By Lorraine Duclos
When TechRepublic covered how disaster preparedness plans saved two Houston companies after a recent tornado, Lorraine Duclos wrote in, seeking input on her disaster plan. Duclos is president of VISTA International & Canadian Postal Agency, Inc., which specializes in international delivery of direct mailings, advertisements, and other large mailings.The company, founded in June 1998, has 10 employees based in California, Canada, and the East Coast. Duclos wanted to know what TechRepublic members thought of her disaster preparedness plan. “Is this a good plan?” Duclos asked. “Is there something else out there even more secure? What about the next step of growth?” Here is how Duclos described her plan:
Why have a plan?
We are a smaller company with the head office and processing centers located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver, BC. We wanted our disaster plan to address some of the potential problems that may occur on the West Coast of North America.

I’ve seen the results of companies that didn’t have a backup plan: A natural disaster, like an earthquake, ruined their business after a couple of weeks of being down.

Since we handle deliveries overseas and have clients based on the East and West Coasts, as well as the Midwest and Canada, we have to be aware of what’s happening worldwide. We see things that happen all around the world, and we have to let our customers know that there might be a delay in their mail because of these issues.

Cost was a primary concern. Though I like the capabilities of an application service provider (ASP), we didn’t have the research time or the money for that. We needed an inbox solution that we could set up and have other people access from the Internet. We couldn’t afford a T1 line or another high-speed connection.

Our plan needed to get everyone up-and-running and informed about the customers while allowing us to perform our jobs 24 hours a day. We also needed something that would benefit all departments.

We spent two months researching customer relationship programs, such as GoldMine, Siebel, and ACT!.

We felt ACT! addressed all our needs. ACT 2000 works with Intuit QuickBooks Pro, and it can set up accounting systems. You can also set it up on a PalmPilot or on a laptop. Sales Logix, which owns ACT!, also offers an upgrade, so we felt the software could grow with our company.

ACT! had a promotional offer of $99 per package. Normally, it can range from $129-169 per package.

Training and execution
Once we decided on ACT!, we spent a day training on it. Setting up the actual hubs in other offices took an hour or so.

We established our central hub in Montreal, which remains our “out of the country” contact. We have been advised that when telephone and other systems are shut down, it is easier to obtain a long distance line versus local calling.

As part of our disaster preparedness policy, we also synchronize our records from all our locations from one to three times a day. This allows the hub to be updated, and if any one of our offices goes down, all offices have daily updates of our customers, vendors, and prospects.

Beyond the software solution, we also chose a national bank so that we can have access to our account anywhere and no service will be disrupted to our customers or our vendors.

We set up a voice mail system that can advise concerned customers or vendors with updated information and numbers to call if they need to. All California reps carry backup cellular phones for sending messages, and they can also receive e-mails on their phones. They can receive numeric pages, too.

We also established a policy that our customers, staff, and vendors will be contacted directly by the VISTA office whenever there is a natural disaster. Employees report to the office that is up-and-running and out of the area of disaster.

Information is to be posted on our Web site, as well, for further communication with our customers, staff, and vendors.
Is this a good plan? Is there something else out there that Duclos did not consider that might be more secure? Post a comment, or send us an e-mail.