Shohoz’s crowning glory
Corona Tracer BD, a contact tracing app that warns users if they are near someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, is off to a good start as individuals are increasingly downloading the solution to keep the contagion at bay.
"The app has been downloaded more than 3 lakh times as of yesterday," said Maliha M Quadir, founder and managing director of Shohoz, which developed the app for the government.
"In every second, one download is being made."
A team of Shohoz worked round-the-clock to develop the app within a short time in a testament to the growing prowess of the Bangladeshi technology start-up in developing a large-scale technology tool.
"The technology is a very complicated one. We, as a start-up, are very happy and feel proud to serve the country during this pandemic," she added.
Under an initiative of the ICT Division, the Directorate General of Health Services, the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, the Access to Information (a2i) programme, the Skill Development for Mobile Game and Application project and Shohoz worked closely to develop the app.
Shohoz was in charge of providing the core technical solutions, while the contents were developed by other partners.
On June 4, the ICT Division released the beta version of the app to flatten the curve on the rogue pathogen.
To avail the service, smartphone users need to download the app from https://bit.ly/coronatracerbd. Users have to register by entering their mobile number. The device's Bluetooth and location options have to be switched on.
The app utilises Bluetooth and the latest technology to notify at-risk users by detecting the exposure to a Covid-19 positive user. The data collected is kept secure in-transit via encryption.
"If any user comes into the vicinity of a Covid-19 positive user, within a certain time and distance threshold, the user is automatically made aware of the potential risk and what they should do if exposed," Maliha told The Daily Star in an interview on Sunday.
"The app has the potential to become one of the most effective tools to test, trace and contain the virus."
It all began after Shohoz board members residing in various countries informed Maliha about the technology the nations have employed to fight the Covid-19.
"As we have a very skillful engineering team, I was thinking whether we can develop such a thing."
At that time, the government was looking for a platform to come up with a solution as the contagion is spreading very fast.
"A few companies were vying for the job. We gave a full presentation with many aspects and got selected for this," Maliha said.
For the product, everything, from meetings to software development, was done digitally. Meetings were carried out through the cloud-based video communications app of Zoom Video Communications.
Her engineers used Microsoft Teams software to enable them to develop it while working from home because of the social-distancing measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus.
Some Zoom calls would start at 11 pm and last until 2 am to 3 am. Government officials, who have been working round the clock to help the country fight the pandemic, also attended the late-night calls.
"What Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT, has done amazed me. Every week, he would conduct a number of video-conferencing with officials of several organisations," Maliha said.
Working from home saved time and increased efficiency as physical meetings often get delayed, the entrepreneur said.
The app would be able to include all smartphone users in Bangladesh simultaneously and people should use it from their own sense of responsibility to flatten the curve, she said.
"It will inform people how much they are at risk and when they should go for isolation," she said, referring to World Health Organisation's frequent advice and importance on testing, tracing and isolation.
The app would be particularly helpful in big cities, where most of the people use smartphones but contract-tracing is very difficult because they do not know each other very much.
The technology, which was used to develop the app, used Bluetooth low-energy signal between phones and fine-tuned signal strength and contact duration to identify legitimate contacts as per WHO's guideline.
The app's backend has been built using asynchronous queue-backed scalable microservices and a highly performant NoSQL storage solution.
These highly-decoupled microservices are containerised and thus can be deployed and scaled up individually based on request/data throughput that guarantees availability at a high-scale and minimises infrastructure cost.
The app does not need internet connectivity to be available on phones all the time and uses low bandwidth for communication with backend servers. It is highly energy-efficient.
Harvard Business School-graduate Maliha worked at top institutions such Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered and Nokia before founding Shohoz, a platform where one can buy tickets for bus and launch trips, events and movies, in 2014.
In 2018, Shohoz made foray into the ride-hailing market. In the same year, the company announced it raised $15 million from Golden Gate Ventures of Singapore and others to expand.
The company added truck to its ride-hailing service and food delivery last year.
"I had a dream that one day we would reach every person in the country with our service, and with this app, I hope we would achieve a lot of our dream."
The seed for the company was sowed many years ago when her mother, who was a top official at state-run Jibon Bima Corporation, handed her a magazine named Real Simple.
The magazine shows how people can make their everyday life simple.
"So, when I wanted to form a new venture in Bangladesh, I gave the name Shohoz, which means simple."