What is more effective: SMS alerts or Email alerts?

Tara Calihman - October 07, 2014

Alerting software continues to get smarter. With so many different ways of receiving information these days, arguing which method is more effective feels like arguing over whether the chocolate or the peanut butter is better in a Reese’s. And yes, I may have just compared being on-call and receiving system alerts to eating a peanut butter cup.

Because I can. (And it’s almost Halloween.)


There is obviously no right answer to this question, but there are definitely arguments to be made for each side. Some team members may prefer one method over the other but most of the time, the answer is simply the one that works best for you. And if you’re talking about getting alerted at 3 am, then the best answer is also simply the one that wakes you up. (Perhaps the follow-up post will include the best ringtones to employ for just such a use case?)

Email Alerts:

– Pro: do not depend on your data plan; can be received almost anywhere; more ability to customize the details of the alert and what happens after you receive that email (email hooks can make these infinitely more powerful)

– Con: perhaps your email inbox is a wasteland & the chances of email getting lost and/or not seen is high; contribute to a higher signal to noise ratio & can be a leading cause of alert fatigue - an Ops person does not drop everything when an email arrives (especially if you take into account the amount of email a typical Ops person gets)

SMS Alerts:

– Pro: feeling of immediacy because people are attuned to SMS as something needing urgent attention or response; work even if you’re out of cellular coverage; if you can get a phone call, you can get an SMS; this option is the best if IP connectivity is not available

– Con: your data plan may have limitations; must take into account different carriers in different parts of the world - probably not the best option for global teams

According to someone in our office (who HATES being on-call), you should employ as many different techniques to get alerted as possible. If you’re going to be on-call, go big. You should _really _get alerted so there are no excuses later. This strategy ensures that you don’t miss a thing and that you’re seriously covering all of your bases. Best practices also recommend that you have two different types of alerting mechanisms set up anyway for the sake of redundancy.

All of this assumes that you have a collaboration and alerting solution that blends the functionality of tradition email alerts and an SMS alerting software. If you don’t, start a free trial today and find out how being on-call can suck less with intelligent alerts and problem solving online or via your mobile device.