Field Guide to Implementation

The technology behind RapidSMS is the simple part. However, deploying RapidSMS successfully as a key component of larger communications or data collection systems takes careful planning and good coding. It is generally recommended that a field program manager comfortable with RapidSMS implementations work closely with software developers to ensure applications are appropriately designed. Organizations with previous RapidSMS experience can be found on our partners page. Additionally, it is vital to examine GSM coverage to better assess whether an SMS related platform can meet the projects needs.

Steps to Implement a RapidSMS based information system

I. Short-term technical project manager who is familiar with both the RapidSMS system and areas of project focus (nutrition, education, etc) should conduct in-country preliminary project scoping and create a technical workflow for the proposed RapidSMS system. Tasks should include:

  1.  Analyzing stakeholder needs to ensure that RapidSMS specifically addresses their challenges while not imposing additional burdens. Identifying in-country lead to take responsibility for and push project forward upon conclusion of technical project managers work. The in-country lead should work closely with the technical project manager throughout.
  2. Undertaking a comprehensive analysis of existing systems (ie data collection, monitoring, health care provision, etc). RapidSMS is most effective when it does not seek to replace or alter existing systems, but integrates as seamlessly as possible into existing systems by directly addresses key challenges while leaving everything else that already works in place.Ownership of the system should also be addressed at this stake and onwards.
  3. Drafting project scope and technical workflow for customization by RapidSMS programmers. The time frame necessary for customization is directly linked with the ability to adapt and integrate already coded apps. Consequently, systems similar to past RapidSMS deployments are generally much quicker to build.
  4. Securing appropriate hardware and identifying location for server. This should be done in advance in countries where hardware is not available locally.
  5. Consulting with key stakeholders on billing. This is crucial for systems where end-users are not expected to pay for the texts.
  6. Conducting negotiations with mobile phone providers to ensure appropriate billing structure and short codes, if necessary.

II. RapidSMS programmer(s), who should work in-country whenever possible with the technical project manager. Some of these tasks can be implemented at the same time as those of the Technical Project Manager. In some situations, the RapidSMS programmer(s) can undertake the responsibilities of the Technical Project Manager. Tasks should include:

  1. Identifying local programmer support and build capacity, if necessary
  2. Setting up server
  3. Writing project specific code based on project scope and technical work flow
  4. Testing for bugs and fixing.

III. Usability testing via small groups, with feedback to RapidSMS programmer(s)

IV. Create training materials / training curriculum and basic toolkit to assist stakeholders to effectively manage and take advantage of unique advantages of real time data. Training should be comprehensive and, if at all possible, integrated into general training so as to reinforce the idea of RapidSMS as a tool within larger systems.

V. Phased rollout, with intensive monitoring in early stages.

Initial Field-based Maintenance and Support

Effectively managing systems which employ real-time data can sometimes be complex. With this comes the opportunity to drastically improve effectiveness and efficiency; however, new skill sets and targeted support is often necessary. Once specific project needs are identified, particularly in the initial stages it is advised that somebody in-country be responsible for management and support until all bugs are resolved and stakeholders are comfortable with the system.

As a project progresses, there might be a need to further customize code to better meet stakeholders needs. Particularly with atypical implementations and large scale-ups, it is important to recognize this and build it into the overall budget. For this reason, we recommend building local capacity during the early stages of project design when possible.

Generic Staged Model Timeline for Complete RapidSMS project.