Emergency notification and crisis communications continue to be hot topics among business continuity professionals. But as the technologies and offerings evolve, options are increasing—and so is confusion. To help put an end to that, Continuity Insights spoke with the following industry experts:
• Mike Adams, product line manager for notification
solutions and services, PlantCML, an EADS North
• Maurice Burrell, director, product management, MIR3
• Robert Edson, vice president of the Western U.S., MissionMode
• Kevin Hall, president, Global AlertLink
• Ted Millburn, vice president marketing,
• Nicky Miller, product marketing manager, Twenty First
• Tony Schmitz, CEO, Send Word Now
Here’s what they had to say.
What are best practices in selling the BC program sponsor on acquiring, implementing, and maintaining a notification solution?
Adams: First is acquisition. Gain a clear understanding of the extent of the risk mitigation vision of your organization. If it is very tolerant of business risk, selling an investment in a notification solution will not be easy. If it is not, remind decision-makers of the issues the technology solves and/or prevents, as well as the potential negative impacts of not employing it. Ask the question, “Are we really looking for a solution to make communication better and faster in a contingency? Or, are we merely trying to satisfy a requirement that one be in place, regardless of how it gets implemented?” Regardless of the answer, demonstrate the need for – and benefits of – the technology by building a business case for its purchase (even if outside the budget that may have been allocated for it). Another key source of value is the solution’s ability to integrate with other business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) applications. Significant integration opportunity can drive justification.
Next, implementation. From financial impact to employee safety, identify all the areas of your organization where a notification solution could help minimize the risk of exposure. Think of ways the technology can be utilized to support existing (and future) BC/DR processes and procedures. Review the types of events, who needs to be notified, what actions should be taken, etc. Educate the sponsor on the breadth of its use, the business risk it can mitigate, and the additional value it brings when utilized outside contingencies.
Finally, maintenance. Any notification solution is only as good as the company that stands behind it. The typical cost of sustaining such a system is minimal when compared to the harmful and potentially long-term effects of a large-scale disaster. But, it is not the sole responsibility of the vendor to ensure a notification solution’s readiness. Organizations should test routinely – and thoroughly – to fully evaluate the specific uses identified for the system, as well as the hands-on knowledge of its users. Plan for employee turnover (namely, system operators or administrators) in order to ensure there are always trained resources available to engage the notification solution.
Burrell: It’s important to qualify the sponsor, gaining a thorough understanding of timeline, budget and approval process. Then you analyze the customer’s requirements in order to customize your solution to meet their needs. Once you’ve designed the right solution, you need to evaluate it and perform a proof of concept, again evaluating carefully to see that it fulfills all requirements. Training is important to maintaining a notification solution, but if done right, that training begins at the initial customer contact and continues on through implementation.
Edson: Identify what value notification brings as part of business continuity, crisis management, incident management, or emergency response. Emergency notification is only part of the solution and therefore will only bring part of the benefit that could be gained by the organization. People who think that notification is a panacea for all business continuity management (BCM) issues are unlikely to be successful in selling the program or giving BCM a good reputation within the business.
However, starting with emergency notification can bring quick benefits, which in turn will help sell the value of BCM across the organization. Selling emergency notification as part of a wider incident-management approach is the key. Emergency notification won’t save a company’s reputation, but effective incident management will. As every C-level executive knows, the organization’s reputation has a strong relationship to company valuation and is directly related to revenue.
Choose the start point that is going to add value earlier. Some of our customers have started with incident management and, afterwards, implemented emergency notification. These companies tend to be multi-function, multi-location organizations that have some complex processes (such as regulated or manufacturing processes). Companies that take emergency notification first tend to be centralized in control or don’t operate many locations, or don’t have complex issues that need addressing. Most organizations deploy notification-only solutions to address duty of care or the people-movement issues associated with an incident, which only addresses part of the problem. Don’t try to kill one bird with two stones. Pick a progressive tool with a reputation for success.
Look to add value beyond emergency notification. Some of the best notification and incident management deployments are in organizations that use the technology as part of the daily business function rather than as a tool for extraordinary times. The reality is that organizations face operational contingencies all the time and incidents, crises and emergencies are typically escalations from these operational contingencies. Deal with the operational contingencies early enough, and you’ll avert a crisis.
Finally, ensure that the resilience of the organization is actually the responsibility of the operational side of the business and not the BCM team. The BCM team can provide tools and expertise to the business, but BCM should be owned by the business. Choosing your sponsor correctly is as important as convincing your sponsor.
Hall: Just a few years back, notification services was the hottest topic in BC. Today, that is not really the case. While it is still a core feature, it is just a small piece of the puzzle. We’ve found many of our new clients frustrated with the fact that their previous systems were difficult to use, and they rarely, if ever, used them. So today, BC sponsors are more knowledgeable about the issues related to notification-only services.
Our clients have had much better success in selling an integrated solution that goes well beyond notification only. For around the same price as notification-only solutions, they can propose a complete solution that covers their organization from the planning phase through incident management. They can show efficiency gains by maintaining only one system. A single change automatically updates all areas of the BC program. They have a much higher return on investment. So, I would encourage you to look beyond notification-only solutions. Today, you can get so much more in integrated solutions. Doesn’t every boss love to save money while providing even greater protection to their organization? Be a hero; think outside the notification-only box.
Millburn: Ensuring a safe and secure environment for employees and customers, communicating effectively to your personnel and key publics, maintaining productivity and limiting liability are primary reasons to implement an emergency notification system.
