bounding out of their hiding places when least expected.

Being the nerd that I am, this made me think of SIP and how even the best laid plans can go awry: An enterprise can spend tons of cash creating a rock-solid, resilient system and still things can go wrong.  Systems go down due to stupid human tricks.  Mother Nature can rise up and bring a data center to its knees.  Software crashes and hardware fails.

Additionally, an enterprise might not be in the position of hardening every facet of their communications system.  Money is short and investing in redundant servers and gateways might not be in the budget.  Also, you might be sitting on aging equipment that isn’t worth upgrading.  The money for your next system isn’t available for a year or two, so you nurse the current one along until it’s hauled away.

No matter what the state of your system, it makes sense to consider adding one more layer of resilience.

Enter the Cloud

One option that is becoming increasingly popular is to add elements of cloud communications as part of a comprehensive business continuity strategy.

Instead of going headfirst into the cloud, you dip your toes into the water for a few key people and groups.

Perhaps you provide cloud communications to your first responders and key management personal.  Perhaps you give critical departments standby cloud resources.  The point is that this isn’t a full-blown rollout to the entire company, but only to a select few and only for times of great need.

This is how it works:  Day-to-day communication stays on your existing platform.  Perhaps you have an Avaya system that has already implemented “flatten, consolidate, and extend” for resilience at the core and survivability at the branch offices.  Any failover scenarios that exists with FC&E work as they always have.

However, imagine a time when something really catastrophic occurs.

Related article: What was Behind the Massive E911 Outages in the Pacific Northwest?

While I hate to dwell on the negative, imagine another hurricane Sandy or even worse, a Fukushima meltdown.  You’ve done everything right, but your rock-solid Avaya system has been washed out to sea.

This is where cloud communications for business continuity comes in.

Prior to the disaster, you identify the key people that require enterprise communication during the time of total failure.  These people are configured as users on your cloud system and install SIP communications software on their PCs and smart devices.  They don’t actually use the software at this point in time.  It’s simply there waiting to be told to do something.

Next, you configure SIP trunks with the numbers you intend to use during a disaster.  These trunks are “wired” and provisioned at the carrier and cloud levels, but are not activated.

When a disaster occurs, the accounts are activated and the users start up their soft clients.  Within a matter of seconds, they can communicate with their coworkers.

Next, your carrier is informed of the disaster and the SIP trunks are activated.  Depending upon the carrier, this might require a few minutes or a few hours.  Once the trunks have been activated, your cloud users are able to call out and the outside world is able to call in.

Not only can these cloud users make telephone calls, but they also have access to all sorts of unified communications functionality.  They can send instant messages, make video calls, and create and join conference calls.  They even have access to voice mail.

The users and trunks remain active for as long as they are needed and once the disaster is over, the cloud resources return to their dormant state.  It’s that simple.

Be Prepared

Like that deer that came out of nowhere, there is no way to anticipate when a disaster might strike.

I am a careful, fully aware driver and own a car with a high safety rating and yet I was still hit with the unexpected.

I would like to think that the accident wasn’t worse than it was because of my car and driving ability.  The same kind of thinking can be applied to communications.

Plan ahead for the unexpected and the impossible Being prepared for the worst might keep your business functional during very hard times.

This article originally appeared on SIP Adventures and is reprinted with permission.

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2017 Avaya Customer Innovation Awards Honor Five Companies Leading the Way in Digital Transformation

Every year, Avaya and IAUG recognize a handful of customers who are innovators. These customers are recognized with Customer Innovation Awards. Last year’s award winners included a number of technology firms. This year’s five award winners, recognized on stage at Avaya Engage in Las Vegas, include three customers in the financial services sector, a leading global retailer, and a leader in the film production industry.

Each of these customers is benefiting from the latest Avaya solutions to meet business goals—whether the goals are growth, customer experience, cost management, or risk mitigation.

BECU

BECU, which began life 80 years ago as the Boeing Employee Credit Union, today is the fourth largest credit union in the US, with over $12 billion in assets and over a million credit union members. In 2016, BECU embarked on a digital transformation journey focused on the customer experience. BECU relies on Avaya Elite Multichannel running on an Avaya Pod Fx™ infrastructure.

BECU engineer Rick Webb says, “BECU is rapidly expanding and needed a technology partner that could support that expansion and keep our members happy. The Avaya Elite Multichannel infrastructure does just that, while providing increased flexibility and allowing BECU to better meet the expectations of our more than 1 million members.”

Green Shield Canada (GSC)

Green Shield Canada (GSC) is a one of the leading health and dental benefit carriers in Canada, with over 850 employees across seven locations. Starting last year, GSC is deploying the Avaya Equinox™ Experience and seeing strong results. Competing with larger players in its industry, GSC sees strong collaboration among its workforce as a key ingredient for success.

