Dr Kenfield Griffith, CEO, mSurvey and Anil Ramnanan, PhD student at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Computer Studies, at mSurvey’s workshop on Data Collection and Surveying using Mobile Technology, held at the Max Richards Building, Faculty of Engineering , UWI St Augustine on March 28, 2014. Photo: Gerard Best
ST AUGUSTINE, Trinidad -- A mobile SMS-based survey service from a Caribbean-based company could change the way data is collected and analysed in the region.
If Kenfield Griffith has anything to say about it, his company will soon be adding a potent fuel to the digital revolution smouldering quietly throughout the islands of the Caribbean.
Born in Montserrat and of Barbadian extract, Griffith is the CEO of mSurvey, a mobile surveys company based in Kenya. Kristal Peters, director of business development and strategy, runs the company’s Trinidad and Tobago office.
"It's Friday morning. Let's create a survey together," Griffith says to a group of relative strangers gathered in a small room at the Faculty of Engineering of The University of the West Indies, St Augustine for mSurvey’s workshop on data collection and surveying using mobile technology on March 28.
His confidence seems well placed. Within minutes, the demo survey is set up and sent to a pool of prospective participants located in Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago, who immediately start returning their responses via SMS technology. Soon, their data start streaming in to a dynamic web page, which aggregates and visualises the survey results in real-time. In no time at all, the roomful of workshop participants, about 50 in all, are analysing the fresh data.
The audience is an interesting mix of academics, researchers, policy makers, mobile carrier representatives, students and software developers, and many seem eager to learn more.
“Do you sell data to third parties?” asks one man seated toward the middle of the room.
"We have the technology that folks use to get other people's data. But we don't sell anyone's data to third parties," Griffith replied.
Moments later, he clarified his business model. The primary service that mSurvey provides is to help people, businesses and organisations to use mobile technology to get the precise data they need to make high-impact decisions quickly. For many organisations trying to conduct surveys in order to harvest meaningful insights and increase their ROI, the biggest stumbling block is the inability to gather data in the first place.
"We're trying to solve a problem here and that problem is getting data.”
To have some idea of what Griffith means, you need only to have tried to get survey data quickly and reliably in the Caribbean context. Door-to-door surveys are costly and painfully slow. Online surveys are challenged by the limits of the local population's access and connectivity to the Internet. By some estimates, residential broadband Internet penetration remains as low as 45%, while mobile penetration is as high as 140%. Everyone, it seems, has a phone... or two.
For mSurvey, the ubiquity of the mobile phone became the answer to one of the region's biggest obstacles to data collection.
“Getting information in emerging markets is a pain point for most of us,” he said.
Respondents don’t need mobile or Wi-Fi broadband Internet connection, or even a smartphone. The entire process can be completed over a regular mobile SMS plan at no cost to participants, he explained.