When Diona hit upon the idea of using mobile and tech solutions to ramp up operations in the NGO space, they probably didn’t know that they would disrupt many of the existing services in the NGO space. As the Bangalore-based organization is gearing up to expand its horizon in India, Anil Singaraju co-founder and chief technology officer of Diona takes us through the endearing journey.
By Kavitha Srinivasa
Diona was established in 2012 with offices in India, Ireland and the U.S., and for five years we have addressed societal problems by working with government agencies. Diona provides innovative mobility solutions and consulting services for Health and Human Services agencies around the world. NGOs are a natural extension of the same. Having already interacted with certain segments of the government sector, we realized that a somewhat similar line of thinking could be applied in the NGO domain. We help NGOs help people by providing mobile technology tools to enable NGOs to achieve their mission and monitor program delivery outcomes. We do this through our commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) mobile technology solution suite called Diona Mobility.
The thought gained momentum when we felt it’s possible to tweak our mobile solutions for purposeful outcomes in the NGO domain. We began by tapping our user experience and domain expertise. That’s how we arrived at mobility-based tech solutions and consulting services for agencies and NGOs to monitor programme delivery. Branded as Diona Mobile NGO Visits and Diona Mobile NGO Uploads, these solutions are hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Along with this, we created a central data portal to consolidate and extract data for monitoring activities of the NGOs.
We arrived at a subscription model, whereby the products are configured and deployed on the cloud and to the mobile devices. The entire process has been designed in a manner such that we don’t need to interact with NGOs on a daily basis.
Our solutions are used by NGOs in India, Sri Lanka and the U.S. whose concern areas include human trafficking, rehabilitation, education and skill development, among others. Diona Mobility solutions have turned out to be disruptive technologies within the NGO space.
The solutions are typically used to track and monitor the progress of NGO programs over a period of time.
Critically, we get a sense of understanding as we interact with people at the grassroots level who do field work and incorporate that understanding into our solutions.
Diona Mobile NGO Visits is our NGOs outreach campaign and field visit enabler. It is designed to enable caseworkers to take progress notes and conduct assessments in a user-friendly manner; record keeping and information retrieval happen through a multitude of multi-media options. NGOs can also choose from a variety of data-capture approaches like handwriting, typing, audio, video and photographs.
From a suite of innovative tools, users can select integrated interactive maps to identify routes and get directions to client locations. Sometimes NGO field workers have to visit remote locations for their field work, where mobile and internet connectivity can be an issue. Diona Mobile Visits is designed to work in an offline mode in areas where there is poor connectivity.
All this is backed by tools and technology that protect the data, due to which data can be wiped remotely in the event of loss or theft. Information related to client security is built into the system and information at rest and in transit is secured through encryption.
The genesis of Diona Mobile NGO Uploads originated from the day-to-day requirements of an NGO, and most of these involve paperwork which is both times consuming and prone to errors. With a certain amount of brainstorming, we arrived at an enterprise-grade software solution which is packaged as Diona Mobile NGO Uploads. It allows clients and caseworkers of NGOs to use their mobile phone to photograph and submit copies of documents. Diona Mobile NGO Uploads integrates with agency systems and processes to simplify and expedite the agency processes and get to better outcomes. Diona Mobile NGO Uploads can also utilize simple handoffs from Dropbox or Google Drive, allowing clients to easily upload documents. The solution supports multiple languages and new languages can be added quickly and without coding.
NGOs have enjoyed tangible and intangible benefits of Diona Mobile NGO Visits and Diona Mobile NGO Uploads. Results have shown a 50% decrease in administrative and paperwork for one NGO, allowing field workers to spend more time with clients and on skill development. NGOs enjoy other benefits too, the travel cost and time spent on commuting has reduced drastically, and this is especially beneficial in hilly regions as well as remote parts of West Bengal where we connect with many NGOs. These are all tangible and real-time benefits.
The intangible benefits are that both solutions offer clarity and objective evaluation due to which NGOs enjoy better outcomes. Having leveraged technology NGOs are able to achieve scale and standardize procedures while better managing backend operations. This has worked favourably while approaching donors.
As we entered the NGO domain, it was found that the lack of digitization within the NGO is the biggest hurdle. Technology adoption is a challenge. We decided to use technology as an intervention to make systems and processes within NGOs function better. In our initial interactions we found that in most NGOs, technology usage is minimal. Secondly, they have a huge amount of unstructured data, which has been manually compiled together. This is where we step in to fill in the gap as the data needs to be properly channeled in a digitized format to give visibility, accuracy, and clarity to processes within the organization.
Diona Mobility for NGOs officially launched in late 2016. Since then we have gained traction with NGO customers in India, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and the U.S. and plan to expand our presence in India. We continue to add new users on a monthly basis and expect a huge ramp up in use in India and the U.S., as well as adding customers in Africa, South East Asia, and the Caribbean.
Like in any other business, we intend to scale up our services and our global services are centrally rolled out in all locations, regardless of geography. Our R&D team will continue to work on various product enhancements for NGOs. Areas of focus include new functionality for our core NGO offerings, voice commands, reporting, and analytics.
Our immediate concern is to add new features to the existing data offering and sharpen the focus towards data extracts and field workers.