Among the considerations, businesses should weigh the architecture of the system, the modes of communication supported, the way the system interacts with other business processes, and whether the solution can both deliver and return critical information.
The notification service must provide an architecture that makes sense for the company and the conditions. Some notification providers offer premises-based solutions, installed on their clients' networks. Because a customer's network could be under significant duress in emergency conditions-and because of potentially prohibitive costs-these premises-based solutions are inappropriate for emergency situations. Instead, a hosted model is much more resilient and affordable, provided the notification vendor can demonstrate the geographic distribution of data centers, network resiliency, network security and management features that will be essential for a reliable system.
In the wake of 9/11, a number of studies showed that text messaging proved more reliable than the cellular and landline phone systems around New York City as the crisis unfolded. Many notification vendors subsequently targeted text messaging as the right channel to distribute a large number of emergency notifications in a short amount of time.
However, recent studies such as "Characterizing the Limitations of Third-Party EAS over Cellular Text Messaging Services," written by Georgia Institute of Technology's Patrick Traynor, have shown that text messaging is not a reliable channel for large-scale notification services.
Due to the overhead on the cellular network when locating users to deliver messages, as well as the overall lack of predictability of message delivery, enterprises should not solely rely on text messaging for notification purposes.
Instead, business continuity implementers should look for notification providers that support multiple channels of communication, spanning across phone-landlines, cell or VOIP (voice over IP)-e-mail, text messaging and fax, if necessary.
The provider should offer a framework to its customers to prioritize communication channels and tailor channel usage according to needs particular to certain user groups. The provider also needs to provide intuitive tools to help contact information stay as up-to-date as possible-whether that means pulling data directly from the corporate directory or allowing authorized users to update data directly.
Companies should look to expand beyond the simple one-way flow of information. Enterprises should instead aim to gather information about their employees as part of the notification process-collecting information about the employee's safety, location and availability for work. Companies will find resuming operations much more likely if it collects tangible proof that employees have received and understood the directions as offered, as well as details on how best to contact them going forward.
Ideally, the notification provider will offer these services across several different communication channels, and the provider should offer the information to the customer's business leaders in a way that fits in with other business continuity solutions and practices the customer may employ.
eWEEK Labs Senior Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at [email protected]