RapidSMS is an open-source framework for data collection, logistics coordination and communication allowing any mobile phone to interact with the web via SMS text messages. Mashing diverse functionality like remote health diagnostics and monitoring with emergency supply chain tracking, this framework supports the creation of limitless personalized interdependent platforms for diverse use-cases. Because one size does not fit all, this highly flexible system was designed to be customized for the specialized needs and constraints of governments, multilateral and non-government organizations, and development practitioners.

The RapidSMS framework was created not in an isolated lab but by programmers in the field working directly on actual project implementations. This ensures that the system is practical and simple enough to meet real world needs. RapidSMS is compatible with even the most basic mobile phones, leveraging already existing infrastructure to increase replicability and scalability.

Believing scalability is a pre-requisite to functionality, a concerted effort was made to ensure scalability of the RapidSMS framework. This takes two forms. ‘Horizontal scalability’ is the capacity of an application to be easily replicated outwards. RapidSMS takes this to the next level by offering the unique prospect of merging completely different real-time data sets, such as child malnutrition surveillance and ready-to-use therapeutic food supplies. Collected through the same RapidSMS platform, this allows for dynamic and instantaneous monitoring and analysis of complex environments.

‘Vertical-scalability’, often much harder to achieve, indicates the ability of an application to effectively handle increasing workloads. If a product cannot meet the demands of a growing population of users, it will be limited in its application and performance can critically decrease. RapidSMS was built to concurrently handle vast amounts of data and users, ensuring that projects successfully implemented at the local level can easily be redeployed at the national or regional levels when appropriate.

Delays in conventional monitoring and tracking systems, as data is collected, aggregated and analyzed, effectively generates static snapshots of the past. With RapidSMS, a continuous stream of living data creates a “pulse” that offers unique opportunities to react in real-time to changes on the ground. Furthermore, advances in mobile technologies allow for a vibrant two-way flow of communication, giving communities a greater voice and more participatory role in their development.

However, it is important to note that there is no single tool or mobile application that can be universally applied to fit all stakeholder needs. A wide variety of solutions in all sizes are still required. It is critical that these interact seamlessly with each other, as too many well-meaning projects in the past have become obsolete when other systems failed to support the exchange of information. The RapidSMS community strongly advocates for an atmosphere of collaboration with and support for other effective platforms, and a concerted effort to ensure interoperability.