Jim Mastronardi, GSC Director for Enterprise Infrastructure says, “Green Shield Canada has over 850 employees across seven offices in Canada—from Montreal to Vancouver. We saw an opportunity to explore technology upgrades that would enhance company-wide communications and bring our teams across Canada closer together. With just a single training session, employees have hit the ground running with the Avaya Equinox tools. The video conferencing option has provided a solution to overbooked meeting rooms, and the instant messaging feature is already cutting down on the number of emails being sent.”

Scotiabank

Scotiabank prides itself on “being a technology company providing financial services.” As a long-time Avaya customer—and a beta customer for Avaya Oceana™ and Avaya Oceanalytics™—Scotiabank is on a digital transformation journey to better serve bank customers worldwide. Scotiabank contact centers located in Canada and the Caribbean & Latin America region have benefited from a next-gen centralized architecture leveraging the latest Avaya solutions to better serve customers.

Scotiabank has already developed and deployed Avaya Oceana and Avaya Breeze™ apps, and continues to innovate in an ongoing drive to improve customer service and meet customer needs in a competitive market. The success of Scotiabank’s transformation program has enabled the bank to move with greater agility, improved reliability, and speed to market. This has changed the framework for deployment from months/years to days/weeks while improving the overall ROI/TCO.

The Crossing Studios

The Crossing Studios is one of Vancouver’s largest and fastest growing full-service studios and production facilities for film. The firm caters to companies like Fox, Nickelodeon, Showtime, and Netflix. The Crossing Studios were unhappy with the stability and quality of the disparate systems previously in place across their seven studio locations. In 2016, The Crossing Studios deployed a Powered by Avaya IP Office solution offered by local provider Unity Connected Solutions.

Powered by Avaya IP Office has improved stability, reduced TCO and provided the advanced features that the business needs to serve a very demanding film industry client base, including high scale audio conferencing, extensive web collaboration, and rich multi-vendor HD video conferencing. CTO Mark Herrman says, “We needed something that would support our rapid growth, support our clients, and support our bottom line. Thanks to IP Office and the hosted cloud model, we’re able to keep pace with dynamic, fast-moving film productions, staying as flexible as our clients need us to be.” Estimated savings are in the six figures for the first year alone.

Walgreens

Walgreens is using custom Avaya Snap-ins to bring centralized contact center reporting capabilities to local branch sites, for compliance purposes and to help improve the overall customer experience. Avaya Professional Services were instrumental with the deployment, which relies on an Avaya Pod Fx infrastructure.

These companies are each leaders in their respective industries. As part of their digital transformation journeys, they recognize that when it comes to selecting a trusted technology advisor, “experience is everything.” #ExperienceAvaya.

Avaya Predictions for 2017 Services Trends: Top Focus is on Smart Customer-Centric Engagement

Recently, we asked six Avaya services experts to help us reflect on the past year and to peer ahead into 2017. Our panel:

  • Richard English, Managing Director, Avaya Professional Services
  • Camille Lewis, Product Management Director, Avaya Client Services
  • Barbara Sidari, Customer Engagement and Executive Cadence, Avaya Client Services
  • Thomas Brennan, Vice President of global support services, private cloud and managed services delivery
  • Michael Sale, Director Online Engagement, Avaya Client Services
  • Dan Pratt, Senior Director, Business Transformation and Strategy, Avaya Client Services

According to our six experts, our predictions for these 2016 trends proved to be spot on—and they will continue to be a force in 2017:

  • Use of hybrid/private cloud

    will continue to dominate for large enterprises until public cloud providers can demonstrate that compliance to privacy/security regulations such as HIPAA can be achieved. However, Public Cloud is quickly becoming a flexible and effective delivery model for the midmarket.

  • A flexible delivery model

    to achieve growth in modular steps that helps IT maximize ROI and support rapid business scaling has been, and will continue to be, extremely successful. Taking some of the burden off the enterprise enables IT managers to focus on more strategic corporate initiatives.

  • The need for person-to-person human touch

    will continue to rise. It will become critical in 2017 as unassisted support and self-healing systems grow smarter in identifying trends and problems before they happen and engage in machine-to-machine maintenance for resolution. The use of video will be more widely used, providing personalization and higher customer satisfaction.

The panel thinks that 2017 will mean an increasing focus on smart customer centric engagement when it comes to service. In 2017, it’s all about using analytics and even smarter technology to increase customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, loyalty and revenue—and to achieve a better return on investment.

The Avaya panel sees these three trends emerging in 2017:

  • Transforming legacy systems and increased customer use of omnichannel will streamline the customer journey to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue.

    For example, many retailers will transform their Contact Centers into profit centers. The shopping experience for their customers starts on the mobile device or web-based applications—retailers want it to end with an order placed. The customer will experience a seamless transition from mobile to voice (or to web chat or video) without having to repeat who they are and what they want to purchase. The agent will already know the value of the customer to their company and will provide a personalized shopping experience.

  • Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), and big data will enhance the experience of the Customer Journey.

    The predictive and preemptive active workflow will match people to people, machine to machine, as preferred by the customer for maximum satisfaction and profit. For instance, service vendors will use data captured from customer service requests, alarms, outage history, and project volume to identify risks and take appropriate actions to proactively mitigate issues. Utility companies can leverage web-based applications to proactively communicate to customers the status of affected service areas via maps on smart phones, reducing the burden of customers calling the service center to report an outage. Similarly alarm companies will analyze alarms and preemptively fix them before the consumer arrives home.

  • Demand for holistic application service management will grow as siloed and disparate cloud applications shift focus from managing assets in the field to delivering on business processes.

    Enterprises will need a dashboard that provides a single pane view by business process vs CPU performance. The workforce needs to be trained to leverage all the data in a way that includes human touch.

The year 2017 promises to be very exciting as service transforms and demonstrates its value by preemptively fixing issues before they become problems. It is imperative that knowing the customer and providing what they want, as well as the human touch, will become ever more critical in a big data world. After all, it’s all about the customer experience!

What do you see emerging in 2017? Drop me a note at sithomso@avaya.com

Avaya Aura® Platform—The Original Pragmatic Hybrid Cloud

In a recent InfoWorld post David Linthicum wrote of “an organic movement driven by rank-and-file enterprise IT people who simply want to solve their issues using the best technology and approach.” Linthicum called this the “pragmatic hybrid cloud.” Reading this from the perspective of someone with decades of experience in the enterprise communications market, my immediate reactions was, “Aha, he’s talking about the Avaya Aura® Platform.” He isn’t, but here I’ll explain why this thought struck me.

Linthicum writes, “What this movement has discovered is that you can combine the public cloud and modernize some of your legacy systems to be more cloudlike.” That is exactly what Avaya customers have been achieving in an evolutionary process spanning almost two decades. Long before the term cloud came into vogue, Avaya customers have been able to gain the benefits of the cloud paradigm while avoiding the need to comprehensively lift workloads to a public cloud provider and the need to wholesale forklift and abandon existing investments.

Today, many Avaya customers—including a large swath of the globe’s most notable organizations in industries ranging from financial services, to healthcare, to government, and many small and medium businesses—process their mission-critical workloads using a combination of premise-based solutions and both public and private cloud-served applications. It is a “pragmatic hybrid” approach that since the mid-2000s has provided these Avaya customers with unparalleled reliability, cost savings, and business agility.

The Avaya Aura Platform is the reason why. Avaya Aura had its genesis in a time tested methodology for allowing geographically distributed organizations to link islands of resources to gain economies of scale. Back in the day, to create either a contact center that followed the sun or a single enterprise communications solution that served the needs of a worldwide workface, expensive dedicated circuits were required. As IP Telephony evolved, companies began to use packet-switched technologies to more cost-effectively link together distant resources into single holistic systems. Rather than centralized in isolated locations, communications applications could now be seamlessly and cost-effectively shared across distances. This made new ways to organize communication assets and the work that depended upon those resources possible.

Avaya’s great insight was to take advantage of the session initiation protocol (SIP). Over time Avaya’s customers have “pragmatically” converted the networking connections of their existing standalone investments to create fabrics of SIP internetworked appliances. The Avaya Aura® Session Manager lets companies treat their owned assets as part of a private cloud and combine those resources with public cloud capabilities both from Avaya and from a growing ecosystem of additional providers. It is a strategy that has resulted in significant cost savings while unleashing new innovation.

Today the Avaya Aura Platform has moved far beyond simply a “pragmatic hybrid” for sharing resources. It has become a strategic tool for many organizations. It gives companies a flexibility and agility to adapt and reconfigure at the speed of business. Avaya Aura has also opened the doors to both internal Avaya inventions and new external development.

Avaya Breeze™ Platform is but the latest application development platform that takes advantage of Avaya Aura. Avaya, Avaya’s customers, and an industry of third-party companies are leveraging Breeze with their own creativity for solving business problems. Breeze allows the creation of unique ways to leverage the inherent capabilities of Avaya products in combination with cloud and third-party capabilities. Whether those assets reside in a private data center, on premises-based servers, or in public clouds, because of the Avaya Aura Platform, the only barriers to progress are the limits of human ingenuity.

Linthicum concluded that, the “pragmatic approach is very sensible. It makes the most of what you have, reducing the need for new resources and letting you transition to the cloud at a pace you can handle, both in terms of cost and time.” Your Path, Your Pace, Your Choice, where have I heard that before? Avaya circa 2004 maybe? Nice to see the industry finally following Avaya’s lead.