Government puts faith in SMS with ‘Notify’

Rarely are the British government’s attempts to save money greeted with positivity from the public; most spending cuts spark more protests than praise. One of the latest cost-cutting moves could well be widely welcomed, however, for the convenience it offers if nothing else.

‘Notify’ is a new notifications platform that will see people updated on government-related matters by SMS, email and post. By this, we mean things like MOT and student finance applications.

The Government Digital Services (GDS) announced earlier this month that it was ready to put Notify into the beta stage, having already passed through the discovery and alpha phases. This means the ball could be rolling as soon as late-February.

The government receives millions of calls every year from people just checking the latest progress of their applications. It is hoped that by keeping users constantly updated through mediums like SMS, the immense pressure being placed on expensive call centres will ease.

GDS believes the changes could help the state to save as much as £600 million; this estimate based on the average costs of sending texts (15p), making calls (£2.38) and meeting someone in person (£8.62).

It’d be pretty impressive were that to happen, right? Well, such massive savings should be pretty familiar by now; the government saved more than £3.5 billion through digital and technology transformation between 2012 and 2014.

Flexibility is a key part of the initiative, according to GDS. Bosses say they’re ready to switch between SMS, email and postal providers to ensure cost-efficiency is always maximised, and this this would not affect those using the service.

Of course, we’re at the earliest stages of this new government/SMS relationship, but things are looking good for the future. A GDS spokesperson said: “The focus as we build the beta is around sending out status updates. Beyond that, there’s a whole world of opportunity where someone could potentially reply to a message to automatically book, change or cancel an appointment, confirm they’d like to renew something, provide additional information – there’s a lot to explore, particularly around the rapidly evolving world of mobile phones.

“But that’s for later. For now, we’re busy building the platform and we’ll be sharing shortly how we’re tackling the challenges of phishing and spoofing, the guidance we’re developing with service teams around what (and when) good notifications look like.”

Now, this isn’t the end of face-to-face communication at the government; more an efficiency-driven reduction. Some of the more pressing matters may still be covered with good old fashioned communication when necessary, but smaller updates could soon be sent via SMS.

The first use of the new system will be to send out notifications regarding MOT and lasting power of attorney applications.