Data and Info Sharing with No Power or Internet? - Meet LDLN

Data and Info Sharing with No Power or Internet? - Meet LDLN

There is an organization that I have wanted to introduce people to for a while.  It is a game changer, provided it can be applied more and baked into operations and various technologies. 

In disaster operations, the Internet is the predominate way to share data and information across people, organizations, and geographies--when it is available.  It is a critical failure point to inter-organizational and region-wide operations that need to share across wireless networks.  When access to the Internet is compromised, cascading effects occur such as having to reconcile what the latest data and information is. In fact, data and information sharing is often reduced to files on USB sticks that are physically traded.  Version control becomes essential, but hard to maintain.

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Innovation at the Sahana Software Foundation: Interview with Mark Prutsalis

Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Prutsalis from the Sahana Software Foundation.  We spoke for a while on the history and vision for Sahana, a non-profit organization developing open source software for disaster management and humanitarian needs.  In recent years, it has had a lot of success and is poised to continue. Some highlights from the audio below:

  • Sahana was built by a local technology group in the aftermath if the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.
  • In 2009, the local technology group discovered they had a different mission and Mark took it over as part of the Sahana Software Foundation.
  • New York City, Los Angeles, and International Red Cross all use Sahana software.
  • Current software version is "hard to use out of the box" and development focus right now is on project requirements.
  • There are plans to become more strategic and shift to an "expert system" that is easier to implement and has features based on best practices, not just customer requirements.  Hosted solutions and less technical and operational customization will be required in the future.
  • However, Sahana is trying to build solutions that don't yet exist in the market.
  • The ability to scale operations with hundreds of thousands of people and sites is a priority for Sahana to better enable real-time planning and management.
  • Haiti earthquake in 2010 was a "watershed moment" for Sahana where it was able to crowdsource and geo-locate almost all 150-160 hospitals in Haiti within 24 hours.  Only two couldn't be geo-located.  Sahana, in partnership with OpenStreetMap, used geo-rectification to confirm crowdsourced locations.

Check out the audio for the complete 15 minute interview!  (sorry for the initial background noise, but audio is still clear)

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Market Driven Technology Innovation in Emergency Management

I recently attended a great demo by a new emergency management technology called Veoci.  This has great potential.  I even sent this along to my friend who works emergency management at a major airline. But as I look at the market for technical solutions and compare it against the problems of emergency management (and business continuity), which is increasingly cost-conscious, I realize there is a great divide between what is out there and what is needed such as feature mix, usability and scalability.  This post focuses on the innovative entrepreneur who wants to help the "disaster" solutions market go beyond its current technical limitations, provide a great service to its customers, and realize success.

Features and Specialization.  Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that product specialization is a key element of growth strategy and innovation.  After all, it is very hard to pinpoint precise problems and actually develop innovative solutions, even more so when the solution tries to do everything.  The more a company can continually test and improve, the more likely it is to solve customer problems beyond expectations.   But the problem is, where should companies specialize and how should they approach it?  This requires integrated innovation.

Usability, Scalability and The Fallacy of the "One" Solution.  In the past, many providers, especially at the enterprise level, have included feature rich solutions at the expense of usability and scalability.   In fact, emergency management is so dynamic and interdependent that one solution is simply not practical.  As a result, this model has proven tiresome, costly, and ineffective for our most important needs...collaboration, coordination, and management.  Additionally, and most importantly, it is not reflective of what is really needed, integrated innovation.

Integrated Innovation

So what exactly do I mean by Integrated Innovation?  I am defining this as the ability of companies to innovate through specialization, but better serve customers through integration.  Understanding this concept is most important to getting better market-driven solutions.  Here is what it entails:

  1. Focus on a niche - Select a very particular problem that you want to solve.  This is includes management and coordination, resource management, financial management, mass communications, and health and medical, etc.  Look at the many Emergency Support Functions to identify functional areas and explore them from tactical through strategic priorities and users.   Be the best at one really important thing.
  2. Build with integration in mind - If I only focus on one thing, what is the value-add?  Integration. Period.  Building your system with enough flexibility that customers can easily connect other systems that compliment your  product will enable customers to build a cost-effective and efficient ecosystem customized to their needs.  Should this integration be in the form of APIs, standards, a marketplace, user provisioning, or single sign-on?  The jury is still out, but the market will help drive this decision.  Just be prepared and begin forming technical alliances among other solutions so your customers don't feel like they are getting proprietary solutions that require customization after customization.  Start with similar size solutions to yours and look at how Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other social media solutions have built with integration in mind.  If fact, there is a now a secondary market of social media management and analytic tools (another market for emergency management)?
  3. Growth - Growth ties all this together.  In fact, that is why companies start in the first place.  They want to grow to a point where they have significant market share to realize profits and investor value.  But how should this occur?  It is highly unlikely that with a market full of solution providers, many will sustain themselves in the long-term.   The market is only so big.  However, that should not prevent anyone from developing a solution they believe in.  Solution providers should understand ALL their exit strategies and still feel successful whether they are bought-out or merged with another solution.   Either way, you have contributed meaningful innovation to the market, something that is sorely needed.

This post is my message to all solution providers and has a few more implications.  Help change outdated the procurement cycle and help drive innovation through your approach to development and growth.  The end result will be meaningful solutions that make your customers happy, not just "satisfied" with a solution that has too many features, is hard to train on, and does not reflect the emerging collaborative and interdependent landscape.  And regardless of your approach, user-centered design and frequent user testing should be a part of your solution.  Consider design thinking and agile development in your approach.