Integrations and the future of mass notification

With 2017 already underway, it’s a good time to look at what we think will be major drivers in the mass notification system market. One recent report estimates this market is to grow from $4.16 billion in 2016 to more than $9 billion by 2021. It appears the focus will be on business continuity strategies and IP-based notification devices. Let’s break those down a bit.

Business Continuity

When an emergency happens, its ripple effect can extend beyond the initial incident to produce plenty of collateral damage. Any interruption in service and/or operations will directly impact the bottom line as well as customer satisfaction, brand reputation, and other less concrete but equally important metrics. Companies can spend millions of dollars to recover and continue operating as quickly as possible, from repairs and rebuilding to marketing and PR strategies.

As more companies fear the worst, which would be prolonged or complete organizational shutdowns, they are getting smarter about their emergency response plans. In today’s 24×7 news and social media, one misstep can lead to irreparable damage. Consumers expect a rapid response, one that balances the potential personal loss of its key stakeholders (employees/customer/supplier/partner base) and community with recovery strategies to get the business up and running. Consumers’ patience is fragile.

Related: Cyber Threats and Mass Communication Systems

Employees may be a bit more resilient, particularly if they receive consistent, informative and timely corporate communications. Perhaps the focus on business continuity shouldn’t be only on systems, technology, or structural repairs, but also on the employees that will be the ones directly responsible for its success. Any business continuity strategy must include employees – not just to protect them during an emergency, but to keep them informed with the knowledge they will need to help the company get back onto its feet. The better the communication, the faster the company can rebound.

These communications should include all relevant information, customized to each employee role, required for employees to take immediate action to begin the recovery process. While these instructions will be highly specific to job function, organizations cannot forget the other employees who may not have a key role in bringing systems back online. They are equally important as they are the face of the company and can easily use social media and review sites to praise or slam their company’s response to the crisis.

Think employee reviews don’t matter? Look at these related stats:

  • 46 percent of Glassdoor members start their job search by reading employee reviews, even before they have spoken with a company recruiting or hiring manager
  • 54 percent of job applicants read company reviews from employees
  • 61 percent of Glassdoor users report that they seek company reviews and ratings before making a decision to apply for a job
  • The majority of job seekers read at least six reviews before forming an opinion of a company
  • 78 percent of job seekers say that ratings and reviews from those on the inside are influential when deciding where to work
  • 69 percent of job applicants would not take a job with a company with a bad reputation
  • Employees rank as the most trusted influencers when communicating about their company’s engagement and integrity
  • Only 17 percent of employees highly rate communications from their company leaders

How a company treats and informs its employees before, during, and after an emergency event tells the world more about the company values than any marketing campaign could ever do. People are watching, listening, and sharing.

How does a company implement an effective business continuity plan? As the report I mentioned at the beginning of this blog suggests, investment in mass notification technology plays a key role. An integrated mass notification system will enable companies to communicate with all employees, no matter their location or position, in real time, giving them the pertinent information they need to stay safe, perform business-critical tasks, and/or move forward with tasks to keep business operations running.

This will require multiple communication channels to be integrated, using a mass communication system to bind them together so messaging can be delivered quickly and simultaneously. Only then can business leaders have confidence that employees have the information and details they need to be safe and to do all they can to implement the business continuity plan. Otherwise, it will be hit or miss. It’s those “misses” that can do the most damage. These are the people who didn’t get the message, who weren’t informed, who become frustrated or angry that their employer didn’t keep them safe or tell them what to do. For every one of these employees, there is a risk of loss of life, damage to brand reputation, future talent recruiting, and potential delays in bringing the business back online.

IP-based Notification Devices

Since the tragedy of 9/11, there has been a push to develop intelligent technologies for the front end of emergency notification. This includes the activation and integration of back-end systems, such as phone and voice messaging, public address, illuminating signaling devices, SMS text messaging, push notifications, and other interoperable communication devices. IP-based software and related devices are definitely the future for mass communications because they can support an organization’s capability for real-time communications and urgent notifications of multiple parties using a variety of devices.

These intelligent technologies will include more than simply an alarm to warn employees of impending danger, but “smart” notifications that give them details they can use to stay safe. When employees can instantly see notifications that tell them the nature of the emergency, the location of the danger, plus any instructions as to what their next action should be, they are much more protected than when they simply hear an alarm. Even fire alarms are becoming smarter, signaling with both an audible siren with corresponding details and/or signage.

Think, for instance, about an active shooter on a college campus. If students simply hear a campus alarm ringing, they have no idea if they are in actual danger or what they need to do. Where is the shooter and are there more than one? Is the shooter still at large? Where is the safest place to shelter?

Related: The Right and Wrong Way to Send Out Mass Notifications

Many organizations are taking a more modern approach to safety and mass notifications by investing in mass alert systems that integrate many communication channels. In this way, they can be more certain to reach every employee, student, staff member, etc. that may be in harm’s way with not only alarms but messaging and guidance to more information. Whether the person is on a mobile device, walking around a facility or campus, traveling, working remotely, or in a meeting or class, they will hear and/or see the alert.

No matter if the notification warns of an active shooter or an upcoming weather event, every person will be informed and know what to do. Of course, these systems and the emergency response process must be rehearsed regularly. The more familiar people are with hearing and seeing these alerts, the better prepared they will be in an actual emergency. Likewise, the organization can work out any kinks and continually improve their processes to ensure the fastest, most accurate, and widespread messaging is successfully delivered across all devices and channels.

The Value of Integrations

The success of the mass notification system market is dependent on one thing: integrations. Integrating technologies in order to deliver frictionless, real-time messaging will be the name of the game for the foreseeable future. The specific devices and channels integrated will be dependent on the organization and its user base.

For instance, a college campus can safely assume the majority of its students will be carrying mobile devices, however, K-12 schools cannot make the same assumptions. Most of these younger students either are not permitted to carry smartphones or are too young to own them. In the same manner, hospitals may still be the only organizations who widely use pagers. An effective mass notification system must have the flexibility to add and change devices to reflect their specific demographics.

The emergency notification system, no matter the type and number of devices and technologies added, should be so consolidated and efficient that a single administrator can trigger it to send out a message or series of messages in only a matter of a few minutes across every device and channel his or her people most use. This may include public address systems, fire alarms, mobile devices, pagers, computer systems, digital signage, intercoms, TVs, two-way radios, and phone systems. The message can be produced from a template ahead of time or created on the fly as circumstances present themselves. Either way, every employee, student, staff member, parent, guest, visitor (you get the point) receives instant, real-time alerts and information.

The nature of an emergency means time is of the essence. It’s no longer enough to simply sound the alarms. People need information, clarity, and transparency to know the best next action to take. By investing in next-generation technologies that integrate systems, organizations can better ensure they are doing all they can (and must) to protect the people entrusted to them.