Saturday, December 10, 2011

Greatest innovation since M-Pesa

Imagine a mobile phone application offering users dynamic, SMS-driven menus to access or request different information from a database. Unlike on past network-centric programs thus far developed, one where the main application and database are both installed on the organisation's computers. No program need be installed on users phones since they only send and receive ordinary text messages.

Configurable menu on users handsets for their optional information querying determined by the settings defined by the corporate/organisation's IT system administrator. Essentially leaving mobile networks as dumb pipes - or mere transporters of text messages between office server and mobile phone users.

Such an application would have a potential client base of every mobile phone user-regardless of the make of their handsets. Kenya had 25.27 million subscribers in June 30 (64.2 per cent) of the population, reports CCK. Photo: Alex Gakuru

And because each organisation could install a customised program and database version, it would open doors to endless use-case possibilities. From users prior establishing supermarkets prices, such as, foodstuffs such as sugar or beverages and others stead of wasting time walking to different stores to get their best deals. Medical institutions querying a patient's medical history, referrals or lookups for allergies and drug interactions in emergency treatments.

Imagine no more courtesy of innovator Martin Maina, such an application exists and made in Kenya. Martin first shared his innovation with me last year for a magazine article. Today held follow-up interview to get an update on his application further development.

"I have received very encouraging comments from various people saying that it is very good. A medical insurance organisation likes it because it helps them verify referrals claims and real doctors," said he,"I've integrated the application for use throughout East Africa and South Sudan."

Asked what other uses had emerged Martin said, "I am considering a version with restaurants menus and prices. This will enable those planning to go eat out know offered foods and costs helping them better budget on their outings."

The rib cracking programmer added, "On pizza delivery, it's difficult for consumers to figure out what to order or what is on offer, sizes and toppings. This application can walk through customers on the various options, from the convenience of their mobile phone and if and when ready to order confirm the order. For pizza delivery outlets offering M-Pesa 'pay bill' option the customers can also pay, enter their location then sit back and wait for the pizza."

Further development is ongoing integrating his SMS-driven application to a web-based application. The objective being to make it more versatile for internet-connected 'smartphone' users preferring to use richer graphical interfaces and/or those intending to avoid SMS costs.

The four mobile networks charge between 50 cents, 1 shilling and 2 shillings per SMS. YU offers the lowest rate at 50 cents, Airtel charges Sh1 to all local networks while Safaricom and Orange/ Telkom charges Sh2 for messages across networks, reports media. However, Safaricom charges Sh 2 for off-net messages while it was not possible to establish Orange charges considering their website did not indicate their SMS charges.

Whereas have mobile phones with Safaricom, Orange and Airtel lines, Airtel remains my preferred line because the network has consistently informed the charges after every call made and SMS sent - which Safaricom and Orange never do creating room for consumers to suspect their billing practices as emerged on Businessweek online article legal battles among prepaid providers bring the shady side of the business to light. It would be welcome to know whether or not YU informs after every call and SMS.

The inventor is currently exploring different business models that will assure him a return on his invention's web integration. Rightly concerned that offering a free online service costing high web databases hosting added to information collections and records digitisation costs would not be business sustainable. But he remains open to NGOs and other public interest communication proposals.

It is with profound gratitude to Michael Onyango for, severally, pointing me to Alexander Oswald's talk, Why Kenyans do it better. But hasten to add that just like in Austria local mobile applications developers have lately tended to adopt fashionable 'smartphone' platforms to their users base disadvantage.

While Martin continues sophisticating his ingenious innovation, at its current development stage it can be harnessed for unparalleled governance. Judiciary was quoted in the media recently seeking ICT solutions to expedite justice. This mobile program could be engaged to enable Judiciary customers determine the status of their court cases in a faster, clearer and more transparent system of justice delivery – right to the customers hands, and from anywhere.

Without a doubt, this innovation has potential far greater than M-Pesa. Architectually introducing a 'peer-to-peer' SMS triggered transactions unlike other network-resident applications. Add strong SMS Encryption and one would not be surprised to find banks considering it if as to get back at mobile companies for snatching their banking customers with now widespread mobile payments solutions.


  1. This application allows the doctor to see patient information in real time from their electronic medical records system on a mobile device.

    sms payments

  2. Technically, YES - as would any other data item configured to be shown to inquring mobile phone end user. But applicable medical data confidentiality laws would determine what can(not) be displayed (the last time I checked the law required medial records be in written form and preserved for at least 7 years) confessing, as of now, I have not checked if there has been a change in law.

    My own opinion which the application developer (with doctors) can confirm or explain as otherwise. I shall request the developer to comment. Thanks for asking.