Learning From Disaster

Learning From Disaster

During the January 2003 firestorm that swept through the ACT devastating some Canberra suburbs, local telecommunications provider TransACT Communications had trouble even identifying which were the 500 homes that had burnt down.

Forced to activate its disaster recovery plan, surviving on battery backup power once the energy grid failed — at least until those batteries ran out — it quickly reached a point where up to one quarter of all its customers couldn’t get service because of damage to the network in fire affected areas.

Yet CEO Michael Del Gigante says the strength of its disaster recovery plan, and an effective CRM system, both played a vital role in minimising the damage experienced. And he is confident progress made, and lessons learnt, since last year’s fires will reduce future declines in service in the event of a disaster significantly.

“The disaster recovery plan worked very well for us,” Del Gigante says. “Our network has some standalone capability in regards to power, because we have battery backup, but obviously after a certain number of hours, and as those batteries wear out, we rely on the energy grid for power. During the fires most of it was knocked out in the area of the fires, so for a day or so or services survived through batteries, obviously where the network was burnt out, and after that it failed because of lack of power.

“But we were able to restore voice services — which was the most urgent — fairly quickly, given the size of the impact: we lost about a quarter of our customers as a result of the fire.”

Del Gigante says TransACT’s first priority was to determine which customers were affected, the services those customers had signed up to, and to identify alternative ways to reach those whose houses had been burnt. The telco therefore acted very quickly to organise for calls to be diverted either to another phone number or a mobile. It even went out to customers to issue mobile phones to those who didn’t own one, to which it then diverted calls for free.

“So there was a whole series of activities which took place immediately after the crisis to try and alleviate customer’s lack of service,” he says.

And Del Gigante says it is in large part because of the CRM system that TransAct was able to bring two-thirds of these customers back online in just three days and all affected customers had their telephone service reconnected and running within nine days.

“Without an effective CRM, it would have been very difficult. When a customer calls you, if you are not able to pull up information in relation to that customer, then it’s very hard to deal with them,” he says. “Without an effective CRM, it’s really cumbersome dealing with customers and solving their problems. You just need to have a seamless CRM for the benefit of the customer, if nothing else.”

The company says since rolling out Onyx Employee Portal to 200 employees across its marketing, sales and service departments in December 2000, TransACT has seen a 200 per cent improvement in response times to customer requests.

Meanwhile Del Gigante says lessons learnt from the January disaster will help it do better should the ACT again be devastated by fires this year. He says since the fires the organisation has developed a lot “deeper” backup in terms of generators, battery back-up and its ability to divert services to different nodes.

“On the day of the fire you have to appreciate that some staff used their own vehicles to take backup generators to appropriate locations on a weekend, for example. So we have made sure we have a lot more equipment in place,” he says.

“In managing the actual customers with our service, because we have a large customer base now, we have more formal processes in place to track affected customers, and more formal links into the emergency services. I mean, at the time, we had trouble identifying which the 500 homes were that were burnt down — we had to rely on indirect type information, including lists and newspapers, which we would then match against our database. So we have more formal processes in place now,” he says.

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