Mass notification systems are the backbone of a school’s communications and parental engagement platform.

When they work efficiently, it is a game changer. Whether you are managing a crisis, getting your parents more involved in their children’s education, or providing helpful information that contributes to your school days operating smoothly, having a notification system in place that is reliable and efficient is the key to mass messaging success.

If your notification system is not working well, because some aspect of the system is not providing the performance you need, then you are unknowingly burdening your staff to make up for the system’s shortcomings. All of this represents a lack of efficiency and added cost to your school or district.

Based on experience, and as a company who has provided these services for decades, here is how we describe what we know to be the anatomy of a great notification platform.

Data Integration
This is what we consider to be the brains of the system—the most critical integration is with your Student Information System. A system MUST be able to have access to all of your student data; this data can be used as part of your outgoing message, or it can be evaluated as the reason a message is sent.

If your system does not have this integration, rest assured someone in your organization is spending time overcoming this deficiency. Good notification platforms will provide this type of integration, provide an automated sync each night, and will keep existing lists up to date. Great notification systems will do this but will also provide integration to the other databases that your district uses, such as meal databases and transportation databases, just to name a few.

The great systems will allow your users to incorporate all of these different sources of data into one outgoing message. Obtaining this level of integration should not rest on your IT staff but will be part of the service your vendor provides. If you are paying extra for this level of integration, then you may be working with the wrong vendor.

Communication Methods
As technology has advanced and the way we all use technology has evolved, different message types have come in and out of favor. Some people still prefer traditional methods such as phone calls and emails, while others favor receiving a text message. Which is best? It depends on the circumstance. Is the message time critical or is it simply an informational message; these factors should dictate the specific message type.

While good notification system will offer all three of these methods, voice call, texting and email. Great notification systems will expand on this by offering more cutting-edge methods: Push Notifications, Two-way Instant Messaging (IM), or Social Media posts. With the proliferation of texting, many people’s cellphones are loaded with text messages from friends, families or from spammers and retailers luring you to their wares. How does your critical message standout and grab the attention of parents when you are in the midst of an emergency? Push Notifications offer you a way to get past the clutter and make your parents take notice of your messages. Having all of the available options is what sets a great system from an alright system.

Getting and keeping your parents and students engaged with their teachers and coaches in the world of hybrid learning is one of the biggest challenges facing schools today. Using traditional communication methods simply do not cut it. Using a Two-way IM communication platform which is fully integrated with your SIS makes this task incredibly easy and highly effective.

Yes, there are free apps that lure teachers and coaches with the promise of ease-of-use and parent engagement. However, when you look at what it takes to set those services up or to make them part of your district’s formal communications infrastructure, it is no longer free. When they lack the ability to integrate with your SIS, teachers and coaches are forced to spend hours becoming data managers inviting and setting up parents and students as contacts. The apps can offer the logging of communications between parents and teachers, but now the “free” app is not free—far from it. Prices to add enterprise functionality can reach several dollars per student. You need support from those “free” app companies, and usually they do not offer phone support, as it is another hidden real cost of free apps.

Ease of Use
An effective communications tool should at its core, provide a net cost savings from doing things manually. Nothing takes away from the effectiveness of communications services than a clunky user experience.

A great notification system should provide a logical and simple path from the need of sending a message, to the actual sending of that message. The process should mirror how you would intuitively approach the task; and the steps should be laid out for you without the need to go between different systems, windows or screens. This thoughtful approach to a user interface should make sending routine messages easier and should not impede your staff’s ability to deal with and communicate during a critical situation occurring at the school/district.

Customizations
Every school/district operates differently. A notification service should complement your school’s daily activities, not provide a source of frustration. Having a vendor with a long history providing notification services, means that they have the experience and the thought leadership to help you solve your specific problems, in a way that does not force you to change your daily routines.

This is only possible if the vendor you work with has a team in place with the institutional knowledge of the software that makes up the service. While this seems like a simple ask, in almost all cases it doesn’t exist behind the scenes of vendors in this market. The number of vendors in the K-12 notification space has dwindled significantly over the past 10 years, because of the acquisition of company’s user base and in some instances core technology. These acquisitions come at a price, as the people that have all of the knowledge to support the software leave the company or are terminated in the name of efficiency.

What does this mean to you as a customer of these companies? The issues are revealed when you seek support for the product, or you need a customization of a feature. In most cases these companies will not even entertain customizations for you. The ability to deal with support issues that involve code changes take longer to implement. This costs you time, money and adds to the frustration of using the system; these frustrations and time loss are often never reported, but the costs are real.

Responsive and Effective Technical Support
No matter how solid of a notification service you use, there will always come a time when you will need to interact with the service and support organization from that company. Whether it is to retrieve a forgotten password or to have the provider make a tweak to the services. All good notification service providers will offer a minimum of telephone support. Great vendors will offer telephone and email support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for NO additional cost.

The differentiation between good and great goes beyond the contact type and the hours of available service. How fast do your problems get resolved? How professional and competent are the people answering your questions and solving your problems? These are some key differentiators.

We hear stories from new clients where past vendors took weeks to respond to a routine question. That is unacceptable. When you run a company that is providing emergency notification services, it is reasonable to expect that you will operate with a sense of urgency. Whether you are dealing with sales and marketing, or support and service organizations, your questions will be responded to thoughtfully, completely and professionally. Anything less is not tolerated.

Price
What should a notification service cost you? A review of the market shows a wide variance in prices and ways prices are determined. Regardless of the price, transparency is the key. When you are budgeting for your implementation, any surprise added costs should not be tolerated. You should know up front what all of the costs are going to be.

Price is never a good indicator of what you will get. There are high priced solutions that lack basic features, reliability and offer terrible support. Choose a solution that offers all of the features you need, provides top notch support; asking for references is always a smart way to evaluate the company’s past performance.

You can have it all. The features, the integration, the price, the ability to customize to your school or district’s needs, and the support.

BrightArrow Technologies has been delivering a full featured notification platform for over 20 years to thousands of the most discriminating schools and districts around the country. We offer all of what is described here for a fair price. To learn more about how BrightArrow can satisfy your school’s unique requirements, visit our website at www.BrightArrow.com.

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