Features: July 22nd, 2005

Councils Keep In Touch With Text Messaging

Councils across the UK are turning on to the benefits of communicating with local residents and employees through the use of SMS services. One of the first to recognise the opportunities text messaging provides was Kirklees Metropolitan Council in West Yorkshire, which embraces the technology as part of its Chatback programme, an initiative to reach out to young people in the area.

Keeping in touch with young people

The project enables young people to receive free text messages that keep them up to date with news and information on issues and activities that are relevant to them in the area.

Those who register with Chatback can select services that they are particularly interested in – activities and workshops, life advice, accommodation, exclusive offers and events and gigs – and get messages specifically related to the same.

Members signing up for the ‘activities and workshops’ information will receive messages about indoor and outdoor activities including adventure weekends, walks, climbs, trips, excursions, sports coaching, performing arts and music workshops.

‘Life advice’ sends members messages about jobs, career advice, health advice and general information about living, studying and working in Kirklees.

‘Accommodation’ covers information on housing waiting lists, repairs, useful contacts and advice on housing and council tax benefits.

‘Exclusive offers’ allows members to receive offers for sport and leisure facilities, cinemas, gigs and money off vouchers.

‘Events and gigs’ enables members to receive messages about events, fetes, festivals, carnivals, open days and concerts that are happening locally.

“We realised that this group of people all used mobile phones and were into texting,” said the council’s systems manager, Terence Hudson. “The service was promoted via our Web site and traditional forms of marketing and has now attracted several hundreds of subscribers, who receive text messages based on their chosen keywords. The whole system is automated.”

Keeping in touch with staff

Alongside Kirklees’ Chatback initiative, the council’s own IT team worked on developing a bespoke software solution that works with its systems to increase the flexibility of how the council sends and receives text messages to and from its own employees.

Called iTex, the XML-based solution is now available to any council within the UK and, among other features, the software enables them to automatically route messages to or from other applications such as email or the Web.

“As one example, our emergency duty officer receives email notification from the Met Office whenever a severe weather warning is issued,” said Terence. “Using iTex, linked into the Esendex service, we have set a rule so these messages are re-routed to his mobile phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The council is also looking at other ways to use text messaging to keep in touch with its employees and sees a role for the technology in keeping contact with field workers.

“We initially chose the Esendex service because of its accreditation with Orange,” concluded Terence. “But we have found it very cost effective and remarkably easy and quick to implement – the fact that it’s Web-based makes life so easy for us.”

Esendex, is a provider of text messaging solutions for businesses and the public sector. For further information please contact sales@esendex.com or call 0115 959 7959.