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Why we do what we do

Posted by: Gitahi Ng'ang'a on

One of the questions I was often asked by friends and acquaintances when we started building Hoji was why we were doing it. Almost invariably, I would ask, “Why not?”. They would then tell me about existing mobile data collection solutions, that some of them were even available for free, and that they wondered what we were going to do differently.

Valid questions

These are valid questions, and I think it is important to address them seriously and honestly.

It is true that there is no dearth of mobile data collection solutions. It is also true that some of them are, at least in theory, free of charge. However like any other product or service, mobile data collection platforms cannot be judged merely based on their existence or economics. They must be judged, first and foremost, based on the value they provide to customers.

My decision to create yet another mobile data collection platform was born out of experience. My first “real” job after college was with KEMRI/CDC, a collaboration between the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the US Centers for Disease Control. As you might expect, there is a lot of field-based data collection at organizations like this, and KEMRI/CDC was no exception.

Just too hard to do

One of the first things I noticed was the sheer amount of time and effort involved in developing digital data collection tools. I often participated in the process myself, and on many occasions we developed new software from scratch for every project that could afford both the time and the money. Short-term or low-budget projects could not even begin to consider electronic data collection, and they almost instinctively resorted to pen and paper.

As a result, I started to get curious about how other people were solving the problem. I discovered a couple of generic mobile data collection solutions and started to play with them. I found that although you could set them up a lot faster than developing new software from scratch, they still required a fair amount of programming knowledge. They also had some serious limitations in terms of both features and scope. For example, implementing complex skip patterns tended to be excessively complicated and quite often just downright impossible.

Meanwhile, I was also talking to more experienced colleagues about the feasibility of these generic solutions. It turned out that some of them had actually experimented with these platforms in production but didn’t accrue particularly impressive results. Aside from the complexity of setting them up and critical limitations that weren’t easy to work around, I also discovered that their database performance degraded fairly quickly as the volume of data grew.

Moving forward

It became apparent to me that there were 2 solutions to the problem, and both were sub-optimal. Programming from scratch every time was far too complex, expensive and time consuming, and deploying existing off-the-shelf solutions was inflexible and not nearly as robust. In the end, my colleagues and I developed a new electronic data collection platform for netbooks that, in many ways was a much better alternative. But it, too, had its shortcomings. It never quite solved the problem of complexity, and although it was a big improvement, it lumbered under the crippling weight of design relics from the project that commissioned it.

This is the experience that led to the creation of Hoji.

The promise

When we started, we stated a single goal: To help organizations collect better quality data, more efficiently. That is still our promise. It will be for as long as we exist. It is our journey and our destination. It is what we wake up and go to bed thinking about.

Upon this promise, we make the following commitments to our customers, both present and future. That we shall always endeavor to:

  1. Make the quality and security of your data our utmost priority.
  2. Offer polite, knowledgeable and timely support.
  3. Make our technology as easy to use as possible.
  4. Save your time as much as we can.
  5. Honestly and seriously consider your feedback.

Go on, hold us to these things …

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