March 12, 2013
TaroWorks dashboard. Sign up for a demo at www.taroworks.org
Imagine you’re a program officer working with teams of field staff, some located in remote villages. Though your colleagues in the field make almost daily visits to see clients, it sometimes takes weeks for you to get the data, leaving you ill-prepared to manage problems or even spot them before they erupt.
For countless social sector organizations, this is a major obstacle that affects their entire chain of operation, from how they manage supply inventories and the work of field staff to how quickly they can prepare up-to-the-minute reports for senior executives and funders.
It can be especially problematic for poverty-focused organizations that work in very rural, hard-to-reach areas, where they are expected to manage their data processes often without reliable access to electricity and cell phone reception.
Over the past year, Grameen Foundation has been talking to organizations, mostly in Asia, to better understand the critical pain points that inhibit their work. We’re focusing on inclusive businesses (for-profit enterprises that focus exclusively on working with low-income individuals, either as producers, consumers or distributors) to understand the issues that are bogging them down. Regardless of their size or the product or service they provide, they all face the same “big” challenges.
Slow information feeds
Like other organizations, they face competing demands that require immediate responses. For many, however, it takes between a week and six months to get data from the field, leaving senior staff flat-footed and unable to make informed, timely decisions to improve their operations and overall business.
No deep insights about customers
Depending on their business model, some organizations don’t have even basic demographic information on their customers, which prevents them from tailoring products and services to meet their customers’ needs. For example, we’re working with an organization that sells affordable eyeglasses to the poor in rural areas. They want to know more about who their customers are, but they struggle to collect that information.
No real-time field updates
Organizations with widespread distribution channels often find it hard to track their field staff’s sales and activities, making it difficult to respond quickly to issues. The lag in reporting also means they spend unnecessary time compiling data and running reports, instead of focusing on improving their processes and operations.
Listening to their stories, we saw the valuable role that cell phones could play in easing these pain points and also recognized that organizations would need solutions that are customized to their unique needs. In response, we created TaroWorks, a data suite that helps organizations serving the poor—especially those that employ the poor—manage their information, people and products via mobile phones. It uses two interfaces: Salesforce for managing forms and data, and the mobile device for capturing information.
Nine organizations are already using it and providing us with interesting insights on how social sector organizations can use cell phones to manage their business operations.
One early user is a social enterprise that distributes low-cost eyeglasses. Its sales agents are now using Android smartphones to collect information on the people they’ve met with, how many vision tests they administer and how many eyeglasses they sell. It plans to track activities through Salesforce and use the information to forecast sales and inventory. Another user, a multilateral NGO, is sending researchers into the field to administer quarterly surveys to prepare impact reports for donors. And a large multinational for-profit organization is using it to track goods that are delivered through end-suppliers all the way to the source.
In the last five years, there’s been growing interest in using cell phones as a management tool for social sector organizations, especially as the price of Android phones has fallen. Few solutions, however, have focused squarely on those working in remote locations with the poor. Over the coming months, we’ll share more on-the-ground highlights from organizations that are using TaroWorks in other regions.
To learn more about TaroWorks, please contact mobiletools [at] grameenfoundation.org