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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Different Preferences, Same Expectations: Can Your CX Platform Handle it All?

When was the last time you as a customer used live chat to interact with a brand? How about a self-service option like IVR? Have you ever received an automated message with a discount, or perhaps an appointment reminder? Chances are, you’ve engaged in at least one of these forms of service at some point. In fact, I’m willing to bet you frequently use them. I do, too. That’s because we now live in a world where our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. This has thrown a wrench into the standard CX platform.

These service examples are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of today, more than 3 million people will have chatted with Amazon Echo’s AI assistant, Alexa. Over 70 million people will have enjoyed listening to Spotify’s automated “Discover Weekly” playlist. U.S. sales of Google Home smart speakers increased by 40% in Q3 2017 alone, reaching 7 million units. In a very short amount of time, automation has evolved from static and human-operated to dynamic and autonomously learning.

Because of this growth, automation is now everywhere we are and in everything we do. It is proven to transform experiences and enhance the outcome of nearly every customer interaction. The ROI is there, too. For example, research has found that after customers start using Echo, their spending increases by 10%. Bottom line: businesses should be aggressively working to embed automation into their existing IT ecosystems.

But what about your traditional customers? Like I mentioned above, our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. Not always.

This makes me think of my father. He’s your typical 85-year-old customer who will never consume digital services. His modality of communication will always be voice, and that’s perfectly fine. But he still expects a personalized, end-to-end experience. For example, if he calls his healthcare provider with a question, he expects the organization to know who he is and to have his health records pulled up prior to that first “hello.”

And this brings us to an important point: it doesn’t matter how services are consumed, the experience must be the same. So, how can companies meet expectations across the board? First, they must gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey, whatever that looks like. Then they need to build technology that adapts to that. Let’s dig into this…

Context: The Crux of Next-Gen CX

When I say, “gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey,” what I really mean is gain a context-driven understanding. After all, every experience will differ depending on the circumstance. Here are two examples to show you what I mean:

  • A customer (let’s call her Becky) is in the car driving to JFK airport. She called your contact center about an hour ago and requested through IVR to be put into your automated callback system. Her place has been reached in the queue and now it’s time to reach out. However, your system shows she’s currently driving 70 mph on I-95 south. So, although she normally prefers video chat, you choose to connect via a traditional voice call instead.
  • Becky later vents on Twitter about poor service she received from the restaurant in her hotel. With the ability to bring social analytics to the agent desktop, the hotel can have its support team proactively reach out to let her know they noticed her post from five minutes ago expressing dissatisfaction and ask if there’s any way they can help make things right.

A True Next-Gen CX Platform

Regardless of whether customer preferences evolve, your CX platform must in order to drive real-time responsiveness, anticipatory engagement, and intelligent communication at the individual level.

So, what should this next-gen CX platform look like? This isn’t something that can be summed up in a nutshell, but I’ll take a stab: companies need a platform that provides the utmost flexibility for them to bring the right technologies together with the right modality of interactions in an open world (if you have time, I recommend reading this five-part series where I detail the core components of this next-gen platform).

The key here is to be agile and flexible enough to give each individual customer the choice to get what he or she wants, as well as respond to their needs quickly and efficiently. I’d like to focus on two things here:

  • The full integration of UC, contact center, and AI to begin immediately developing features and applications that meet different customer, organizational and vertical needs. Technology has evolved to the point where it no longer takes 10, 12 or 18 months to build a targeted, feature-rich release. A next-gen CX platform offers the necessary levels of agility, flexibility, scale, and openness companies need to very quickly develop these solutions. Or, they can release small footprints of incremental functionality within the platform. Companies can develop at their own paces, depending on their goals.
  • An open data model that rapidly integrates various information sources to present a full visualization of the customer journey. Companies must now bring an immense amount of information together to make smart, real-time decisions (something human beings are incapable of doing). This is where AI, machine learning, and contextual analytics come into play. This is how your contact center will be able to see that Becky tweeted about poor service five minutes ago, and that she engaged in three web chat sessions the week prior. The integration of AI with Becky’s smart vehicle enables you to see statistics like speed and traffic to maximize her service experience. An open data model enables organizations to truly capitalize on big data to make impactful, real-time decisions that transform the individual customer experience.

Note the emphasis on contextual analytics: real-time contextual analytics are needed to continually transform individual experiences as well as handle today’s large volume of different interactions (our Director of Customer and Team Engagement Laura Bassett does a great job breaking down contextual analytics vs. traditional analytics in this blog).

The future of customer experience will be supported by a next-gen digital platform that’s capable of seamlessly converging UC, contact center, and AI. Long gone are the days of proprietary schemes. Long live digital, automated, data-driven experiences!

Avaya Solutions Connect People Across the World

During a recent vacation cruise, I found myself playing cards with a group of six strangers. As we got to know one another I was asked, “What do you do for work?” The question quickly became a discussion, and I’d like to share that conversation with you.

Who is Avaya?

