• United States

One smart contingency plan

Oct 06, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

Aptela phone service helps ISP maintain customer support during Hurricane Isabel.

Aptela phone service helps ISP maintain customer support during Hurricane Isabel

When Hurricane Isabel hit the mid-Atlantic coast last month, businesses lost power and phone service for several days, as well as access to their offices. Yet when the storm passed, those with remote tools and telework plans earned bragging rights.

Take PatriotNet, a small ISP with 4,000 customers headquartered in Fairfax, Va. The company managed to keep its customer service lines open without interruption and even handled national sales calls that Friday — a day most in the region took off.

“When we made contingency plans, we certainly didn’t expect to be denied access to the building,” says Cynthia de Lorenzi, PatriotNet’s CEO. “Friday morning, we had no electricity at home, so we went to the office but couldn’t get in — they didn’t want us walking up four flights in the dark. We couldn’t even get coffee — we had to go to the local hospital for coffee.”

Because PatriotNet’s 13 employees are equipped with laptops, everyone worked from home, connecting to the corporate network via dial-up connections, and using their cell phones to answer calls and conduct business. PatriotNet’s tech staffers dialed in to the network via telnet, checking and managing systems remotely.

Although the building’s phone system was down, PatriotNet employees were unaffected because the company uses the Web-based phone service Aptela, from e-cerv. Aptela provides PBX functions like individual extensions, call forwarding, follow me, voicemail and message management for small companies that don’t want to deal with the complexity and expense of a corporate PBX. PatriotNet employees used dial-up lines to log on to the Aptela Web site, and programmed all incoming calls to cell phones or second land lines.

“With Aptela, we were able to let our customers know what was happening,” de Lorenzi says. “One was having a conference that week, and it was imperative that his DSL connectivity was working. He had electricity, but his DSL was down. We were able to figure out that the DSL connection wasn’t the problem, but a power surge had blown his hub. He needed to know that,” she says.

Because many of her employees have long commutes, de Lorenzi found herself setting up an ad hoc telework center at her house. “One employee tried to get into the office, couldn’t get in, so he drove to my house, just a few miles away. We both just pulled out our laptops and started working at my kitchen table,” she says.

Aside from Aptela’s role, PatriotNet — and de Lorenzi’s — progressive attitude about telework contributed to its success. The company’s director of sales teleworks full time, and employees are encouraged to work from home on days they have a doctor’s appointment, car trouble and the like. PatriotNet also does telework technology consulting in the area, and de Lorenzi is president of the Texas Technology Council — Texas is her home state — which brings telework seminars to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

“I thought traffic congestion was bad in Texas,” she says. “But telework is so much more important in an area as densely populated as Washington, D.C. If you’re in this region, you just have to have telework.”