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Lessons Learned From The COVID Crisis So Far

Martin Cross 22 October 2020

A Business Continuity Plan requires a business to anticipate any potential scenarios that may disrupt their operations and provide contingency plans to continue operations, as smoothly as possible, should any of those scenarios arise.

 

Many such plans anticipate scenarios where access to a building is reduced or lost so many companies have plans in place to enable home working as a solution to address a business continuity challenge.

 

COVID Turned My Company Inside Out!

 

COVID-19 has presented a business continuity scenario that many of us had not fully anticipated and which forced a work from home model upon us, with no notice, whether that was one of the contingency tools in the plan or not.

 

So many companies, like Conn3ct, who identified home working as one of the Business Continuity solutions, will have thought themselves lucky that they were prepared to cope with the home working situation that has resulted from COVID-19.

 

In fact, we invoked a Business Continuity Plan test where all our staff worked remotely away from our Conn3ct offices (in the UK, US and India), a week or so before the UK government ordered the national lockdown and several weeks before the same happened in India and elsewhere. That extra week allowed us to work out any teething problems and ensure we were in a good position when the obligatory lockdown came into place.

 

 

Adaptability

 

 

In addition to addressing our own challenges, as experts in Unified Communications, Contact Centre and Network technology and services, we were, of course, called in to assist both existing clients and new customers looking for help.

 

All at the same time, all with very tight time scales!

 

So, we were experiencing a significantly increased demand, while we were in business continuity contingency mode ourselves.

 

A great test of the advice we were providing to our clients!

 

The Key Lessons Learned From The COVID Crisis So Far

 

Through our own experiences and that of our clients, we have gained some valuable understanding of best practices in dealing with these technology challenges as well as people and process challenges (which can be also be assisted by innovative use of technology).

 

Like many of our clients, our Business Continuity Plan and that of many other businesses I expect had not previously considered that the work-from-home requirement would be required at such scale, i.e. for the entire workforce all at the same time, or that it would persist for quite so long as it has or that it may be a permanent change.

 

Across our clients, we have noticed two recurring themes across both Unified Communications and Contact Centre services:

 

1.  The scale of the home working requirement puts a strain onto network resources, many of which cannot cope and need enhancing/expanding. Particularly where applications are hosted on-premise and access to them is 100% via the network connectivity to that site. This is a fundamental reversal of the previous mode of operation.

 

2.  The solution needed for business continuity to address the short-term challenges may be hard to live with now that home working is the long-term "new-normal" way of working.

 

The scale of home working quickly showed weaknesses in Business Continuity Plans, even those which had included home working as part of their arsenal. Often firewalls were unable to cope with the number of concurrent VPN sessions from home workers wishing to access the corporate network.

 

Our network skills have proved to be key in helping our clients to overcome the challenges that the limitations placed on UC & contact centre reliability.

 

 

Related Read: We integrate networks and cloud services specifically for contact centres and unified communications worldwide, making it easier for you to manage complex network solutions. Learn more.

 

 

In fact, COVID has provided an interesting lesson on how to architect your network and business application access. Pre-COVID, the received wisdom for many enterprises was to architect their network using robust, private technologies like an MPLS WAN. All applications are securely and reliably accessed with application performance monitored and managed end-to-end.

 

However, COVID-19 now places this architecture into question because staff are no longer in the office. Instead, they want to access their applications over the internet from their home broadband. “VPNing” into the corporate WAN all together creates bottlenecks in both network access and then back out to the internet and adds to the degradation of application performance and employee frustration.

 

 

Bottleneck

 

 

Public cloud applications accessed over the internet have in many cases performed better at scale and are potentially better suited to such working habits.

 

However, this means that key challenges which are overcome by MPLS-based WANs remain. Not least of which is the quality of service. 

 

Quality of Service (QoS) is often most critical with real-time communications, such as phone and video calls.

 

Example: Global Financial Services Company

 

One of our clients was able to redeploy at pace thousands of branch staff to work from home as call centre agents deploying Amazon Connect, the cloud call centre platform. Agents simply worked through a Chrome browser with a headset plugged into their PC. This was a massive victory in terms of the speed to move such a large quantity of staff to home working.

 

However, getting staff home and receiving calls was only the first step. Issues arose where the call quality was often raised as a serious problem by their customers. This is potentially unsurprising given the agents were working on domestic broadband at a time when it was being stretched to the limit with the whole country working and schooling from home.

