A humanitarian project is not a commercial one

The development of the humanitarian project at the beginning looked similar to a commercial one. I thought that the “loop” will be pretty similar to the normal projects developed for many years. But it was different. When you develop and/or design the commercial app you focus on different aspects like:

  • Functionality
  • Pixel perfect
  • Fancy elements
  • Performence
  • Costs

Usually your target are millennials and people familiar with computers and the internet. You are not oriented by some disabilities or limitations. Of course, we are talking about the common web application. The industrial applications are out of the scope of this idea.

Totally new vision and goals in the humanitarian project.

As I mentioned before I thought that this will be a similar project when I heard the requirements from the business. That’s normal that the business is able to define a shortlist of requirements and expected estimations.  Ideally we will receive defined domains and drivers but we are not living in an ideal world.

When the application is oriented on helping the people the drivers are totally different than in a normal application. The costs and innovation are not essential. Your target often has some disabilities and you can’t guarantee that the knowledge of a computer or access to a computer can be granted. That’s a reason why the drivers are different and developers and also designers are focused on :

  • Reliability and scalability
  • lightweight
  • Simplicity
  • Usability

The system needs to be as simple as possible and intuitive as well. Each phase of designing and development includes some tests. The application and the UI (before the development phase) are tested by a closed group responsible for that. Some facts: as I remember the UI of some features has been changed 4 times – to simplify the process. Long story short you are not focused on features as normally but often you have to improve the stability and usability of the application step by step.

New channels, new option to provide the content

The Loop platform in question was initially a very simple project whose main domain was to create “content” to get help from humanitarian NGOs. Web platform to create and aggregate the provided story has been created as a minimum viable product.

However, one news feed was too limited. Not everyone has access to the internet and when you need fast information about an incident, the reaction time is very important.

In the following months, we focused on implementing another information “module” which was SMS. This caused the simple monolithic architecture to evolve into a microservice architecture. All channels should be an independent service (or several services) whose task is to collect a complete story and send it to the core module dealing with data persistence.

Internationalization and globalization of the system mean that in different countries SMS can be received and sent using different providers. This also implies the need to implement different protocols. In order to be able to fully integrate with providers in Zambia, there was a need to fully implement the SMPP protocol which is not something trivial and has caused us many problems. Other regions of the world could be “covered” by providers that provide a more “natural” implementation like the Rest API.

However, SMS is not everything. The next steps were the implementation of services related to the communication through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and the next steps will be IVR.

Summary

A commercial project is often focused on profit. You have to convince the client of something. Often it is some innovative technology/algorithm or service that no one has introduced before. Sometimes these are innovative business models which duplicate already known services but in a more attractive way.

Humanitarian platforms by assumption cannot bring profit and their main goal is to help others. First of all, these are people who have significant problems with “using” the Internet and are not familiar with IT or IoT.  The great challenge is to design and then develop and implement a system that will be intuitive and reliable at the same time. Loop is such a project.

Article written by Daniel

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