In Sub-Saharan Africa, 644 million lack access to improved sanitation of which 400 million have GSM coverage – meaning that in the future linking mobile offerings to sanitation solutions is very much a viable idea one might not have thought of. Neither did I until we got a call from a potential customer last autumn: This led to a project that would finally get us to develop a logistics system and to do a roll-out in Madagascar.

But let’s start from the beginning. Our new customer, Loowatt, has developed an innovative waterless toilet system that generates energy from human waste. The Loowatt toilet seals waste into biodegradable polymer liner for hygienic collection and transport, and treats the waste and film in anaerobic digestion systems, to generate energy and fertilizer. Loowatt, based in London, is currently rolling out this same technology in the UK, for outdoor events, and in Antananarivo, Madagascar, to prove that their systems can transform household sanitation in urban areas. However, both markets – from latrines to container-based toilets – require logistics management.

So pursuant to a grant from GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation, Loowatt approached Acrea in autumn 2015 with the general idea of having a QR code based IT system to support their collection and logistics management work. The idea was to tag important objects with QR codes to ensure tracking of them when being handed over. People involved (e.g. collectors) were planned to be handed out inexpensive smart phones. Additionally, some check points had to be realized that allow to ensure that collection is taking place at the correct time and that the waste is treated as intended (and not e.g. dumped somewhere in a river).

The data collected should allow to optimize the service, detect anomalies and provide more transparency on operations for regulators and funders. Another key goal of the IT system was the improvement of customer service by providing the ability to request service by SMS.

Although it was a completely new business area to us we successfully completed this project within an amazingly short time frame by applying Acrea’s “making digital work” approach based on four main steps:

  1. Business Concept: Understand or elaborate the strategy, business model, business case and business architecture of the new offering. As Loowatt already had done this; we mainly had to learn and understand.

  2. Solution Concept: Elaborate a concrete solution sketch of the required system(s). This is where our work actually started. During a 1-day workshop together with Loowatt we dissected their business into several key use cases and flows that could be enhanced digitally. Furthermore, we extracted the key actors, elaborated a business object model and designed a high level target architecture. Together we also defined a minimum viable product (MVP) to be implemented and rolled out asap.

  3. Implementation Preparation: Verify implementation readiness, create a backlog and setup the implementation team. Based on the solution sketch and the knowledge gathered during the previous steps we felt comfortable to move on and to set up the implementation project.

  4. Implementation Sprints: Build the actual solution within several agile implementation sprints. In parallel to the UX design done by our partner Every Interaction we started developing the server system and mobile app together with a team of three developers in Vietnam.

Within one month after having started the development we provided a first, near feature complete version to the customer. The complete system was implemented within a time frame of about 3.5 months from initial workshop to feature complete MVP solution.

Having overcome the tight budget and time constraints as well as difficulties like illiteracy of end-users, dropping network connections and appropriate training, Loowatt now is able to supervise and most importantly scale-up their business. The data collected will be crucial for further optimizations like better route planning or discovery of anomalies in waste collection.

Together with Acrea Loowatt made their digital vision work. So when do you start to “make digital work” for your business?