By Mandy J Watson of BrainWaves.org
Every year UCT’s Department Of Information Systems, which is part of the Faculty Of Commerce, holds an expo of third-year and honours students’ projects in Jameson Hall on the upper campus. The purpose of the projects is to give students experience in developing a piece of software that is practical and which works with data and data management, has security layers, and solves or manages a real-world social problem.
Each project is conceived, executed, and completed by teams of three or four students who work on them the entire year – from February to June they map out and document the entire project and then from July to September they code it and bug test it before handing it in for evaluation.
In October the expo is held and each year’s winning projects are announced and the students are recognised for their efforts.
Schools are invited to attend the expo in the mornings to give kids an opportunity to meet the UCT students and learn about a potential career path in a welcoming environment. The afternoon is then given over to interested business professionals, as well as programme and project sponsors, who may be looking for promising young people to hire into their organisations.
This year I noted a trend in visual reporting of database data: many of the projects were designed to crunch data and generate statistics and graphs (most used Visifire, although I also saw Highcharts being implemented). I asked about this and apparently earlier this year one of the UCT lecturers had emphasised data visualisation as a crucial product feature so the students obviously took that to heart, and out popped a whole bunch of dynamic, real-time graphs.
This year’s third-year winning team, comprising Mikhail Janowski, Michael Hubbard, Terrina Govender, and Pascale Henke, developed Pulse Health, which is designed to run on Windows Phone devices, although they demoed it on a Mac at the expo. The tool’s purpose is to enable health-care workers to capture a patient’s medical data digitally in the field. This data comprises an individual’s vital statistics and diseases and conditions, as well as demographic information and geographic data. The ICD-9 disease data classifications were imported (and therefore can be kept up to date) so a patient’s medical conditions can be logged accurately in the system with just a few clicks. A patient’s medical history is therefore also always on hand, and built upon after every visit from a medial practitioner, thereby databasing a lifetime’s worth of information that can be archived or analysed, depending on requirements. Health-care workers can also look at the aggregated data to identify very specific geographic or demographic trends, such as HIV prevalence in a small town in Limpopo among young low-income black men or a tuberculosis or cholera outbreak that may be spreading along certain areas of KwaZulu-Natal. The system integrates Google Maps and users can zoom in on any area to drill down into the data clusters, which will break apart the further into the map you zoom, presenting data that becomes more and more specific to certain areas, rather than just a general, and unhelpful, “1024 in the Western Cape”.
The team that came second, comprising Prince Ranthaka, Phillip de Beer, Shiraz Amod, and Chris McCrae, developed HR Online, a web-based human-resource-management system that’s specifically designed for SMMEs in South Africa as the backend includes legal data that will help them comply with local labour laws automatically. The platform, which has an attractive user interface, offers a timesheet system so employees can log tasks and the time allocated to the tasks, employee records, and a leave system, which was particularly interesting as all the leave could be mapped onto a calendar, enabling an HR practitioner to see if too many people are wanting the same day off and therefore allowing the practitioner to manage the staff resources better. The system also allows for the entire organisational structure of a company to be imported in bulk via an Excel spreadsheet or specific records can be inputted by hand. Projects can then be assigned to organisational groups. The system doesn’t yet support performance evaluation, though the team did tell me that is something they had discussed, and a future feature they would want to include is use of a cloud platform such as Windows Azure.
Other third-year projects included Tasty Varsity, a meal-booking system that enables students to select their meal options, based on their meal plan, up to seven days in advance (with the ability to cancel up to 24 hours in advance without being charged), which enables Fedics to manage resources more carefully and reduce food waste. Students would also only gain access to the dining hall if they had booked a meal, keeping it more secure.
MedTracker is a prescription-tracking system that hospitals can use to monitor specific patients and drugs, such as who has been prescribed what and by whom, how often the patient is taking the drug (which can be logged each time), and how much time has elapsed between the prescription and the administration of the drug. The beauty of the system is the analytics that can be performed on the data and the potential for identifying abuse or neglect quickly. Was someone prescribed something 10 days ago but he’s only received his first dose today? Who is prescribing which drug and how often is this practitioner prescribing this drug? Who is routinely prescribing overdose amounts?
