Appropriate Technology For All

For July 4th, we headed down to the D.C. Folk Life Festival today on the Washington Mall.

The Peace Corps had a number of exhibits at the festival, including one on what they call “Appropriate Technology.”

Appropriate technology is about being user-centric when applying technology to the local needs and realities on the ground around the world.

There are 3 key rules in developing and implementing appropriate technology:

1) Affordable–technology has to be affordable for the people that are going to use it. Even if it saves money in the long-term, it has to be something that can be acquired by people without access to traditional financing in the short-term. 
2) Local–the material must be available locally in order to make it accessible to people living in remote and even dangerous parts of the world. 
3) Transparent–the design of the technology must be transparent with the assembly instructions available to the local people, so that it can be maintained indigenously. 
One company that is helping needy people around the world using appropriate technology is Global Cycle Solutions.
Two products from this company that attach to your bicycle were on display and one was actually being demonstrated:
1) Corn Sheller–For $75 plus shipping this attachment to your bicycle shells corn from the husks in pretty amazing speed. According to the supplier, you “can fill a 90-kg sack of maize in 40 minutes and 10-15 sacks per day…[so the] machine pays for itself within a month.” (Pictured you can see the exhibitor from Peace Corps loading the corn into the device and the husk coming out the other end; a little girl is pedaling and powering the device in one, and a little boy is spinning the wheel in the other.)
2) Phone Charger–For $10 plus shipping this bicycle attachment charges your phone as you pedal from place to place or as you spin the wheel in place. According to the website, it “charges as quickly as using a wall outlet.” (Pictured is the bike and charger on display.)
Since bicycles are routinely found around the world, these add-on devices that help in food preparation and communications are practical and cost-effective. 
Appropriate technology is not a technical term and the concept is not rocket-science, yet if we just keep in mind the people we serve–what their needs are and what constraints they may be living under–we can make solutions that are functional, cost-effective and sensible, and we’ll can help a lot of needy people in the world, bells and whistles aside. 
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>The Triple I Factors

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Recently, I was watching the new ABC News broadcast called “Be The Change: Save A Life.” And in this one episode, a group of Stanford University students solved a critical life and death problem afflicting the world in which 4 million premature and malnourished babies die every year due to hypothermia and another 16 million that survive suffer life-long illness such as diabetes and heart disease because their internal organs do not form right.

The challenge in the developing world is access to incubators, which typically cost $20,000 and are not available in rural areas. In turn, some Stanford students formed a team and developed the Embrace infant warmer, a low-cost, local solution. It is a $25 waterproof baby sleeping bag with a pouch for a reheatable wax-like substance that is boiled in water and maintains its temperature for 4 to 6 hours at a time. It is hoped that this product will save 1 million babies within the first five years in India alone!

As I reflected on this amazing feat of technology, I marveled at how this group of young adults was able to overcome such a big world problem and solve it so simply. And while I understand that they focused on the end-users and the root cause of the problems, it is still a remarkable story.

After listening to the team members describe their project and approach, I believe there are three critical factors that show through and that can be the tipping point in not only their, but also our technology projects’ success. These three factors, which I call the Triple I Factors are as follows:

Idealism—the students had a shared idealism for a better world. Seeing people’s pain and suffering drove their vision. And in turn, they committed themselves to finding a cure for it. Embrace is now a non-profit organization seeking to save lives versus just making a profit.

Imagination—the product team was able to imagine an unconventional alternative to the status quo. They were able to project a vision for a low cost and mobile infant warmer into concrete solutions that were user-centric for the people in need.

Innovation—the ultimate product design was truly innovative. It marries a high technology phase-change wax substance for maintaining body temperature with a simple baby sleeping bag. Moreover, the innovation is not just in the materials of the product, but in the usability, so for example, this product requires no electricity, something that is not always available in rural India.

While, there are certainly many factors that go into successful technology product launches, including strong leadership, sound project management, and the technical competence of the team, I think that the Triple I factors—idealism, imagination, and innovation—albeit soft factors are ones that should not be underestimated in their ability to propel meaningful technology solutions.

As IT leaders, we need to create a healthy balance and diverse competencies in the organization between the hard factors and the soft factors, so that we can tackle everything from children dying from malnutrition and hypothermia to cures for cancer, and of course, ongoing IT breakthroughs in knowledge management, social engineering, and human productivity await.

>Who Says Car Companies Can’t See?

