Harnessing the computing power of low-cost mobile phones

This may be the digital age, but many humanitarian and development workers still rely on paper forms to collect data - an inefficient and often ineffective process that takes precious resources away from their core mission.

As a result, many humanitarian and development programs can't easily access and analyze the data they need to best guide their organizations' relief efforts.

DataDyne saw a way to address the problem by using the increasingly powerful computing capacity of mobile phones, which are now widely available around the globe, even in poor and rural regions.

The not-for-profit organization developed a software program called EpiSurveyor to make real-time electronic data collection possible for nonprofit and government organizations. The idea for this handheld data-collection application first emerged during the era of personal digital assistants, but DataDyne quickly migrated to using mobile phones as they became increasingly prevalent.

EpiSurveyor is the first cloud-computing application created specifically for the public health and international development sector. Like many other tools on the market, it enables the collection, analysis and understanding of data. But unlike others, EpiSurveyor is free to most users. It's available to anyone with access to a browser, and it's designed to be simple enough to use that organizations don't need IT consultants to deploy, use or support it.

Its impact is significant. UNICEF uses EpiSurveyor to manage child health programs, the Kenya Ministry of Health uses it to track disease outbreaks, and nonprofit organization TulaSalud uses it to collect information for maternal-child health programs in Guatemala. The World Bank uses EpiSurveyor to conduct economic surveys of the poor in Latin America. Camfed International uses it to manage and evaluate its education programs in numerous African countries, and the Smithsonian Institution uses it to track mountain gorillas, one of the world's most endangered species.

Since its online introduction in 2009, EpiSurveyor has become the most widely used data-collection tool in the international development sector. More than 6,000 people in more than 170 countries now use it, with 20,000 to 50,000 data records uploaded each month.

With EpiSurveyor, DataDyne achieved its goal of enabling organizations to better collect and analyze data. EpiSurveyor is also providing a new model for successfully scaling technology for social good.

But DataDyne isn't done yet. Its workers are constantly improving and updating the product based on the feedback they receive from users in the field. And DataDyne is currently seeking growth funding for product development and expansion.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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