For a handful of students and young entrepreneurs, the first two months of 2016 were spent furiously coding on their laptops to create an app in time for the CityLinks App2Action Challenge.
Back in December, students spent a day with municipal officials and water sector experts from Nablus learning about the main challenges facing the municipality. They were given just over two months to develop an innovative tech solution that they would present to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning the grand prize: $5,000 and a free trip to the 2016 Esri User Conference in California. The winning team was also eligible to receive additional funding to further develop their app and help launch it within the municipality.
We sat down with some of the competitors to learn about their backgrounds, what motivated them to compete, and their experiences with the water sector in Nablus.
Tell us a little about yourself and your teammates.
Taher Dweikat: I am a third year computer engineering student at An-Najah University. I am also an Android certified developer from ATC. My partner is in also in IT. He is in his last semester. He helped me develop the part that connects our mobile application to the server.
Radi Barq: I am a software engineering student at the university. It’s my first time doing a competition like this. I learned a new programming language for it – Java. My partner is a medicine student. He’s read a lot of books about programming so he has a good background. He helped me especially in the last month with designing and programming.
Ahmad Abu-Omar: My teammates are actually my employees. I have two developers working for me. Also my wife works as an administrative assistant at my company and she served as the program manager.
Ram Zaher: I studied at Ber Zeit. I am working at a development company.
Mohammad Sayeh: My job was the main developer, the computer engineering. Moen Anabtawi studies economics. His job was to find the idea and do research about the topic. Ahmed Irshaid studies interior design. His duty was to design the main form of the app and to help brainstorm ideas with the three of us. We are friends, actually, so it was easy working as a team.
What made you decide to participate?
T.D.: I love to help people. I wanted to serve the municipality in my country so I decided to help them using my talents and what I know how to do – through making mobile applications.
R.B.: I like programming and I wanted to help the municipality and the people of Nablus. I wanted to do something to help the community.
A.A.: The challenge of it, mainly. We are a small company so we wanted to do something challenging and make the world hear about it. And of course, the prize money and the accomplishment if we win.
R.Z.: It is a unique event because it connects the developers to problems in our society, like water, which is good. I’ve never done anything like this before with the municipality and water issues. It was a good experience. I hope to do it again.
M.S.: The cash prize and the trip to the United States, of course!
What has your experience been like with the water services?
T.D.: At the beginning of the competition, I really didn’t know anything about the water services so I visited the municipality and asked them about many things and they helped me. I learned how they collect the bills from citizens and they enter these bills into their system.
R.B.: The municipality has a lot of problems.
A.A.: In the summer, we wait 3 or 4 days until the water comes to our house. When it comes, my mother goes to wash the clothes and everything. It’s the same as in Nablus. There’s not enough water.
R.Z.: I want to view my bill directly but I can’t. We face this problem a lot in our community.
M.S.: It’s not that bad, not that good. Sometimes the water cuts off and we can’t get water for 3 or 4 days. Sometimes pipes break in the middle of the street.
Can you tell me a little bit about your application and how it works?
T.D.: My application targets the third challenge. It’s about encouraging people to pay their bills. It encourages them by decreasing the time the municipality needs to have the bills ready. In Palestine, especially in Nablus, they need one month to get bills ready for the previous month. So the idea of our application was to tell the citizens in our city that we can make you see your bills quickly. So for example, the person who collects the bills for one week and after 2 or 3 hours the bills are ready so the citizens can see their bills quickly and easily.
R.B.: My app is a feedback system. I think it will help the people because they can interact with the municipality in better ways. It’s an android application. I think it will help the municipality solve their problem with reporting and feedback.
A.A.: The platform has three modules. The first module is the previous data module. Right now, the municipality has data but they are not making use of any of it. The module gives them an easy way to understand the previous period of water distribution to help them in the future.
The second module makes use of the first module where the system automatically reads the data and suggests the schedule for water distribution for the current period based on the previous data and other factors such as the normal increase in population, houses, the areas where the houses are distributed. So it gets the data, counts those factors, and gives the user a ready schedule that he can use. Of course, because it’s automated, the user can override it easily if a situation arises.
The third module makes automates the process of calling customers to see if they have enough water or not. Instead of manually calling each person, the municipality can send the questions out as push notifications and get the answer easily and quick. This data also feeds back into the second module for future scheduling.
R.Z.: It helps with a couple of issues like getting info about the user bill for the water and reporting problems with the water directly from the customer to the municipality.
M.S.: We made three apps. Two of them are for the workers and one of them is for the users. The user app is a very basic app just to get the bill and pay the bill. You can request maintenance guys and report problems. You can also get news from the municipality if they are going to cut off the water for some time or there is a problem and they want all the people to know…We wanted to design a simple solution to encourage people to use it and convince them that it will solve some of the water issues they are facing.
We made an app for the collector. It is used to get the readings from every water counter. You can then save the counter’s location with the number on Esri’s server. Then when a user uses the app, he can enter the counter number and he can put his ID number as a password so he can request maintenance or report a problem and the municipality will already know exactly where he is. The user can also see the location and status of maintenance guys.
The app for maintenance guys is to track their location and status. They can say whether they are busy or free and for how long. This refreshes every five minutes. We haven’t done this yet but it can be done through Esri servers using something called special services, it will estimate the time between any two points they want. So you can estimate the time from where the maintenance guy is and the water counter with the problem. The closest guy may be busy so you can find the next closest one who is free.
The app is funded by advertisement space available inside it. This will pay for the prizes people can win. Or companies can choose to sponsor the app.
What would you do with the prize money if you won?
T.D.: I want to learn more things. For example, I can expand my knowledge past mobile to web or networks, a lot of things. I want to spend this money on learning and developing myself.
R.B.: Maybe buy a new laptop.
A.A.: I have been to California once, it would be great to go again and experience the Esri Conference. I think would put the prize money back into my company, in order to create more apps for more companies.
R.Z.: I would use it to invest in other applications, maybe develop something else.
M.S.: Haven’t thought about it yet. Maybe get a car or something.
The judges panel
On March 17th, community members gathered in Nablus to watch the teams demonstrate their apps to a panel of judges at the App2Action Showcase. The judges included: Mohammad Bishawi, Head of Programming and Development, Nablus Municipality; Imad Masri, Manager of Water & Sanitation Department, Nablus Municipality; Zaher Bassioni, Operations Manager, Leaders Organization; Salah Amleh, Country Director, BEEADEE Project in Palestine; George Khadder, Founder & CEO, Circle Out; Carlos Rishmawi, Development Manager, GSE; and Jessica Johnston, Senior Program Manager, ICMA.
After over an hour of deliberation, the judges announced the winners.
Grand Prize Winners: Radi Barq and Ahmad Amer for their app that allows customers to report maintenance issues directly to the municipality.
Second Place Winners: Ahmad Abu-Omar, May Awayes, Ihab Haje, and Naje Karaja for their app Water Eye that automates the schedule for water distribution based on previous data and other customizable variables.
Best Use of Esri Winners: Mohammad Sayeh, Moen Anabtawi, and Ahmed Irshaid for their app that allows customers to pay their bills and find out the arrival time of the nearest maintenance worker after they’ve submitted a request.
You can learn more about the winning apps here.
All of the apps submitted to the App2Action Challenge have been developed with open source software and are available for free. If you are interested in using any of the code or working with the developers, contact Jessica Johnston (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can download a full description of each app below.