 

 

Related Read: Our article 'How to meet the challenge of an increase in staff working from home' demonstrates some home working implementations we deployed at the beginning of lockdown

 

 

How do you manage call quality in this environment? For a start, you can’t manage anything you can’t measure. So how do you measure QoS when calls are using WebRTC on the browser?

 

We were able to provide a service whereby a tiny agent was installed in the chrome browser on each agent’s desktop, which:

 

  • monitored call quality
  • checked round trip delay to various Amazon instances
  • identified the broadband provider

    A summary was provided via interactive dashboards and reports across the whole estate. This allowed the customer to monitor and measure call quality, identify issues, even correlate poor call quality with certain home broadband providers and make changes to improve quality.

 

Why the Cloud is the Long-term Solution

 

A proportion of our clients were able to provide home working on their legacy UC and contact centre platforms by investing in additional licenses and deploying proprietary soft-phone/agent desktop solutions.

 

This often relied on VPNs which meant poor call quality, connection problems and functionality failure (e.g. loss of voice recording) as well as proving an expensive route compared to other models.

 

While this was seen as an acceptable short-term compromise, these limitations are not sustainable in the long-term both operationally and commercially.

 

These clients are now migrating their back-office UC and front-office contact centres to the cloud, which, when designed correctly, coupled with the right networking topology and proactively monitored provides a robust, feature-rich, high-quality service.

 

Transforming the Agent Desktop Environment

 

Many customers who had cracked the home-agent telephony challenge found that their customer service was still struggling due to the slow, unreliable access to the agents’ desktop applications.

 

In many cases this was due to older legacy applications, hosted in private data centres within the WAN, with specific demands on the desktop machines used by agents and needing to be accessed through VPNs, remote desktop and other means. This simply doesn't work (well) from home.

 

As a result, we have seen an enormous demand to transform the agent desktop environment, creating a single application for agents to access everything they need simply via a browser and an internet connection.

 

This isn’t anything new.

 

Many clients have been making the move to Salesforce Service Cloud, Zendesk and ServiceNow CSM for some time but the new way of working has highlighted the challenges and is accelerating that migration.

 

The New Normal for Contact Centres

 

Tightly integrating these cloud CRM/CSM with cloud CCaaS systems and cloud UCaaS makes this whole world work perfectly. The happy by-product is that this not only enables home working. The single desktop, advanced AI capability and tight integration make your contact centre agents much more productive than they ever were before.

 

In the contact centre world, management of staff has taken on a whole new level of importance, now that these staff are all remotely distributed. Manual processes are far less effective. Optimised toolsets and automation (leveraging AI) are more valuable than ever.

 

Workforce Optimisation (WFO) toolsets which are also delivered through the cloud and also leverage AI to scale agent scoring for example. Similarly, Workforce Management (WFM) toolsets are kept for forecasting, scheduling and real-time adherence.

 

What’s perhaps surprising is that none of these technologies are new and all their benefits are well-known. What’s changed is how companies are now working and this has greatly amplified the benefits of these technologies and shortened the timescales by which migration needs to be achieved.

 

Complex Problems, Simple Solutions

 

The challenge is bringing them all together linking your SD-WAN, calling packages and SIP services, your UC and collaboration toolset, your contact centre and CRM strategies into a single, elegant, simple and reliable solution set, which benefits all of your people and each of your customers.

 

Importantly, this needs to be delivered as part of an elegant journey from your old technology world to the new promised land.

 

This is exactly what we’ve built here at Conn3ct. By working with so many diverse businesses, understanding the complexity of their challenges and developing simple solutions is what we do best.

 

Why We Can Help

 

Conn3ct has built a series of capabilities and product offerings, which elegantly, quickly and cost-effectively address the new-normal world of work.

 

For networks we work with the objective of keeping voice applications both direct and private as well as fully accessible through the internet to support all required models for the changing operations of businesses.

 

This enables greater control, monitoring and support for business-critical systems.

 

Additionally, Conn3ct provides security services to manage the issues with home workers using individual ISP services and the increased exposure plane covering user devices and network utilisation.

 

There is no one size fits all solution to your business challenges, that's why we use a consultative approach. Book a free consultation today so we can begin to learn about your unique business goals before designing the best solution for you.

 

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