Data For The Future

Areeb Kamran is a former Hatchery incubatee and co-founder of Noustix, a digital platform for SmartCities that collects, visualizes and analyses publically available data that can be tracked as a time series and plotted on a map.

Areeb was recently selected among ten digital innovators worldwide to take part in the first Global FUTR Lab in Manchester, a bespoke two-day workshop facilitated by research agency Strange Telemetry to explore global perspectives on how technologies are imagined, used, built and controlled. The workshop is part of FutureEverything, an annual festival that celebrates innovation in art and digital culture. As well as participating in the workshop, Areeb got the opportunity to showcase Noustix to the international design and innovation community. We spoke to him after he returned from Manchester and got some insights into Noustix’s work, the FutureEverything Festival and the transformative power of tech.

SIL: How did Noustix come to be?

The story is partly personal and partly shaped by the time spent at the Hatchery. At a time when I was focusing on the technical and business development aspect of a project I was working on, as start ups in Pakistan are wont to do, the Hatchery showed me the potential of social business, specially in a developing country like Pakistan. We try and emulate the models of the valley here, but we must realize that users and customers in Pakistan are very different and a copy/paste model, which unfortunately many incubators are doing, will probably not work here. That’s the story; we’ve taken the first step. Lets see where it leads us.

SIL: What is your business model?

Our business model is based on sharing of data and usage of platform. Since we are in a developmental phase at the moment, we are focusing on getting maximum users on board and ensuring they understand the value they can derive from our platform and how it can enable them to do their job more effectively and easily. At a later stage, we plan to expand the model to include data contributors as well as developers.

SIL: Can tech-based enterprises have a positive impact on society?

At the moment tech has become so ubiquitous that I believe it’s quite meaningless to say that an enterprise is tech-based. Everything now has something to do with tech, internet or mobile. The focus now is how to integrate tech with other functions to achieve a goal and the emphasis is on ‘other’ here. The success of enterprise depends on how well this other, or core, function is designed. Tech is just a support structure, like finance or HR. That being said, of course tech-heavy enterprises can have a positive impact on society. Specially the sharing economy solutions we have been seeing lately. They are very relevant to our society and have the potential to contribute massively to our economic growth. In fact out of all the tech buzz words and the hype, I’d say the one most relevant to Pakistan and its economy and society is the sharing economy solutions; partly because of the size of the potential user base, smaller sums of money involved and partly due to lack of regulation here which is hindering their spread in developed countries.

SIL: What is the most important lesson you learned at the FutureEverything Festival?

It was interesting to note that many participants were trying to solve similar problems in their countries and how radically different the approaches were for the same problems. Another surprising and important learning was how even the UK faces similar problems when it comes to application of tech-based solutions to age old issues. One would assume that as a developing country, we would lag far behind but due to looser legislation and red tape around this field in Pakistan, we are far ahead when it comes to mass adoption of many digital systems!

SIL: What are your future plans?

Our plan in the near future is to work with as many organizations, individuals, projects or campaigns as possible. We are focusing on the social and development sector because it contains the bodies which benefit most from the work we do and which can contribute back to this effort, since the data they work with is open to and meant for public. As our focus is on collecting and sharing data, it is very important for us to work with entities that are willing to share such data and indeed those whose work depends on sharing such information.

Areeb is currently pursuing a Masters in Informatics degree from the Technische Universität München (TUM), Germany. He is also working on a pilot for Lahore, which has one of the largest urban populations in the world and possesses a wealth of data sources. One idea in the context of Lahore is to analyze traffic patterns using mobile data and then to use it for congestion planning and live reporting. The Social Innovation Lab Team wishes him the best in his endeavors.

This story was written by Taimoor Toor on 16th March, 2015.