Business

Blocked drains to broken lamps – the app that helps fix issues

By Uwin Lugoda

A major breakthrough in the technological field was the introduction of applications. From the very beginning, apps were used to bring convenience and efficiency to people’s day-to-day lives, covering a wide scope of areas. This concept, however, was elevated to a whole new level in recent years, as apps were launched for everything from transport to finding a date. But what about an app that not only makes our everyday lives easier, but also fixes the issues we face daily? This is where “ManKiwwa” comes in.

ManKiwwa is one of the latest apps to hit the Sri Lankan market and is one of the few apps that help society move forward as a whole.

Local authorities are notoriously slow at repairing or upgrading infrastructure-related issues. While there is a myriad of reasons for this, a primary factor is the inefficiency in raising awareness in a timely and consistent manner. This is due to the lack of communication with the public. The lack of communication on the part of the public can be attributed to not knowing whom these problems should be reported to; with around 342 local authorities spread across Sri Lanka, it is easy to confuse which authority one should reach to seek support.

Problems also arise when the authorities don’t receive enough information on the problem, i.e. what is broken and where. The current procedure dictates that although a civilian calls/visits the authority and informs them about the problem, the inability to keep tabs on the situation would eventually lead to it being overlooked.

Many solutions in one app

ManKiwwa Founder Shohan Kulasuriya created the app to solve these problems by connecting both the public and local authorities in one platform.

“I got the idea when I saw people post public issues on social media platforms like Facebook, but this isn’t the proper solution to the problem. I feel people are reluctant to go to the authorities and inform an issue if it isn’t personally affecting them. ManKiwwa digitises the process of informing the authorities by directly connecting citizens with the relevant authorities, making it convenient for them to play a role towards the betterment of the country in the long run,” Kulasuriya explained.

The system is fully automated requiring zero human involvement. All one has to do is take a picture of the problem, for example a blocked drain or a broken traffic light, select the issue, and send it. Then, the app automatically geofences the area via Google Maps after which the app sends the information to the closest relevant authorities. The app also keeps the reporter anonymous to both the authorities as well as the app developers to ensure complete privacy. The citizen will then receive updates on the status of the problem, allowing a two-way communication between the authority and the citizen – a feature soon to be available with the app’s next update.

“Sometimes, when an individual reports something like a broken lamp post, there could be a small delay from the authority’s side for reasons like not having the particular type of bulb needed at that moment. In that case, the app allows that authority to message the citizen to inform them of the issue. This ensures the citizen that the problem isn’t overlooked,” Kulasuriya added.

This app looks to make processes convenient for the local authorities as well. The relevant authority gets an email once a citizen sends a problem. This email will be sent to the head of the authority, commissioner, and department heads, making sure the issue gets the attention it needs. The app then provides the authority with a dashboard containing the location, the issue, and the photograph uploaded by the citizen. This gives all relevant officers of the authority the information necessary to understand the problem and decide who to assign to fix it. The process is taken a step further by updating the citizen whenever a task has been completed.

Since its launch in April last year, four authorities have signed up with the app – Gampaha Municipal Council, Negombo Municipal Council, Attanagalla Pradashiya Sabha (PS), and Kuliyapitiya Urban Council – with the Biyagama PS and Kuliyapitiya PS also looking to join this month.

“The app first launched in April, but I started earlier this year because I had to do a lot of research and testing. It took me six months to convince one authority.”

Positive responses

At the moment, ManKiwwa does not have any key performance indicators (KPI). Choosing to solely focus on getting the authorities to join at present, Kulasuriya stated that KPIs will be introduced later, adding: “We cannot overrule the authorities, so we have to just work with them, introduce this app, and then show them the importance of this solution. We can then focus on the KPIs.”

The ManKiwwa team not only helps local authorities incorporate the app into their systems, but also trains them on how to use it and helps them transition from the old method. This led ManKiwwa to one of its biggest challenges – getting local authorities to join the initiative. It took Kulasuriya six months to convince officials at one authority – the Gampaha Municipal Council – to come on board with ManKiwwa. However, since then, the council has responded positively to the app and has acknowledged its usefulness and value addition.

Kulasuriya mentioned that 95% of the responses from the local authorities were positive, with a very few people being hard to convince. But with tremendous positive responses from the public and 2,000-plus downloads, he believes it will be easier to convince the remaining 5%.

“Because of ManKiwwa, authorities can now speed up their process. For example, a broken street light which would have taken at least a couple of days to get fixed can now be fixed in a day.”

Another challenge Kulasuriya wants to overcome is getting people to use the app for reports, rather than posting it on social media. Although posting on sites like Facebook and Instagram garners a lot of attention, it rarely gets the job done, often leading to the problem being completely overlooked and forgotten. He went on to say that this creates a lapse since the information usually does not reach the right people in these authorities. Therefore, he said, it was important the citizens played an active role in using the app to get the work done by helping the authorities to help themselves.

While the app is free to download for the public, he expects to charge a subscription fee from the authorities as the service provided by the app goes well beyond merely presenting the app. The subscriptions are set to be allotted for maintenance and future developments of the app.

“This is going to be a service from me where I give year-round support. I will be involved in the whole process, with both the people and the authorities.”

Future prospects

Speaking about the future of ManKiwwa, Kulasuriya stated that there will be a lot more value-added features and AI involvement in the app. The second phase of the app will see it gathering data to estimate future problems and help authorities plan ahead to face them. He also stated that he hopes to make the app usable islandwide by getting the rest of the authorities on board within the next two years.

“This is not only part of introducing a solution – this is part of transforming the government authorities as well. We don’t simply provide the solution and a platform. We sit with them, we work with them, and we train them on how to use it. So it’s a bigger role than what you see or assume because just providing people the mobile app is not going to solve any problems,” Kulasuriya concluded.