4 years on, text messages emerge

After I evangelised years ago about the prospect of kids being able to get their exam results by text, it’s finally starting to happen, albeit in small doses.

At a government conference in early 2002, I majored on the potential for text messages to be used as a major channel for government services. The story was picked up pretty widely in the press. At the time we didn’t have the technology ready but we weren’t far off solving some of the issues. John Lettice, at The Register, gave me a bit of a hard time in a follow up piece. John noted:

We do however doubt the examining bodies’ and/or schools’ willingness and capability to collate and distribute results in secure SMS form. Or indeed as email, or posted on a secure web site. Reality check: just yesterday The Register supplied sprog one’s school with a single first class stamp, GCSE result delivery for the use of. Under the circumstances we do not expect them to be asking us to stump up for our share of an SMS server in the foreseeable future.

As with most things in government, it’s all about timing. The Daily Telegraph carried an article a couple of weeks ago (ok, so I’m behind with my reading) on exactly this topic: mobile phone delivery of exam results.

“We have a delay in giving the results now because the exam boards print out the results for each subject, distribute them to thousands of schools and the youngsters then have to go to the school on the Thursday,” he said. “But it is changing. In Scotland, in the Outer Hebrides, youngsters are getting results on the phone, and now in England we are trialling results on the internet.”

I followed up my thinking with some conference speeches on the same topic, wondering about the issues involved – such as how to provide assurance that it’s really government alerting you, how to deal with replies and so on.

The Exam Results folks aren’t the first to get there – the Inland Revenue (as was) were sending text reminders and payment notifications in early 2005. And, perhaps most notably, the congestion charge folks have been accepting payment by text (with an account set up previously) since launch.

So kudos to the QCA folks for getting there – they gave me just as hard a time as John Lettice 4 years ago, so it’s good to it happen. Of course, with time, everything becomes their idea. And I have absolutely no problem with that – bring it on. Now if we could just launch the 888 idea, I’d happily applaud.

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