Wow, the group of talented developers over at FrontlineSMS have just released what could be a game changer for the aid industry: FrontlineForms. Now your IT person, using the FrontlineSMS system, can quickly generate a custom data collection template and deliver it en masse to field teams via SMS. With the drag-and-drop functionality of the Forms Editor custom templates can be quickly created and disseminated so that field teams can start collecting and returning data from their handsets in a very short period of time.
This ability to quickly adapt forms is essential following emergencies like tsunamis and earthquakes as your response window is only open for a very short period of time. The main strength of the system is the durability and wiliness of the SMS message. While regular voice calls are usually knocked out following an event such as an earthquake due to the system being flooded with calls of concern SMS has a much easier time getting through. Even if the towers are up but the system is down your data will mostly likely still be able to get back to the server.
FrontlineForms has offline capability which is essential and it looks like they are planning on adding in a geocoding feature somewhere down the line. From the FrontlineSMS blog:
The FrontlineForms client can hold many different forms at the same time, all selectable from a drop-down menu. As requirements change new forms can be built and distributed by simply texting them to the recipients handset through FrontlineSMS – they don’t need to travel to the office to be added. Once out in the field the user simply inputs their data, and once complete multiple forms are combined and compressed, ready to be sent back to the FrontlineSMS hub, again as SMS. If at any time users find themselves working out of range of a mobile signal, the data is usefully held in “offline” mode until connectivity is restored…
Future “modules” will include mapping functionality – powered by Ushahidi – and multimedia messaging (due later this year) allowing the transmission of pictures, audio, video and text. More specialist applications, including those being developed independently by the FrontlineSMS:Medic team, will also appear as optional modules.
Congratulations FrontlineSMS for creating what looks like an incredibly useful product!