Plugging into the future of messaging. Being in a middle of an emergency is daunting enough, but trying to get in touch with multiple friends and family members can often make the situation even worse. Sanford Cohen, CEO of New York-based SWN Communications, thinks that the future of urgent messaging may be as close as your e-mail in-box. He chats about lost dial tones, babies, and the future of communication.
Why did you decide to develop the Send Word Now system?
In my previous companies, I introduced technology solutions that helped people to solve day-to-day problems, like get streaming audio content to phones. With that in mind, I was doing research in the area of group communications, and thinking about how to put together e-mail, voice, and text in one place. After 9/11, I became focused on how such an application could be used in terms of emergency response. The objective is to provide a notification management system, something that can be fast and reliable.
What was your experience on 9/11?
I was standing on the playground of my daughter’s grammar school in Manhattan, trying to call people on my cell phone. Needless to say, it was very hard, I couldn’t get a dial tone, so I couldn’t reach people to find out what was happening. It became clear to me as a result of 9/11 that a lot of our communications systems don’t work correctly. We’re dependent on manual systems and processes that can benefit from being automated.
How does the messaging service work?
First, a person creates a list of contacts at our Web site and puts in all the phone numbers and e-mail addresses they have for those people. Then, when crisis strikes, they can either place a single toll-free call or enter an urgent message at the Web site. The system immediately converts voice to text or vice versa and contacts all of the people on the list, simultaneously delivering the message.
Why do you think your this service is needed?
People have had the experience of things not working, and of not being able to reach people the way they want to. They have multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses for family members and friends, and it’s time-consuming and difficult to reach a large group of people. Crisis situations make it even harder, especially if networks are down or cell phone batteries die.
What has the reaction been from customers?
It’s been terrific. Anyone who tries it for the first time is amazed when they submit a message and 30 seconds later their phone rings and an e-mail comes through. One client used it to announce the delivery of a baby. On the way to the hospital with his wife, he called in a message and was able to get the word out to 16 people immediately. In a similar manner, the system can be used for business as well. If you have 350 people in an organization, for example, and you need to send them all a message immediately, you can use this instead of relying on phone tree or worrying about whether the message was distributed to everyone.
What kinds of features do you see for future versions of the system?
The first version is one-way communication, but as we develop, you would be able to record messages back into the system. For example, let’s say you’re in charge of a nursing staff and you need two replacements for the night. You could send out a message to 40 people and then see any responses as they come in. That would save a lot of time. We hope to transition from notification management to what we hope will be part of our daily communication needs, where keeping in touch with a large group of people will be so easy that it’ll be routine.
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