Friday, November 20, 2009

A little more conversation...

I find it equally amusing and depressing when I hear telcos speak, as they frequently do, about the secret to value creation being in their content strategy. For shareholders, perhaps that's true (I'm deeply skeptical), but for customers and society at large, clearly the greatest value created in communications is in enabling interactions and transactions, or as my friends at Telco 2.0 frame it, "removing friction."

So here's some friction. This morning I took my daughters to school, to find the headmaster and several other members of staff standing at the school gates holding hastily printed signs which read, "Unfortunately, we have to cancel school for all of year 1 and class 9 due to health and safety reasons." From what we could gather, there was a flood overnight, affecting classrooms in one section of the building.

Luckily, (or unluckily, they might say) neither of my daughters was in the affected groups. However, there are around 100 kids who were, and the first notice their parents received of this less-than-minor inconvenience was when they arrived at the school shortly before 9:00. Some of these kids don't live all that close to the school, so their families will have made unnecessary car or bike journeys, while others will have had contend with no childcare backup and unsympathetic employers. The employers, sympathetic or not, will have lost productivity. Overall, this one incident affecting nominally 100 children also affected at least 100 adults and probably nearly as many businesses.

Now, I'm guessing that the school caretaker or some other members of staff were aware of the problem at least an hour or two before the parents and children arrived, but it would have been impossible to phone every affected household to let them know they needed to make alternative arrangements - or so I'm sure the defensive administration would respond. However, phoning every household is a very 1980s sort of solution, and totally unnecessary in 2009.

It's safe to assume that every parent in the school has a mobile phone, so either the local education authority should have an SMS alerting service for this sort of situation, or the school, which seems to pride itself on its level of IT literacy, should set up a Twitter account and encourage parents to follow and/or activate SMS tweets. Some effort would be required, and inevitably this strategy won't cover everyone, but it's a start, and surely it's better than disrupting something like 300 lives and imposing a cost on people/businesses who are just trying to get on with earning a living. And for those delivering the bad news, surely it's a more pleasant alternative to having to stand in the rain with a limp sign encountering withering looks from outraged parents. We have the tools, so why don't we use them?

7 comments:

Andy said...

I'm pretty sure that last winter, our son's primary school was alerting people to snow closures via SMS. Via the local education authority I think (Wokingham). So worth a comment to the headteacher, for sure.

James Enck said...

Will give it a go. Mind you, we are talking about Southwark here...

KeithJamesMc said...

sounds like your school is shite.

my kids school have sms alerts - you even get texts if your kid is late to remind to ring in & confirm reason. They deliver recorded messages to fixed lines...

I live in the "impoverished and backward" North, where text alerts in the frozen winter are invaluable.

... and my kids go to a state school, not some posh private school

Cybersavvy UK said...

www.teachers2parents.co.uk is the service one of my kids' schools use. We got a text at 7.37am on Friday saying the school was closed due to the flooding (we are in Cumbria). As the school bus would have left at 8am, if it could even have got through to us, that was plenty of time to stop getting ready and make alternative plans.

I don't know how much the service costs but it is invaluable. As you rightly say, why on earth don't schools use this kind of technology?

Neither school had anything on their websites till later on in the day and yet both use CMS which allow multiple people to add content. The websites were the first port of call at 7am ish and are the obvious place to also post something about closure without it costing the school a bean.

Email alerts too could be used, but aren't. We do however get emails telling us the kids are coming home with a letter, yet not sending a copy of the letter and saving on printing costs.....hmmm!!!

Hector said...

We also have SMS alerts at school here at the mountains surrounding Madrid.

Some sort of tweets seems to me too "geek" for 95% of the parents (oh! spam on my mobile...). SMS as a form of communication is a right balance between importance and inmediacy

Cybersavvy UK said...

@Hector only problem with relying on SMS is that sometimes, particularly in bad weather, they may not be delivered. I think schools need to reach parents via multiple routes eg SMS, tweets, emails, website.

And for those parents who haven't joined the technology age, perhaps they could use pigeons like Winston??! http://www.facebook.com/Winston.the.Pigeon?v=wall or for non FB people http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8248056.stm

Paul Sweeney said...

Like everyone above says, there are lots of ways to let people know about delays and cancellations. I suspect the "problem" here is that "it wasn't any particular persons job to make it happen". If the task doesn't fall into someones job roll, and if they don't get budget approval for it, with an approved vendor", it tends not to happen. One additional note: phone calls have the benefit of having delivery verification (i.e. I know this phone rang, and they listened to this much of the message. Simple "right person validation" up front in the message can give the school some additional proof of delivery it might need.