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In troubled times, bank on backups

By BS Bureau in Mumbai
July 13, 2006 12:05 IST
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On the fateful evening of July 11, people shopping at Mumbai's malls could not use their credit cards for payment as the point of sales terminals were not working.

The serial blasts had created panic in the city and all telephone lines were jammed.

Wiser after the experience of floods and terrorism, banks have been drawing up contingency plans. For instance, all banks stuff their ATMs with cash to avoid any inconvenience to their customers.

So, the shoppers could leave their shopping bags on the counter, rush to nearby ATMs for cash and pay up. This was not a difficult task as there are many ATMs in the city and most banks share a common ATM network.

Banks are also making sure that other channels of banking like Internet and phone banking are running. "When there is a problem like a flood or terrorist attacks, customers do not like to visit the brick and mortar branches as they feel insecure. So they turn to net banking or ATMs. We also send cash to the door steps of some of the customers who request for the same," said the retail banking head of a private sector bank.

Most banks have also shifted their currency chests from basements or ground floors to elevated levels after last July's deluge that saw crores of rupees going down the drain, literally.

"We are not taking any chances. Last year, we had to hire driers and shredding machines to take care of soiled notes in currency chests," said a general manager of a public sector bank. Finally, as part of their contingency plans, some banks have been strengthening their call centres to take care of customer needs in emergency.

"We had chalked out a contingency plan during Y2K at the instance of the regulator. At that time, the focus was technology and we wanted to ensure a smooth transition to the new century. This time, the plans are driven by a need to serve the customers better in abnormal times," said the CEO of a large commercial bank.

Telecom operators, too, are putting in place contingency plans. According to sources in Reliance Communications, the company has a contingency management team in place. An action plan is devised based on the nature of the calamity.

For example, plans for natural calamities are different from those of other issues. In case of a terrorist attack and if infrastructure like a base transceiver station is affected, the best thing to do will be to redirect the traffic through other stations.

Gujarat saw an almost complete collapse of its telecom network immediately after the terrorist attack on the Akshardham temple in 2003 and during the devastating earthquake in 2001.

"In Gujarat, we have constructed a BSNL fixed line network such that it can absorb 2.5 times more than the normal traffic," said DK Agrawal, CGM Gujarat Circle, BSNL, adding, "For GSM or mobile phones, if needed we can erect more and more mobile towers in a short period."

Alternate plans are all the more crucial for the IT-enabled services sector that has overseas customers. "All IT and BPO companies have disaster recovery sites or mirror sites. If one of our centres is blown away, we immediately shift our operations to the mirror site. This is mandated under BS 7799 certification," said Aftek Infosys chairman and CEO Ranjit Dhuru.

Mastek has a mirror site in Pune and in the event of one of its operational sites being blown away, this site will automatically take care of all its operations. "BPO is a crucial industry and whatever comes, its operations cannot be halted. All BPO companies work 24X7 and shifting of processes to other centres are normal methods we employ," said Mastek chairman Ashank Desai.

Companies like Hyderabad-based ValueLabs have facilities in the US and Kuala Lumpur, where critical functions can be diverted to in case of any disaster.

ValueLabs CEO Arjun Rao said, "We have business continuity plans, including back-up policies to ensure that data can be recovered in a short time-frame in the event of any disaster."

Sources from Wipro Technologies said the company's emergency system allowed the company to transfer some back-up work to other locations in the country. The company has 15 offices in Bangalore.

Symphony Services, a software outsourcing provider with operations in seven locations in India - including one facility each in Pune and Mumbai, has tie-ups with many cyber cafes in Bangalore.

Sources from Infosys said they had a full-fledged disaster recovery system in place, which would ensure data security and provide back-up services from any of its nine development centres across India.
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