The Expensables was another web-based application that enables employees to log expenses and upload the documentation, such as a photo of the receipt taken with a cellular phone). The accounting team can then view all the claims and accept or reject them. At the moment the system only supports making a claim on something that has already been paid, rather than submitting a budget allotment for a future claim, but the team did say that they had discussed that as a potential feature to be implemented.
SAOSI (South African Online Scholarship Initiative) is a portal and database system that allows students to input their data and then search for and apply for scholarships. Institutions offering scholarships can then view candidate data to see if they are suitable, communicate with applicants, and accept and reject applications, all using the system. The project also offers an in-system contact form and profile-based chat functionality so that students that don’t have email can still communicate and receive messages, as well as ask for advice from their peers.
These were just some of the projects. Others managed parking at UCT, assessed employees at a company, managed cattle data such as “health status and medical actions undertaken during dip-tank visits”, provided a portal to allow school pupils to apply to several tertiary institutions at once, and monitored and managed school absenteeism.
The winning honours project was SafelyHome, a crowd-sourcing system developed by Lee Brooks, Martin Lee-Pan, Warren Manley, and Seneme Mthembu, that allows people to report traffic incidents and receive notifications of problem areas using a mobile device. As the database of incidents grows organisations such as the Western Cape government could then use it to identify and monitor hot spots and therefore be better informed when making decisions about allocating resources, such as where a fire station should be built or where a traffic officer should be stationed. The data captured can be as specific as make and type of car so over time it could be determined, for example, that a lot of drunk BMW drivers use Claremont Main Road on a Sunday morning. Number plates can even be captured and stored in the system to help officials track down a specific vehicle.
The project that came second was ForensIT, which was sponsored by UCT’s Digital Forensics Research Unit and was developed by Robbie Falck, Brett Flugel, Dominic Peier, and Mandi Lombaard. ForensIT is a digital forensic case-management system that allows law-enforcement personnel to manage evidence, data, suspect and witness information, and case notes digitally. This has the added effect of data being secure and backed up so the current problem of a paper-based dossier “vanishing” is no longer an issue. The system also provides intelligence tools, such as the mapping of data on a timeline so gaps and inconsistencies can be spotted easily and investigated further.
Another honours project was Massive Gap, a crowd-funding platform that is similar to Kickstarter but is specifically designed for South Africans and African communities.
I ran out of time to have a look at the final two honours projects so here are descriptions based on what was on the info sheet I was given:
Project One provides learners with educational information and value through Web and mobile technologies. The system is designed to allow Ubunye [an organisation that provides leadership and life-skills development and mentorship to high-school kids] to extract useful information on the learners’ behaviours and knowledge so as to aid in understanding the mindsets of individual learners, which in turn allows the Ubunye tutors to give more focused support to these learners.
eyeWatch is a tool that the Oranjezicht Higgovale Neighbourhood Watch can use to deal with crime-in-progress situations, as well as extend crime reporting possibilities using map-based reporting, with visual aids such as graphs, tables, and lists.
2013 And Beyond
I attended last year’s expo and was impressed with the work I saw then; this year, however, the quality has improved even more and there were some fantastic projects and implementations. The standard is very high and the students are enthusiastic and motivated, which is great to see.
For me the biggest disappointment is that many of the projects remain just that – a project that never sees implementation in the real world as more resources and support from businesses is required to keep them going any further. I hate seeing this as so much hard work and passion goes into building a great system and then, once the year ends, that’s the end of it. Each project has a sponsor entity or person, which often dictates some of the parameters of the project, and occasionally a sponsoring business will take it further but this is the exception rather than the norm.
Next year the group of honours students will be larger and not only am I looking forward to seeing how they’re going to up their game further, but I hope to see more use made of the work that these students will be producing.
Article originally featured here.