From problems to apps: ideas for industry development

Members of the developer community are often keen for a challenge – a truly worthwhile software/programming project… At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are specialists who understand the problems facing the various industries/sectors. Can some of those problems benefit from a tech solution? What ideas could be generated if these two groups work together?

One of the challengers many programmers and developers face is to identify meaningful projects – those that could have a positive and far-reaching impact – to fully apply their skills and capabilities. On the other hand, many technocrats know the problems that their respective industries/sectors are experiencing, but have no idea whether they could be addressed via ICT or even an application (app). Generally, the projects themselves might not necessarily be complex or complicated; the challenge lies in identifying the problem; those who are affected, and ultimately those could benefit the most from any proposed solution.

The Caribbean Open Data Conference, the regional developer conference scheduled for 26 and 27 January in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and with virtual participation in Cuba, Barbados and Guyana, is trying to promote ICTs as a developmental tool across all sectors of an economy. As part of the conference, there will be a 24-hour Developer Code Sprint, which will focus on the following thematic areas:

  • agriculture and fisheries
  • trade and economic indicators
  • tourism
  • ICT access
  • national statistics/census.

To address the challenge of identifying problems along those themes, which could be tackled during the Code Sprint, a Conference Forum has been created where ideas can be submitted and discussed among the community. The community can also vote for the best ideas, which may then be shortlisted for selection by developers during the Code Sprint. As at the time of posting, the following ideas were the top ranked:

  1. farmer/restaurant facilitation
  2. at-sea emergency buddy system
  3. microfinance agriculture loan management
  4. hotel mobile locator and referral
  5. distributed data mining system for supply-demand optimisation.

Ideation/Think Aloud Session

Although the forum has about a dozen ideas for apps, more are welcomed, particularly if they address an urgent or specific need in one or more of the thematic areas. To supplement the current list, a 2-hour “Ideation/Think Aloud Session” was held on Thursday 19 January, at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica.

The ideation session – a seemingly sexier word for brainstorming – brought together a range of stakeholders from the public sector and civil society to discuss the common problems and challenges, and to generate ideas using ICTs to find solutions. At that meeting, the sectors represented were agriculture, statistic and tourism. The sector specialists were instrumental in establishing context, and in identifying some of needs and problems that were confronting the sectors.

Ideas: agriculture

The Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica collects quite a bit of data on crop production, but there are still a number of problems, such as praedial larceny (theft of agricultural produce), and the tracking and managing of supply and demand that could be addressed.

Figure 1: Select discussion points on possible apps for the agriculture sector (Source: Slashroots/UWI)

It is also important to note some challenges that typically must be considered when developing apps for a farming community, such as in Jamaica (which would most likely be applicable in other countries). They include farmers:

  • being barely literate or possessing limited education
  • being afraid of technology, and
  • possessing basic mobile/cellular devices, as opposed to smartphones.

Ideas: economic and trade statistics

This theme was quite challenging, since although data-rich, it might not have popular appeal. Nevertheless, a particular challenge of this sector is to capture the linkages that should exist between various categories of data. An example would be comparing import and export revenues in a specific sector to determine the contribution to the economy.

Figure 2: Select discussion points on possible apps for the economic and trade statistics sectors (Source: Slashroots/UWI)

However, one of the biggest problems that is being experienced by statistical departments, and other research agencies, is the poor responsiveness of industries and even the population at large to furnish information. As a result, data collection processes become highly protracted, and/or possess a number of gaps in information, which may limit the usefulness of the outputs.

Ideas: tourism

The discussion on the tourism sector was quite lively, as there was a tension between trying to protect Jamaica’s tourism product and the need to provide a broader range of experiences, e.g. for the backpacker; and for those who wish to tread off the beaten path.

Figure 3: Select discussion points on possible apps for the tourism sector (Source: Slashroots/UWI)

There was also a concern that Jamaica’s arts and cultures (outside of music) have not had a lot of visibility from an ICT/app perspective. A suggested app was to highlight craft markets locations, but there is perhaps scope to include the promotion of local, artisan products.

Wrapping up…

The app ideas that emerged from the brainstorming session are not exhaustive: they are only a starting point for additional ideas to be generated. Nevertheless, some of those suggested will be included on the Conference Forum, where they can be reviewed and discussed. Feel free to visit the forum to review the submissions; to comment, vote, or even to suggest other ideas that could be considered.

Image courtesy of fostersartofchilling, flickr

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