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?