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4 Requirements for Technology Project Sustainability

By Guest Writer on February 9, 2017

I am often called in to help when a technology project has gone awry. For example, once a partner organization gifted a network-attached storage server (NAS) to a local development organization to help them automatically backup their computers.

They did a good technical installation, with all the right electrical wiring and computer configurations, but only provided brief, 1 day training to the local technical support person, whose primary role was laptop support.

They were then surprised and dismayed a year later to discover the NAS sitting in a back room unplugged and unused. Why?

  • The NAS required a functioning network with DHCP, DNS, gateway to the Internet, etc, but its “cloud” backup capability totally swamped the limited Internet bandwidth available.
  • The NAS required standard 220V power but the electrical current at the location frequently exceeded 300V.  While the NAS was safe because they had provided a good battery backup and power conditioner, the electrical wiring in its room had burst into flames during a surge, and melted the network wiring running alongside it.
  • Lastly, the entire concept of NAS as a backup medium was only somewhat understood by the laptop support person, was confusing to regular users, and importantly, not understood by the organization’s leaders.

The international partner organization never investigated to determine why the NAS wasn’t used. They falsely assumed the local organization was indifferent to data maintenance and had incompetent staff.  This incident soured relations between the two organizations, and especially with the local technical support person for years afterward.

Especially since the same local development teams were successfully doing daily backups to USB thumb-drives already – a technology they did understand.  USB flash memory drives are locally available and everyone understands their use.

That’s why I use myWorkSafe, a simple app designed for low-computer literacy backup which does a selective copy of important files.  The compliance rate and recovery success rates with tools like USB flash drives with myWorkSafe are both high.

4 Requirements for Technology Sustainability

Digital Development Principle #4 is “Sustainability” and a core component of sustainability is   using capacity building tools that actually work on the field, and how to find those? Buy locally.

Technologies that are frequently available include feature phones, Android smartphones, tablets, and low-end laptops.  Examples of technologies that are often more trouble than they are worth include Apple products and any kind of complicated western business-grade technology.  Parachuting technology into a development project increases risk.

If your team can trot down to the marketplace and buy it, it’s technology that people already know about, already use, and will work out.  This means locally available, locally sourced, locally trained, and locally maintained technology.

  1. Locally available – Technology should be of the same type people encounter in the local marketplace.  Perhaps it isn’t the exact model we are using, but it should be generally similar.  If Macbooks are not available, why use them in our development projects?
  2. Locally sourced – Hand-carrying laptops or smartphones worked great when they were hard to get locally. Now, every country has multiple local hardware vendors that can scale to your needs.  This solves many logistical problems while boosting local economies and creating jobs.  Win, win!
  3. Locally trained – If it is technology that is locally sourced and available, then people are already going to understand how to use it.  Training almost takes care of itself.  If it’s technology that we imported, then training becomes our responsibility.  Training is the hidden make or break for many development projects.
  4. Locally maintained – Local repair guys are geniuses at soldering leads or swapping out parts, and much better than trying to use manufacturer warranties. I have beat my head against the wall of warranties in Africa.  Even when they are available, nobody will use them.

Every time that I travel in the Emerging World, I block off half a day to wander around the local phone market and just see what’s available.  Each time that I do, I make a discovery that surprises me.  The solutions are there, creativity is all that’s needed.

By Stephen Fierbaugh, Manager of Field Solutions at Seed Company


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