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Emergency and mass notification software is no longer used simply to share a piece of information with a wide audience quickly. Rather, it is a conduit for communication flows of all type. Deborah Ritchie looks at the developments and challenges in this changing market

The mass notification market is not a new one. During an incident or crisis, timeliness and quality of information transmission is paramount, and most large organisations’ business continuity and disaster recovery plans feature an element that requires mass notification capabilities. Having a system that transmits accurate and authoritative information to the right people at the right time – which can be more difficult than it sounds – is a valuable tool for any company. Harnessing the power of incoming communication or messaging allows organisations to make informed decisions quicker, ultimately reducing the time it takes to act with confidence. But mass notification software is beginning to be seen as more than just a means of communicating throughout an incident, and the business benefits of these other purposes merit close attention.

Among the most significant influencers in this marketplace is found in the publication of ISO 22301 – specifically in the need for organisations to implement, monitor and review their business continuity plans, of which crisis communications is a major part. For those organisations familiar with the former standard BS 25999, the seasoned practitioner will know that this new standard adopts a much broader approach to the topic of warning and informing. Managing director of F-24, John Davison believes ISO 22301 to be a particularly hot topic in terms of the way notification solutions integrate with social media communications. And this extends to many different types of user.

“F24 has customers such as Unicredit Bank, Lufthansa, Ryanair, TNT Worldwide Express, Imperial Tobacco, BMW and Mercedes Benz Daimler all whom have differing forms of data integration with our FACT24 notification solution including social media scanning,” says Davison.

An increasingly varied customer base, coupled with a growing range of uses for this kind of software is creating a dynamic market. “Mass notification software is becoming broader in use across a range of business units and integration with planning and incident management tools together with data mapping and HR databases ensure that the solutions become fully integrated within an organisation rather than a separate stand-alone system,” says Trevor Wheatley-Perry, managing director of software provider Vocal.

“With the increasing number of information channels available emergency and mass notification software beginning to take taking a role in media and information management, social media scanning and interpretation and every manner of corporate communication during an incident from a single interface accessible anywhere.”

The impact of increased focus on planning around the Olympics can also be seen among those organisations that began to rethink the way they deliver their notifications. iModus was selected as the business communication and incident management tool for the Games, and the engagement of the CSSC communication hub with every industry sector, through approved and identified sector leads provided the business community with timely, accurate and authoritative information, rather than rumour or social content. From the launch of the CSSC after trials in the early part of 2012 the reach of the system and the number of recipients and potential downstream contacts ensured that the approach became the de facto method during this period. Successes like these create valuable legacy projects, ultimately opening minds to new possibilities.

Some observers note an increasing desire on the part of some buyers for more intelligent, targeted messaging. “Traditional mass notifications have tended to be static groups or broadcast lists but it is now possible to solicit real-time status information from staff in the field that can be used to dynamically affect or amend who receives broadcast messages, making for more relevant, targeted messaging,” says Nigel Gray, director at PageOne, whose Flare solution is used by organisations across the public and private sectors. “Also prevalent is the use of location/mapping services to better manage and direct field-resource and improve incident response.”

In an business environment with increasingly global workforces, and a rise in the number of home-workers, the issue of communicating with the lone worker must be addressed in a cost-effective and scalable fashion, making a real case for the integration of notification software. “Duty of care for vulnerable staff is a continued concern as a drive for operational efficiencies is pushing more flexible working practices or hours and more staff working alone,” Gray adds. “Monitoring in a manner which is unobtrusive (people tend not to want to be tracked) and cost-effective is a challenge we’ve been addressing with our Responder service.”

Others in the market note a generally broader corporate approach to communication and emergency response, with users seeking greater efficiencies and consistency, including multinational organisations implementing technology globally. “Delivering local solutions within the governance of a corporate framework requires a full understanding of what the division and the corporate entity are striving to achieve,” explains Wheatley-Perry. “Furthermore as more units have access to such systems they are being adopted for a wider range of applications, from IT through to integrated alerts within security or fire alarm systems for example. The diversification of uses ensures that the business unit benefits from a greater degree of familiarity resulting in less training and an overall decrease in proportional costs."

Location is becoming less relevant in this market as organisations in every corner of the globe embrace best practice and raise their emergency response standards. Ultimately, it is the ability to keep customers connected, even under extreme load and circumstance which separates emergency and mass notification providers from other communication providers such as SMS gateways and message aggregators.

Says Wheatley-Perry: “The common factor as the market develops is one of assurance. As communication process become more personally configurable, sophisticated and further integrated with business as usual activities they are still underlined by the need to ensure delivery and be accountable of each piece of business critical information.”
Criticall CEO, Ian Hammond believes that in some corners of the market, some customers – particularly first time buyers – may not know what they need from their notification solution. The list of clients depending on their systems includes KPMG, BP, AstraZeneca, Nomura, Commerzbank, Standard Life, Fidelity, National Grid and Marks & Spencer, further demonstrating just how diverse customer requirements and characteristics are becoming in this market.

Hammond identifies a further challenge in users gaining confidence through getting to know the system they finally choose. “We have a package that is only used for emergencies, which entails it own degree of risk as users don’t get used to it.” KPMG are thought-leaders in this regard, he adds, testing the system once every six months, to instil confidence in the system among staff.

Specific implementation challenges exist in some locations, including hosting regulations, network limitations and communication approval and differing data protection rules. Most countries have their own unique challenges. The US, for instance, enforces a stringent approval process prior to a provider implementing mobile SMS solutions, which, once passed, ensures that an organisation has approved and consistent messaging capabilities – a worthy endgame, most readers will agree. Integration with other systems is something that also needs to be addressed, as well as data integration, two challenges that, despite the progress made in this market, will continue to be both the opportunity and the risk in messaging.

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