Entrepreneur develops app to bust ghost workers and manage field staff

Thursday March 6 2014

Akida app creator Catherine Kiguru at Nailab where she is based. The application helps firms manage field staff. Photo/Diana Ngila

Akida app creator Catherine Kiguru at Nailab where she is based. The application helps firms manage field staff. Photo/Diana Ngila 

By SIMON CIURI, sciuri@ke.nationmedia.com

Tired of calling to know where your field employees are? A young Kenyan techie has designed and developed a mobile application that keeps track of mobile staff and those located in remote sites. It is called Akida.

Catherine Kiguru who runs an IT start up, Ukall, says the application allows users to report on their daily activities and receive important information using a mobile phone.

The system allows users to check in using a username and password and to take a photo of themselves, which they submit.

The application picks the GPS coordinates and a date and time log for attendance and facial verification in the company’s database.

The employees then use the reporting feature throughout the day to report happenings or give feedback, allowing them to attach photos to reports. The application also enables them to receive important notifications from their employers through an alerts feature.

“The first industry we targeted was the security sector, which typically deploys large numbers of mobile employees, often in remote locations.

“We wanted to address the challenges surrounding time, attendance and authentic payroll processing to ensure ‘the right people in the right place at the right time’, eliminate costly and ineffective paperwork and supervision, streamline operations and processes and address the perennial problem of ghost workers,’’ said Ms Kiguru told the Business Daily.

The application runs on any low cost smart phone with GPS and camera features and is available on Windows and Android.

Ms Kiguru notes that the cost savings realised alone rapidly out way the initial cost of phone acquisition, data usage and Akida’s nominal operating charges.

“I started building the innovation three years ago,’’ says the 27-year-old.

“I started out within a local security firm working with their staff and was tasked with automating their operations. Akida would not have worked without the support of HR data so I kicked off by building their back end solution,’’ says the innovator who is eyeing the larger East African market.

She explains that through research she was able to establish that most large companies handle their payroll on MS Excel, necessitating the need for her team to build the supporting back end solution called Upay, an integrated management information system with human resource, business partners, issuance manager and payroll modules. It allows for integration with other technologies.

She says that most firms that have embraced Akida have also embraced its supporting back end, Upay.

She names lack of technological knowhow amongst the guards as one of the key challenges they faced during the piloting stage, requiring training and support.

Now a proven and commercial solution and with enhanced features to allow for real time reporting and sending of alerts to users, Akida has gained a wide customer base.

In order to reach out to other markets and gain useful feedback, Ms Kiguru presented Akida at the Global Innovation through Science & Technology forum in Tanzania last year, where she emerged the best female entrepreneur.

A recent YouTube video feature by World Bank, Busting Ghost workers, also significantly exposed her innovation to other markets.

“The response has been very positive and we are optimistic the number of users will rise given the quantity of the enquiries we are receiving day by day,’’ she says.

Over the past few months, Ukall has also forged partnership with Microsoft under their 4Africa initiative, Seal (a Copy Cat Group Company) and a well-established Indian based ICT firm to grow and reach out to other markets.

She says the journey has been tough since commercialisation of inventions is time consuming and expensive.

Ukall Limited, incorporated in 2011, is jointly owned and managed by Ms Kiguru and Paul Rees, a chartered accountant who has extensive experience developing and managing businesses within Africa, having spent the last 19 years in Kenya.

“My business partner is my biggest mentor. His knowledge and vast industry experience has been very instrumental in the success and growth of Ukall from start-up to business phase, supported by a talented and dedicated team,” says Ms Kiguru.