Feb 14, 2019

Is the School Emergency Alert Market Ripe for Disruption?

Robocalling has been the king of the school emergency alert world since the 1990s. Are newer mobile notification systems poised to take over as the go-to solution for school alerts and reminders? And should these newcomers be considered a disruptive technology in the education market? 

Defining Disruption in Education Technology

The concept of "disruptive innovation" was first described by Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book The Innovators Dilemma. A decade later Christensen took on disruption in K-12 education in Disrupting Class. Both books have become classics in the business world for the way they describe the process by which newer technologies and ideas disrupt, and eventually replace, established technologies and methods. 

Christensen explains that established companies face both internal and external pressures that make innovating from within difficult. As technologies become entrenched in a market, incumbents rightly focus on improving their existing products to meet the demands of their most profitable customers. Over time, this leads to development of products that are increasingly feature-rich and expensive. This generally means ignoring less profitable prospects who may be looking for lower-cost, more streamlined solutions. 

This leaves a market segment open for new entrants who can deliver an economical, simple solution that meets the needs of these neglected buyers. As the new innovation gains market share, it becomes increasingly sophisticated and starts chipping into the incumbent's core market. Over time, the disruptive technology shifts the way businesses or entire industries operate. 

The classic example of a disruptive technology is the PC, which started as a novelty for computing hobbyists and eventually killed the entire mainframe industry. In education, the textbook industry has been radically disrupted by software-based programs, open educational resources, and free educational videos on YouTube or Vimeo. AI-based adaptive testing platforms are disrupting the assessment industry. 

But what about mobile notification systems—can they be considered a disruptive technology?

Disrupting the School Emergency Alert Market

Robocalling systems are an established solution for school emergency alerts and notifications. Most medium-to-large school districts—and many smaller ones—rely on robocalling to get the word out for school closures, lockdowns and other critical alerts. They allow schools to quickly record and push out mass voice alerts to everyone in their school community. 

Over time, school robocalling systems have gotten increasingly sophisticated and feature-rich. Most will now send out SMS text messages in addition to placing voice calls. Some allow schools to create different groups so they can send robocall alerts to all staff or to selected groups of families—just the football parents, for example. Some systems are linked to attendance or student information systems and will place automated calls to parents if their child is absent without an excuse or low on lunch money in their electronic account. 

All this sophistication comes with a price—a significant one, for most districts. Robocalling systems tend to charge by the number of contacts stored in the system and the number of calls dialed per month. Many districts try to control these costs by limiting the phone numbers in their autodialing database (perhaps only including one parent per child) or reserving the system for only emergency-level announcements. 

This situation has left gaps in the market that leave it vulnerable to disruption by newer entrants. The text messaging service Remind has skyrocketed in popularity with teachers because it allows them to create and send quick mobile messages to parents without going through the gatekeepers in charge of the robocalling system. Since it is free for individual teachers, they can use it to send out daily messages and reminders about homework, class news and upcoming events. This decentralized, daily communication would not be practical or affordable using a traditional robocalling system. 

App-based messaging services like eChalk Notify are also poised to disrupt the school notification market. These services may not yet be a replacement for critical school closure and emergency alerts, but as the share of the population using smart phones and apps approaches universal access and the share of households with landlines continues to fall, app-based messaging services offer an attractive alternative to traditional voice messaging services. These notification systems are simple, lightweight and inexpensive compared to robocalling systems. Notify also allows message creation and dissemination to be decentralized, empowering individual teachers and coaches and making communication faster, easier and more personal. 

Do you think a school notification app could disrupt the robocalling market? Watch the video below to see what we can do, and contact us to learn more!