A couple of people at the table knew of Avaya. One asked, “Doesn’t Avaya make phone systems?” Another asked, “I hear about cloud all the time. Are you guys doing cloud?”

While both of these questions are relevant and somewhat factual, both miss what makes Avaya special. In my opinion Avaya is a connection company. The whole reason Avaya exists is to connect people with people. In my experience, it really is that simple.

Avaya makes it easy to get work done by connecting teammates with other teammates, regardless of where they are, what device they have, and what network they’re connected to. At the same time, Avaya connects consumers who need help with the exact resource who can fix whatever is challenging them, helping to create lasting impressions and ongoing relationships.

More than 90% of Fortune 100 companies are running Avaya Solutions. I believe that each and every day almost every human being on the planet is impacted by Avaya solutions in one way or the other. Heck, thanks to the cruise line using Avaya solutions, everyone with me at the table had their cruise questions answered prior to boarding the ship.

This led to the most interesting part of the discussion. If people connect with people using Avaya, how do we make the world better? The answer lies in two areas, and we’re deeply invested in fixing both.

  1. Making it Easier to Work. While Avaya tools make it easier to connect with teammates wherever they are, there is still room for improvement in making it easier for you to actually get work done. People have so many tools and apps it’s confusing to know what to use when, and there are still a ton of manual steps to getting people together to work on projects. Using Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Avaya Breeze we automate a lot of the manual stuff that makes work so frustrating, which means when something happens at work, you waste less time reacting and more time responding with a tool that’s built to be easy to use, puts everything you need at your fingertips, is always available, and is super secure.
  2. Making Customer Service Experiences Better. Avaya recognizes how frustrating customer service has become, and we’re helping companies fix it. Over the years, customer service was designed around the company’s needs not the consumer’s. Things like auto attendants, long hold times, and constantly repeating yourself are too common. Using Artificial Intelligence and our experienced consultants, we help businesses change both the technology and the business processes to create more magical experiences for consumers.
     

    For example, booking a cruise online can be super frustrating, especially if you get a discount code that doesn’t seem to work. The last thing you want to do is call customer service. But what if when you call, the auto attendant knows who you are and greets you by name. Instead of telling you what it can do, it knows you’re calling because of the trouble you had on the website. When you’re connected with an agent, they not only know why you’ve called but they already know how to fix the problem. Instead of wasting time trying to talk you through which fields to change, they ask to share your screen so they can show you how to use the discount. Avaya eliminates the frustration and replaces it with a near magical experience … all by improving the connection between you and the cruise ship company.

Simply put, Avaya solutions make the world a better place because we make connecting with the people you need easier, faster, more secure, and even slightly more magical than ever before.

Avaya IP Office Can Speed Your Journey to Communications in the Cloud

Let’s talk cloud—or, should I say, let’s talk in the cloud. Research shows that by 2020, 78% of small and midsize businesses will be fully adapted to the cloud—almost double that of 2014. One of the main drivers in this growth is the way we share and communicate. By bringing disparate communication channels together onto a common platform, companies stand to gain tremendous productivity and efficiency increases. But, for all the benefits, there’s no denying that moving to communications in the cloud can be challenging. Working with a trusted partner is critical to avoiding some of the common issues that can arise.

The Many Challenges That Can Cloud Your Journey

Like many SMBs, you may be facing limited IT budgets and capital, so cost-efficiency is paramount, which means no room for error in mapping out a cloud strategy.

Moving to communications in the cloud can also mean an increase in complex application environments, and the need for more scalability in line with application usage. You need to find a balance between purchasing and maintaining IT tools, vs. coping with legacy systems and aging infrastructure. Making this all the more complex is limited IT resources and the increasing cost of attracting/training/retaining IT staff.

That said, the benefits of making the move are considerable and well-documented, and approached correctly it’s a sound commercial decision, giving you:

  • A predictable expense model with subscription-based payment options—you only pay for what you use
  • Access to the latest technology with real-time monitoring, with management and analytics included in many solutions
  • More time for your IT staff to focus on more strategic initiatives
  • The ability to scale up or down as needed, on demand in response to your business peaks and troughs

So Where Do You Start?

The Avaya IP Office™ platform gets you to the hybrid cloud quickly, easily and cost-effectively. A powerful unified collaboration solution, IP Office has a simple migration capability that takes you from hardware, virtualisation, and cloud deployments, to a hybrid cloud. It unites all of your communication and collaboration solutions onto a universal platform.

Why Migrate to Avaya IP Office in the Cloud?

  • Common code base—no retraining of staff
  • Worldwide partner expertise
  • Investment protection
  • Reuse IP, digital, cordless and analog devices
  • Repurpose IP Office 500v2 as a gateway and failover
  • Cloud critical features: built-in, always on security and centralised management
  • Unique hybrid resilience—whether cloud-to-premise, or premise-to-cloud

Envision Your Migration With Avaya

Get in touch to discuss your own requirements, and together we can map out how IP Office can help transform your IT operations and put your communications in the cloud.