Archive for the ‘alternative approach’ Category

Alternate Approach to Legal Independent Election Tallying

The Uganda elections are more or less over with less than 6 hours for the Uganda Electoral Commission (EC) to announce the results for the presidential elections.

Given all the time on our hands, with no social media, the team at Styx Technology Group designed the following alternative approach to independent electoral vote tallying for future elections that provides inbuilt mechanisms for audit and verification of results.

The primary data sources for the process are:

  1. Official EC list of polling stations and voters per polling station
  2. Photos of the signed election tally sheets from each polling station. To ensure that the photos are not tampered with and provide an audit trail:
    • Each photograph has to be taken with information on the camera, the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken, date and time when the photo was taken which is available in many cameras that share it using the Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF)
    • Two separate photos of the tally sheets have to be taken by different cameras
    • The cameras taking equipment may be registered beforehand to provide validation of the source of the information
    • The signatures of the returning officers and stamp must be clear and visible in the photo

The architecture for the technology solution is as follows:

  1. Web based solution accessible via any browser. Due to poor Internet connectivity in many areas of the country, an Android app would be provided to assist in data collection, then data sent once the user gets into an area with Internet.
  2. The field officers who capture the photos would also be provided with an option of entering the candidate vote tallies.
  3. In the tallying center, candidate vote tallies are entered from the photos received and vote tallies entered by data clerks. In order to reduce errors the following approach would be used:
    • The clerks are randomly assigned photos as they come in
    • The tally for a station must be entered correctly by two separate data entry clerks, then approved by a supervisor. This process is formally called the two-pass verification method or double data entry.
  4. All correctly entered data is shared with the rest of the world for download and analysis.

This system is mission-critical having to be available for the entire vote counting period of 48 hours,  so the architecture includes the following paths for data collection:

  1.  Multiple access IP addresses and domains for the website in case some are blocked off
  2. Any data collected via the Android app can be sent via email to a dedicated tallying center address. To ensure that only data from the app is received and not changed in transit, encryption is used.

The inspiration came from a quote by Ghandi “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, disproving the myth that there is no local capability to design and implement such solutions and most of all that such solutions have to be complex.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions…

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Alternate Approach to MTN SIM Card Registration Process & Web Tool 

MTN Uganda has finally put together an application to support the online registration of simcards. However the process as outlined in the Dignited article (http://www.dignited.com/15503/you-can-now-register-your-mtn-uganda-sim-card-online-heres-how/) requires a user to download a registration form, upload it then wait until MTN staff can get back on the registration status.
This blog post provides an alternate design and approach for an online sim-card registration tool, thanks to the team at Styx Technology Group for putting the design and mockups for the alternate solution.
The principles of the system design are as follows:
  1. A user can register more than one sim-card under their own names only after completing their profile information, which cannot be changed later (for audibility)
  2. A user can return and check their registration information later
  3. MTN staff can respond to a registration pointing out any missing or inaccurate information
  4. The user can be notified by SMS and/or email of the status of their registration, and can also login to check the status
  5. The registrations can also be downloaded and added to MTN systems (as may be required)
  6. For identification, two documents have to be provided to confirm, and because the numbers are entered, it is easy for MTN staff to verify
The mockups below tell the story of how an alternate process looks like  licensed under the Creative Commons 3
Login Screen

Login Screen

Signup Screen

Signup Screen

Dashboard

Dashboard

My Profile

My Profile

Register Number

Register Number

UPDATE – November 19, 2015: Looks like MTN updated the sim card registration process to an online form at https://www.mtnbusiness.co.ug/mtnreg/ in response to this post

Alternate Approach to Voice Price Wars in Telecom Industry in Uganda

My colleagues at Styx Technology Group are looking at alternate approaches to telecos in Uganda to increase their ARPU (Average Revenue Per Unit) a metric for revenue from each customer, instead of the current price war tagged to 3/= per second (US$ 0.1 per minute).