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Check out the concept for the new “Local Motors” car company:

  • “Vote for the designs you want. If you are a designer, you can upload your own. Either way, you help choose which designs are developed and built by the Local Motors community. Vote for competition designs, Checkup critiques, or portfolio designs.
  • Open Development, sort of like open source. Once there is enough support for any single design, Local Motors will develop it openly. That means that you not only choose which designs you want to drive, you get to help develop them – every step of the way.
  • Choose the Locale During the development process, help choose where the design should be made available. Local Motors is not a big car company, we are Local. The community chooses car designs with local regions in mind; where will this design fit best? You tell us. We make it happen.
  • Build your Local Motors vehicle Then, once the design and engineering is fully developed you can go to the Local Motors Micro-Factory and build your own – with our help, of course. See the “Buy” page for purchase and Build Experience details.
  •  Drive your Local Motors car, the one you helped design and build, home.”

I like this user-centric approach to car design and development. This is how we really put the user in the driver’s seat. 

The is the type of opportunity where we go from Henry Ford’s one car for the masses approach to a more localized implementation.

While I don’t know the specific economics of this approach for a car company, it seems like it has bottom-line potential since they will only proceed with car development once they have enough demand identified. 

Why build cars that no one wants or likes and why pay for internal design and market research studies, when people will willingly participate for free in order to get what they really want?

Finally, this is a terrific example of open source development and crowdsourcing–getting the masses to contribute and making something better and better over time. More minds to the task, more productivity and quality as a result.

>Globalization, Localization, and Enterprise Architecture

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The world economy is globalizing, but sales and marketing is still a local activity.

How should organizations architect the way forward to address the duality of globalization and localization?

The Wall Street Journal, 23 January 2008, reports that “Disney Localizes Mickey to Boost Hong Kong Theme Park.”

Disney has gone global and extended their famed theme parks to Asia. However, the first couple of years have not been a success. “Since it opened in 2005, Disney’s Hong Kong park, the media and entertainment company’s flagship for the booming Chinese kid’s market has struggled to connect with consumers. The park a joint venture with the Hong Kong government, missed public targets of 5.6 million visitors for its first year of operation, and attendance dropped nearly 30% in the second year to about four million.”

Where did Disney go wrong in going global?

Disney did not localize their brand or product to their foreign consumers. Instead, they expected the global consumer to behave the same as their U.S. counterpart with no differentiation for culture, nationality, beliefs, values, and so on. “In the past, it was the Chinese consumer who was expected to understand Disney, or so it seemed. Chinese tourists unfamiliar with Disney’s traditional stories were sometimes left bewildered by the Hong Kong park’s attractions.”

Disney also did not tailor their marketing to the local Chinese consumer, in a big snafu. “Disney’s marketing efforts also have misfired. A Hong Kong Disneyland ad in the summer of 2006 featured a family of consisting of two kids and two parents. China’s government, however, limits most couples to just one child.” Ouch!

So how is Disney changing their Mickey Mouse tune?

“Now, Disney is going on the offensive by going local. Its first big opportunity on the front is a stroke of astrological fortune. In the traditional Chinese calendar, it will soon be the year of the rat. As the Feb. 7 New Year holiday approaches, Disney is suiting up its own house rodents, Mickey and Minnie, in special red Chinese New Year outfits for its self-proclaimed Year of the Mouse.” This sounds good, though I’m just not sure Mickey and Minnie mouse appreciate being equated to rats, as in year of the rat.

Disney is also changing their park exhibitions to address local tastes. “Inside the parks, vendors hawk fried dumplings and turnip cakes. The parade down Main Street, U.S.A., is being joined by “Rhythm of Life Procession,” featuring a dragon dance and puppets of birds, flowers, and fish set to traditional Chinese music…” This also seems good and local, except shouldn’t this be Main Street, Hong Kong or China and not U.S.A.?

Anyway, according to Disney, they are going local all the way to their brand. “We are working as the ‘Chinese’ Walt Disney Company—ensuring that all the people who work in Disney understand the Chinese consumer to forge a deeper emotional connection with the brand.”

From the perspective of User-centric enterprise architecture, we need to focuses on the end-user and stakeholders. Going global and ignoring localized culture, nationality, beliefs, and values may be a cost conscious approach, but a poor architecture one. EA must respect individual, national, and cultural differences, and promote trust, respect, and integrity in doing so. A unified, consistent brand is good, but outreach to consumers based on their localized needs and requirements is absolute. Whether we are dealing with product, process, marketing, brand, or technology, EA must on one hand develop standards and seek out enterprise solutions where possible, but on the other hand, must tailor the enterprise’s offering to local tastes and requirements. It’s not always a one size fits all.