Some of the best practices for getting
funding for an emergency notification system should be no different than getting funding for any other business continuity tools. However, in today’s tough economic climate, getting funds for an emergency notification system may require some creative approaches such as combining multiple department budgets to provide additional funding. For example, your human resources (HR), information technology (IT), customer service, financial relations, and risk management departments also can benefit from a notification system. Human resources can use the system to cancel shifts or recall staff. IT and risk management can distribute alerts based on network activities and security breaches. Customer service can announce product upgrades or product recalls. Investor relations can distribute financial updates and performance data. Risk management can send out alerts for security.
Miller: When acquiring a notification solution, organizations should look for a vendor that offers a solution that is robust yet easy to use and is always available. Other important considerations include speed of delivery, redundancy, reliability and an ongoing client care commitment. Most importantly, select a vendor with proven experience and performance, with several years of industry experience.
When implementing a notification solution, a clear, fully-detailed project plan is critical to success, as is a dedicated client manager. This person should serve as the single point of contact and the notification expert for the life of the contract and should be supported by live 24×7×365 technical help.
Free upgrades and ongoing training are an important part of maintaining your notification system in addition to regular testing of the system and database accuracy.
Schmitz: A big factor in selling the business continuity program sponsor on acquiring a notification solution is whether
or not the notification platform contains integrated incident management capabilities. This year, Send Word Now launched its Incident Management Service (IMS), which is seamlessly integrated with our Alerting Service. IMS allows BC managers to not only send out messages but also to manage events, incidents, and individual tasks for team members, as well as upload files and documents, and post comments and updates, all in a central dashboard that can be shared with other managers to allow for easy collaboration during a crisis.
It would also help to mention other benefits that a robust notification solution, such as Send Word Now has, including the fact that we have SAS 70 Type II Audit certification for both our internal company processes and for our state-of-the-art data centers; that we are a SaaS-based service that is accessible from any web browser, with no hardware for the customer to install or configure; and that we use VoIP technology for increased speed, scalability, and reliability.
How should organizations consider leveraging various social media resources including Facebook, Twitter, etc. as a part of their enterprise notification strategy?
Adams: Careful consideration should be given to the specific uses where social media would be utilized in order to determine whether or not it fits into an organization’s crisis communications strategy. It is important to remember that once messages are sent via social media, they can never effectively be reclaimed or controlled. For this reason, BC professionals should carefully weigh the benefits of these resources against the loss of privacy in communications with employees, customers, and other audiences.
Burrell: Social media is interesting as a notification tool. It can be effective when users subscribe to just the information that is relevant to them, but since notifications via social
media are broadcast to the population at large, they are limited. All messages are delivered with the same urgency and you must wait until users find you to get your message. You can’t choose specific groups to notify and it’s virtually impossible to maintain privacy.
Edson: Social media tools are important but shouldn’t be confused with a corporate notification tool. Notifications should be discrete messages sent to staff and other stakeholders at an individual level. Notifications sent as part of social media should be considered to be in the public domain. Therefore using social media as part of crisis communications is very useful and should be encouraged, but don’t expect anything you send to remain confidential. The overall security of social media suggests that while it is a good source of potential intelligence or general communications, it should not be considered secure.
The real benefit of social media use is in interacting with the world outside of the organization. Monitoring social media sites and publishing to them is of critical important to any incident, crisis, or emergency. This is more a feature of crisis management than emergency notification. Take a look at crisis management blogs and other media to see the impact that social media is having on organizations.
Hall: I would encourage organizations to view social media resources as another device … just like phone, SMS, and email. Then, make the determination if that device works for you. Social media is how a majority of individuals communicate today. So, it should be considered in any strategy. In Global AlertLink, you can click a button and approve to have notifications delivered to a variety of social media sites. So, the ability to incorporate social media outlets is quite easy. The key issue is whether it is right for your organization as a delivery medium.
As you are reviewing whether this is a device that works for you, please consider a few items: Social media outlets are more public. Some organizations may not want their notifications
posted in a public forum. Choose your social media outlets wisely. Each social media provider has unique characteristics and audiences. Make sure you understand the nuances of each before deciding to include it in your strategy.
If you are trying to reach the general public, social media is a great option. The usage level of social media increases significantly every day. Word spreads fast in these environments.
Keep up with the trends. If you are going to incorporate social media into your strategy, do not get stuck on one outlet. The fad is going to change. It was MySpace, then Facebook, then Twitter…what comes next? Whatever it is, your notification solution should support it.
Millburn: If your target audience utilizes social networking as a medium for communication, then it should be considered an important component of your emergency communications
system. However, it should not be relied upon solely as your only means of communication. You can set up your notification system to automatically post selected external messages to your social networking accounts.
Miller: Though social media sites are extremely popular and very affordable, they should not be relied upon exclusively to disseminate critical, time-sensitive messages. Social media sites lack proven performance, reliability, and scalability. They can be used as one of the many vehicles used to deliver messages. If social media is part of your enterprise notification strategy, select a notification system that integrates with the popular sites. Doing so will reduce the number of steps needed to push your message out to all delivery channels.
Schmitz: Social media resources such as Facebook and Twitter can sometimes be used in a supplemental role to support a notification strategy, but these services are in no way a substitute for enterprise-grade emergency notification, and they really are redundant when using a robust tool like Send Word Now that can deliver messages to multiple devices including cell phones, home phones, pagers, email accounts, SMS text messages, and even fax machines. Facebook and Twitter, as free services, offer no guarantees of reliability or uptime. They offer no way to guarantee that recipients have actually received a message. They lack features, such as scheduled alerts and on-demand conference bridging, and they lack the powerful tracking and reporting tools that an enterprise-grade service like Send Word Now has. CI