  1. Accept that voice is now commodity, being pushed further out by VOIP for both regular users and business, due to the improving Internet connectivity both via fixed and mobile connections. There is no longer a competitive edge to having cheaper voice, the revenues are fixed and can only go lower
  2. Bundled services: Currently there are separate plans for voice, SMS and data, which have to be purchased daily or when needed. The monthly plans have a premium attached, so without looking at the numbers I suspect that a majority of the regular users purchase daily plans as and when is needed. The telecoms can create bundled plans (already existing for voice) to include SMS and data without the hefty premium. Additional incentives can be provided for further discounts when a user pays consistently for a plan for 6 months, without any breaks.
  3. Smartphone Device and Service Contracts: While these are being gotten rid of in the US and Europe, the market in Uganda is ripe for disruption, where smartphones are paid over 12 to 24 months, with bundled services. Obviously the argument here is the risk associated with lending in Uganda, but options include partnering with financial institutions can help reduce the risk profile, work through employers to deduct the costs of the contract directly at source.
  4. Multiple Smartphone Data Plans: This is similar to the device plans above, however this allows the owner of the plan to register additional devices for monthly fee to share the data. This has been common with unlimited plans, and would provide a new revenue stream.
  5. Extending Mobile Money Services: The best service to copy is PayWay with a wide range of devices, and platforms on which to use the service based on what infrastructure the agent has. I would like to be able to swipe my VISA card and transfer money to my account without having to go through the bank interface which tends to be down more often than not.
  6. Bulk Sales of Devices to Schools: The new underlapped customer base, sell more devices to schools get parents to pay part of the costs to push e-education services, why do kids still have to fill Advanced Level and University Level choices on paper forms that can be lost? With powerful tablets in the $50 to $100 range only the telecoms have the clout, network and drive to push this through.
  7. Custom Devices and Services: These are for data collection needs, surveys etc, which can be accessed through third parties but pushing the envelope on what is possible. The key here is flexibility of service, enabling channel partners build and innovate by creating custom services and plans to meet their specific needs.
The telecoms need to think of blue ocean strategies to create new markets, provide ability for others to leverage their platform investments for new revenue channels, leveraging the example of Amazon that has created a multi-billion dollar technology infrastructure business based on solving internal problems.
What do you think?

UPDATE: This blog post follows the same thinking as The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond on this blog too

Fundi Bots – A Relevant Alternate Approach to Science and Vocational Training in Uganda 

Today I am a proud father, when my two daughters aged 8 and 10 show me their robots, after 8 weeks with the Fundibots Robotics for Kids training program – Season II . What makes me proud is the fact that the children have gotten their hands dirty, gluing, soldering, learning and implementing mechanics to put together a walking robot and more importantly the students are having so much fun that they are not aware that they’re actually learning a lot.

With the transition of vocational colleges into universities, and the dying out of certain vocations like carpentry, car & machine repair, bricklaying, there is a general drop in the quality of core skills needed to build and maintain infrastructure such as processing plants, cottage industries, as well as factories.

Why do I think the Fundi Bots program is a necessary & relevant approach to core vocational skills building in Uganda, but Africa as a whole:

  1. The program brings together theory in multiple separate areas of mechanical engineering, electronics, software development producing firm foundation
  2. The blend of hardware and software provides a foundation for expansion into leveraging technology for other sectors like agriculture, medicine
  3. Majority of the materials used can be obtained locally, or manufactured using localized technology with a low barrier to entry
  4. The program can be run along existing education structures so can be easily adopted by different schools
  5. The technical aspects can be tailored to different levels, from upper primary school through secondary school to university level
  6. Going through the class provides a mindset change – and a new look into science through a different lens
  7. The program can be tailored to suit special interest groups, like girls, less advantaged, and even in resource constrained environments
  8. The skills are marketable globally, and can be grown to support both local and global needs

Last but not least, is the vision that Solomon King provides for growing the program, based on his own personal journey and experiences, you can see the glint in his eye as he watched over the technology seed planted in the youths through the program

The million dollar question, is what can I do?

  1. Fundibots is a non-profit organization, any support in its different activities such as supporting STEM for Girls, Science education in Uganda including 35K by 2020
  2. Do you want to develop hardware based technologies for use in Uganda/Africa – leverage Fundibots by using and grow our research & innovations lab
Fundibots Cake - Stylish and Classy

Fundibots Cake – Stylish and Classy

The troops are ready for command

The troops are ready for command

Beginner Class Platoon Ready for Inspection

Beginner Class Platoon Ready for Inspection

Arachnid Robots - Alien or Not?

Arachnid Robots – Alien or Not?

Showcase time - getting those robots ready

Showcase time – getting those robots ready

My brood #IamFundi

My brood #IamFundi

Solomon King Addressing the Season II Graduating Class

Solomon King Addressing the Season II Graduating Class

Fundibots Season II Class

Fundibots Season II Class

Robots, Cake and Drinks

Robots, Cake and Drinks

Certificates and Supplementary Materials

Certificates and Supplementary Materials

Uganda National ID – Alternate Strategy?

