I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with InSTEDD’s Robert Kirkpatrick on several occasions this year and always come away from our conversations having learned something new. Robert has recently been presenting InSTEDD’s new Mesh4X project. I confessed to him that I wasn’t entirely sure I fully grasped all the technical language he used to describe Mesh4X (which may serve as one answer to Paul Curion’s recent questions on The Innovation Fallacy).
Shortly after our recent CrisisMappers Meeting in Orlando, Robert kindly took the time to rework his description of Mesh4X for non techies. What follows is this description in Robert’s own words: “Having now heard the message a second time, I’m trying to clarify my description of Mesh4x for a lay audience. This version is more of a ‘product brochure’ in style, but I hope you find it useful in filling in any gaps.”
Problem: cross-organizational data sharing shouldn’t be this hard.
A major obstacle to effective humanitarian action today is that while advances in information technology have made it possible for individual organizations to collect, organize, and analyze data as never before, sharing of data between organizations remains problematic. Organizations choose to adopt different information systems and software applications for many good reasons, yet a consequence of this is that data ends up fragmented across multiple organizations’ servers, PCs, and networks and remains “trapped” in different databases and formats.
This fragmentation incurs a high opportunity cost, as each organization working on a problem ends up having to act based on a fraction of what is actually known collectively. When data is shared today, it typically involves staff manually exporting from a database, emailing spreadsheets files, and them importing them manually on the receiving end – a cumbersome and error-prone process further complicated by situations where Internet access is slow, unreliable, or completely unavailable.
Solution: Mesh4X – critical data when you need it, where you need it.
- Imagine if that spreadsheet on your desktop, filled with health surveys, supply requests, or project status reports, were seamlessly linked to databases, programs, map software, websites and PDAs of others you want to share with, so that whenever you add or update data, the changes end up being reflected everyone else as well, and all of their changes would also show up in your spreadsheet automatically.
- Imagine being able to see all of this collective information on a map – a map that updates itself whenever anyone makes a change to shared data.
- Now imagine being able to exchange data with others even when no Internet access is available.
InSTEDD Mesh4X is a technology designed to create seamless cross-organizational information sharing between different databases, desktop applications, websites, and devices. It allows you to create or join a shared “data mesh” that links together disparate software and servers and synchronizes data between them automatically. You choose the data you wish to share, others do the same, and now everyone’s data ends up everywhere it needs to be.
- Using Mesh4X, changes to data in any one location in the mesh are automatically synchronized to every other location.
- If you’re offline at the time, all of your data will synchronize the next time you connect to the network.
- For cases where no Internet access is available at all, there is no longer any need for the slow transport of files physically between locations. Mesh4X gives you the option to synchronize all data via a series of SMS text messages – just plug a compatible phone into your laptop, and Mesh4X does the rest.
Using Mesh4X, you’ll have access to more information, and sooner, when making critical decisions. When you need to collaborate with multiple organizations toward a shared goal, everyone will have a more complete and up-to-date understanding of needs, resources, and who is doing what where.
Thanks again to Robert for pulling this version together. I’m now more assured that I did grasp the in’s and out’s of Mesh4X. My next question to Robert and the InSTEDD team is whether Mesh4X is at point where it’s “plug and play”? That is, as easy to download and set up as, say, a blog on wordpress? Will the setup process be facilitated by a Microsoft-like-wizard for easy guidance and implementation?