Skip to content

Mobile’s role in bridging the digital divide

hipg screenshot

This is a guest post from the GDS mobile team:

The GDS mobile team made a trip to Chiswick last week to OpenMarket, providers of our SMS delivery platform and shortcode number, to find out a bit more about how we could be making better use of SMS technology.

Whilst you might assume that the role of SMS in the digital world is dwindling, it’s important to remember that only 74% of adults have access to broadband at home, compared to 91% of adults who have a mobile phone. In the UK, 129 billion text messages were sent last year, that’s risen by 2000% over the past decade. You can read the full report on the Ofcom website.

Directgov has already been using SMS for several years to supplement campaigns on mobile, but we’re really only scratching the surface of what this tool can achieve.

So far we’ve largely been using what we call ‘auto-responses’, which means users text a keyword, i.e. TRAVEL to 83377, and we then send them a link to the Directgov mobile travel tool. They send us a message, we send one back – pretty straightforward.

For last year’s ‘Health in Pregnancy Grant‘ campaign, we took it to the next level. Users text a keyword and their due date to subscribe to a reminder in the 28th week of their pregnancy, when it’s time to apply for their grant. Take up for this campaign was very encouraging, racking up over 10,000 subscriptions in the first 7 months.

The potential for these reminder services is pretty big. It’s easy to think of a number of uses for simple reminder services such as self-assessment deadlines, car tax, etc. The delivery platform can also integrate with 3rd party back-end systems to supplement an existing service. So for example, it could send out reminder messages for jobseeker interviews and hospital appointments.

Other uses include:

  • Bulk messaging – to distribute information to segmented groups. e.g. the system can send out instant reminders to all subscribed users with information about  flood warnings, Jobcentre closures, Foreign Office travel advice, etc.
  • Decision tree style ‘dialogues’ – question and answer style messages to deliver specific, relevant answers based on a customer’s individual circumstances.
  • e-petitions, polls, surveys and quizzes
  • location based services to find your nearest facilities. NHS Choices already offer a service to find your nearest health facilities, i.e. text PHARMACY to 64746 to receive a list of pharmacies based on your current location.

So we think SMS could have an important role to play in bridging the digital divide – a stepping stone to help bring traditionally non-digital people into the digital world using a device that they already know and trust.

This week GDS helped launch the Tech City app to coincide with David Cameron’s speech in East London. Read more about that in Alice’s post.

We’re also looking forward to getting involved in the single domain project very shortly – we’ve seen phenomenal growth on the Directgov mobile site recently (now receiving over 1.7 million visits per month) so mobile is clearly going to be a key part of our offer to the citizen, now and in the future.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Back in the 90s, securities were dematerialised. Out went share certificates. In came entries on the registrars’ computerised ledgers.

    Eight years ago, I came up with the idea of dematerialised ID. Material vouchers like passports and club membership cards and tickets to concerts could be replaced with digital certificates and stored on mobile phones. That way you can process them. Mobile phones alert you when the battery is running out. They could just as easily alert you when your visa is running out – in the language of your choice.

    No interest from the government or the banks or the mobile phone companies. There again, I am the world’s worst salesman. Even if I had been the world’s best, though, I was warned, it would take about 12 years for the government to have the idea themselves and for the wheels to start turning.

    Best of luck with the SMS idea, GDS mobile team. But pace yourselves, don’t peak too early, probably about another four years to go.

    • PJ #

      I think this is the time for this now! The infrastructure’s there or at least developing in a way it wasn’t before.

  2. I agree that SMS is under-achieving. One of the best examples of SMS engagement I have seen is Eurostar / Fizzback who push out SMS surveys based on customer intelligence (e.g. you get your survey while you are on the train ride). Moreover, responses are analysed immediately using natural language processing, prioritised and sent for action.

    So, you could be sat on your train – get a survey via SMS – fill it in and complain about the temperature of the carriage – and get a visit from the train guard within minutes to resolve your problems without even having to disclose your name in the original communiqué.

    • GDS mobile team #

      Thanks for that comment Fraser – I agree that’s a great use of SMS. If you’re looking to reach your customer immediately, SMS is obviously an ideal channel, considering that mobiles are something that people carry around with them all day and check constantly (as opposed to periodically checking emails, as and when you have access).

      It’s also worth considering that mobile is a much more personal device. We’ve often had feedback from our customers that they prefer to conduct private correspondance on their mobiles, rather than a shared family or work computer.

      It’s great too that in your example that there’s such a clear link between the feedback and the action taken by Eurostar. Very impressive!

  3. You’re right about the potential for reminder services and notifications; often an SMS will be preferred to an email or phone call because of the personal nature and immediacy of the comms.

    SMS can also be a great cost (ie call) avoidance measure, by proactively notifying people of updates etc that they would otherwise enquire about. I have some good figures on this in a UK gov’t department.

    Very important with SMS though is the ability to very tightly segment and target the message recipients; it’s a very personal medium and people will quickly unsubscribe from services if they feel they’re being spammed.

    Take a look at what Birmingham City Council and Norfolk Constabulary are doing with geographically-targeted SMS and multi-channel messaging:

    NI Direct is also picking up use of SMS on the 66101 shortcode as a pan-gov’t service, which is a step in the right direction!

    PS: Very happy to talk more about any of these examples or put you in touch :)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 653 other followers