Frontline Story

Since FrontlineSMS was first released in 2005, our growth as a team and the development of our platform have been driven by our users.

FrontlineSMS was one of the first platforms to help harness the power of mobile technology for social change. Having seen how SMS was widely used in sub-saharan Africa in 2004, our Founder Ken Banks built and launched the first prototype of FrontlineSMS in 2005. Our first official user was the Kubatana Trust, in Zimbabwe. Interest in the platform grew rapidly, and we created the kiwanja Foundation, now the Social Impact Foundation, to house our work. In 2008, FrontlineSMS became open-source and began to see focussed sector-specific application as FrontlineSMS:Medic and FrontlineSMS:Credit began. In late 2009, FrontlineSMS hired its first in-house developer. By the end of 2009, FrontlineSMS had been downloaded 4,605 times and we had been awarded a Silicon Valley Tech Award for our work.

During 2010, we added FrontlineSMS:Learn, FrontlineSMS:Legal and FrontlineSMS:Radio to our portfolio of sector-specific programs. Each project began developing user relationships, partnerships, and software aimed at improving mobile integration in their industry, while acting as advocates for FrontlineSMS. By the end of 2010, FrontlineSMS had been downloaded 12,395 times. We began to see that the software needed to be more flexible, and that our sector-specific projects were turning up common desires in all our users, regardless of sector: easy-to-use software, that was flexible and easy to extend, provided powerful contacts management, and lots of ways to connect to the mobile network.

In 2011 we began a multi-year project to redesign the platform completely. The new version of FrontlineSMS would run in your browser, be simpler to use, more powerful, and easier for us to extend and customise for users. Our developer team moved to Kenya, and we set up a social enterprise to house a team of consultants in London, Washington, DC and Nairobi to work directly with users and understand their needs. By the end of the year, 11 people were working on three continents to deliver the new version of FrontlineSMS and offering world-class mobile expertise. By then, version 1 of FrontlineSMS had been downloaded over 20,000 times.

In June 2012, we launched version 2 with events in all three of our centres. Sean and Laura, CEOs of our social enterprise and Foundation, and our Founder Ken all spoke about the community that had brought us to that moment - our team, our donors, our supporters, and most importantly, our users. Version 2 had, by the beginning of 2014, been downloaded over 175,000 times in just over 18 months, bringing the overall number of downloads of FrontlineSMS to over 200,000. In 2013 we were also named the #1 Tech NGO in the world by the Global Journal.

A resounding success in itself, the new platform also set the scene for our next big step - to deliver a cloud-hosted version of the platform. FrontlineCloud unites the accessibility of FrontlineSMS with the scale and simplicity of the Internet. In 2014, we added FrontlineSync, our new Android SMS gateway app. Together, FrontlineSMS, FrontlineCloud and FrontlineSync provide end-to-end support for our users for SMS and missed calls, whoever and wherever they are. We deliver on the tremendous potential of the professional use of SMS to engage customers, clients, and citizens, through our platforms, our consulting, the community we bring together and the resources we share.

In late 2014, the Frontline team will set up its own company, and will be seeking investment. The intention is to move from project-driven funding to product and subscription revenue, enabling the team to truly focus on the needs and development priorities of Frontline's diverse user base. Similarly, the Frontline product suite will continue to evolve beyond the inbox, including more complex processes, better connections to other systems, and an increasing number of data channels - from missed calls to mobile payments. Frontline started as a solution to reach and empower last mile organizations, the next chapter of the platform's growth will connect those digital frontiers to global systems and supply chains.

The Foundation team are transitioning to our new Social Impact Lab (SIMLab) brand, and will continue to help build accessible, responsive, and resilient systems, helping users and customers solve both the technological and the human obstacles along the way. We’ve learned that getting the technology up and running is only a small part of what makes a successful project: issues like impact measurement, managing risk, sustainable rollout, and effective messaging end up being critical. We've also learned that systems design is as much about philosophy as technology and that strong relationships are the bedrock of both approaches. The team will be working to use SMS alongside other technologies, like radio, voice telephony, even blackboards and megaphones to extend, to the last mile, systems that currently falter where the asphalt ends.