I have been thinking – some would say that is a dangerous thing, well yes I have been thinking, just what an afternoon with no distractions can do for you. Well there is a general problem in my motherland Uganda, there is no National ID. Oh yes, there is no way of uniquely identifying each and every person in the country, even tracking the babies born or the deaths. Sad but true, how has this affected the populace, to some its a great thing not to be known but to others, its a great source of discomfort since everything is just too hard to do.

What is not helping are headlines like Government suspends national ID project again and with a budget now growing to the hundreds of millions of dollars, a question pops into my head. Are there no other options to get to the same place, are there no other ways? In the words of Benjamin Franklin “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

So again with the Snowden revelations, and potential for mis-use, there is one fact that is evident, with no National ID, the progress we are making going forward is going to be very very painful. In the software development world, there is the concept of “technical debt”, which has very high interest rates in terms of cost of addition of new feature, slowing down progress as you move along.

The high-level strategies revolve around the following themes:

  1. Frugal Innovation – how to use very little to make alot of progress
  2. Customer Value – focus on ensuring that the 75% who see the value are immediately served, to act as a tipping point for the rest
  3. Relevance – ensuring that the implementation is relevant in today’s “environment”
  4. Accuracy and Trust – the data within the system must be trusted from the word go, it should be easy to spot and very inconsistencies

So here it is:

  1. Target population – above 18 years of age
  2. Implementing body: a government parastatal & accompanying bill which is setup to manage the process of issuing the National ID numbers as the single source of truth whose mandate is to provide the lowest common denominator for citizen registration
  3. Who gets National ID numbers first? The element of trust is very important, but the need is to start with as little as possible to continuously refine over time, so the starting issuance of National ID numbers has to start from those people who are known, by different systems so that their identities can easily be verified which include:
    • Passport
    • National Social Security Fund
    • Tax Identification Number
    • Driving License
    • Voter Registration
  4. Registration of Births and Deaths: this is a critical component of the National ID system as it identifies which IDs are no-longer in use
  5. Regional Offices to ensure that people applying for IDs do not have to travel to Kampala to do it
  6. Technology/Organization:
    • Provide a means of checking the status of application by visiting authorized centers which include regional offices, SMS requests (responses to be sent to the number registered on the application)
    • Access to online verification services for authorized usage
  7. Critical Success Factor: uptake which can only be driven by the network effect of being used by multiple players within the private and public sector as the lowest common denominator for accessing services

What do you think? Where are the gaps that I have not thought through? What other alternatives are there?

Uganda Simcard Registration – Alternate Approach

By now all of you know that the mandatory simcard registration by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has gone naught, died a natural death like most Ugandan projects, a white elephant dead on conception. Sam Agona (http://www.samagona.org/?p=14) hit on the nail why UCC could not enforce its threat.

The approach I am proposing has the following strategic objectives:

  • Simplifying the process for the customer not the telecom providers
  • Centralized registration for telcos while segregating the data for each telco (Do I smell Number Portability ahead)
  • The minimum registration information for each telco is the same while allowing for each  telco to collect more data as may be required

The high-level architecture is as follows:

  • The telcos form a joint venture to manage the centralized registration system to keep it away from government to cater for privacy concerns, which can be mandated by the regulator or paid for from telco contributions to the regulator development fund 
  • Each telco pays based on the number of simcards registered – they are already paying agents a commission to register users anyway
  • The data for the subscribers for each telco are segreagated from each other but a user can access their registration information across the different telcos (technically this is no-longer a deal breaker)
  • A single set of mobile applications is used to register the customers – with each telco having an option to customize and brand the application for its own use
  • A unique sim-card registration number that’s only useable within this system, similar to the Financial Card Number for the credit reference bureau
  • Ability for a customer to add more simcards to their portfolio, does not have to be online or automated, but without the need for submitting all the documentation all over again
  • Support for business customers to register and maintain simcards (this also needs to be looked into as it can be used to circumvent why the registration was done in the first place
  • REQUIRED: An interface (not necessarily automated) to validate “official” documents like:
    • Passport – for Ugandans at least via Ministry of Internal Affairs
    • Drivers Licenses – Face Technologies – they already have tablets for Police to verify validity
    • NSSF Cards – okay I know these are not available but they took my photos and biometric
    • Corporation IDs (I am not sure how this would work since there are many briefcase companies abound)
    • Voter Registration cards – Electoral Commission?
    • Corporate Registration – Uganda Registration Services Bureau and Uganda Revenue Authority (TIN/VAT numbers)

The next question is who pays for the operations of this center which may be an annual service fee for the telcos based on the numbers of simcards maintained with fees for addition and removal of simcards,  “accurate and timely statistics” on Uganda mobile telco industry.

What are your thoughts? What else could be added?

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