Thursday, May 14, 2009

How the CPR system came together thanks to open source

Those of you who have been following my recent Twitter postings know I'm involved in a project to deploy an SMS based system (called CPR) for a local women's crisis center in Oklahoma. Since these agencies are often very small and staffed mostly by volunteers, money is always an issue and, while everyone can see the value of such a system, it's very hard to spend thousands of dollars to build and deploy it.

Over the last two days, most of my focus has been on two areas:

1. Finding funding for the program so the agencies involved don't have any out of pocket expenses and can focus their money where it needs to be focused: victims services.

2. Getting final costs of the system down to the lowest level they can be so that we don't have to burden already cash strapped grant agencies with a huge funding request. Of course, this means doing all of the work myself and not pulling in any paid people to help at all. Everyone has to be committed to the project and must be a volunteer.

Making such a system work is proving to be very easy. They only thing needed is a compatible cellular phone, a laptop, and software. As an open source enthusiast, I knew that I could find most of the software for free on the Internet and, as a software developer, I knew I could extend the software to meet our specific needs.

With that knowledge and those specs, I started my hunt to build the perfect system for this group, determined that it would not cost an arm and a leg to either build or run. Surprisingly, everything came together amazingly quick.


- AcerOne Netbook PC
- Motorola PEBL U6 Cellular Phone
- Data Cable for the PEBL

Total Cost: $479.00 USD


- Apache Web Server
- PHP Scripting Language
- 3 Custon PHP Scripts
- FrontlineSMS SMS Management Software

Total Cost: $0.00 USD (yep, FREE)

Other Incidentals:

- Unlimited texting plan for the PEBL

Costs Per Year: $240.00 USD

Final yearly cost to run the system: about $800.00 USD

That's it! Not too complicated at all and definitely not expensive. This entire system can be run by the agency I'm working with for under $1,000 per year thanks to open source software and affordable technology. We're shooting for a $3,000 grant which will, obviously, allow them to run the system for a total of 3 years without ever incurring any additional costs. After the 3 year run, we'll either go for another grant or look for community support.

I have a meeting with the group on 19, May and will formally introduce them to the system concepts and give a "semi live" demonstration. If all goes well, the finished system will be deployed in less than a month.

More than anything, I think this project is showing me how easy it is to help other people when you're willing to put in a little work and use the right technology. Definitely, open source has come into play here big time. This project would have costs well over $2,000 per year only two or three years ago. Now, thanks to open source software and cheap hardware (good job Acer), nothing is stopping anyone with a good idea and a little dedication from doing just about anything needed in the community.

In my next post, I'll discuss the formal technical configuration of the system including how the PHP scripts will fit in and interact with FrontlineSMS. It's a pretty fun ride to be on right now and I can't wait to see this thing live.


Bad Karma said...

What is the cost if you send out a few thousand text messages? Also, what is the cost to up-keep this packet together system?