Building Text Notification Apps with Zang

Here is something you need to know about me. I hate voicemail. I don’t like leaving them and more importantly, I don’t like listening to them. In fact, if you were to leave one for me, the odds are that I wouldn’t even listen to it. Instead, I will text, email, or call (in that preferred order) asking, “What do you want to talk to me about?” I don’t do this to be rude. I simply find that listening to a voicemail usually forces me to text, email, or call anyway. So, why not cut to the chase and save everyone a lot of time?

Therefore, when I was tasked to build a notification system for the recent Avaya ENGAGE conference, voice and voice messages were the last things on my mind. I also wasn’t all that interested in using email. I expect that I am pretty typical in that a great deal of the emails I receive are either never read or wind up unseen in my junk folder. And who knows how many are stopped by a network spam filter before they even reach me?

This, of course, leaves me with text. While I have no problem ignoring the message waiting light on my desk telephone (I honestly can’t remember when it hasn’t been glowing red), I feel compelled to look at my iPhone within seconds of receiving a text message. Why? Because I know that text messages are never long, typically get right to the point, and can be responded to with a minimal amount of effort on my part—win, win, win.

So, when I eventually sat down to create my ENGAGE notification system, I turned to text. More specifically, I turned to the Zang Workflow Designer and within minutes, I had a working prototype up and running. A few hours later, I finalized my design and that prototype quickly evolved into a production-quality application. With my Zang workflow, ENGAGE attendees could register with the service to receive periodic text messages throughout the conference about upcoming breakout sessions and other tidbits of information I felt were worth sharing.

I loved the simplicity of the system and the users liked the timeliness of the information.

A Good Idea Takes on a Life of its Own

Once word of my ENGAGE application got out, I was inundated with inquiries about how text notification could be applied to other uses. Right off the bat, I was asked if my IT department could use it to send messages about system failures and recoveries. My answer was an unqualified “yes.”

Think about it. When an email system goes down, what good is sending an email to the affected users? Absolutely none whatsoever.

My next request came while I was vacationing with my wife on Sanibel Island. Every year, my company, Arrow Systems Integration, hosts a golf tournament and the organizers wanted to use text messaging as a way for golfers to communicate with their team captains and for the team captains to send important messages to the golfers. Despite the fact that I was on vacation, I was intrigued enough with the idea to sit down at my PC and create an application that enabled the following:

  • Golfers could register with the notification system by texting the word “Golf” to the application. The application would then store the golfers’ cell phone numbers in a database.
  • During the tournament, golfers could send in mulligan requests by texting their request to the application. The request would be relayed to the team captains. Each team was assigned a limited number of mulligans and the captains could text back if the mulligan was granted or denied.
  • The golfers could also text other information to the team captains. For instance, they could send texts informing their captains of birdies and eagles. Of course, the chances are greater that they would be asking for the beer cart to be sent their way.
  • Besides managing mulligan requests, the team captains could use the application to broadcast text messages to the golfers. For example, the captain of the Blue team could inform his or her golfers of how they were doing and provide any necessary pep talks. More importantly, they could also text back the whereabouts of the previously requested beer cart.

Even with the extra features, I had this application up and running almost as quickly as the ENGAGE version. I scratched out my design on a piece of paper, and before my wife was out of bed asking why I was working on my PC, I turned that design into a functioning Zang workflow. Over the next couple of days, I tested it until I was happy that it was going to do exactly what I wanted it to do.

Mischief Managed

I don’t expect the requests for variations of these two applications to stop anytime soon. Like me, people recognize the power, immediacy, and simplicity of text notifications. They also realize that the use cases are nearly endless. Today it might be golf, but tomorrow it’s team notification, building closures, meeting reminders, and who knows what else? All I am sure of is that the requests will most likely wind up on my desk and my platform of choice will be Zang.

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Emerging Technologies at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.