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Imagine the Buzz

Brett Roberts, NZCS Auckland Branch Chair. 15 April 2011, 2:21 pm
Imagine the Buzz

NZCS Auckland Branch Chair Brett Roberts was Mentor to Team OneBuzz, winners of the New Zealand Imagine Cup. In this piece Brett outlines the winning project and what was involved in putting it together.

Tuesday night made me incredibly pleased and proud. I attended the finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup at the University of Auckland. I was there in my role as mentor to one of the teams Team OneBuzz and they won the main prize.

Not just the main prize either, but also the Peoples' Choice Award and the Social Media competition as well. While I'm at it I should also note that they won last year's event too under the team name of "OneBeep" which seems to point to a pattern.

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Left to Right: Team OneBuzz - Kayo Lakadia, Steven Kang, Edward Peek, Vinny Lohan

What exactly is OneBuzz then and how did it win the Imagine Cup? In a nutshell it's a system that pulls together disparate datasets including satellite imagery, text messages and government health, climate and GIS datasets.

OneBuzz utilises the information in the data sets to identify areas around the world that are most at risk of malarial mosquito infestation based on recent rainfall patterns and past experience.

Once those areas have been identified OneBuzz helps optimise stockpiling, transportation and deployment of anti-malarial measures such as nets, vaccines and insecticide sprays.

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Developed with Microsoft's Visual Studio IDE and using Silverlight as the front-end, OneBuzz runs its back-end system in the Azure cloud. Therefore, it can scale up (or down) as required.

Initial estimates are that running costs for a system covering hundreds of millions of potential malaria victims would be less than $50,000 per year, with initial development costs around $200,000.

Early indications so far show that deploying the system in India alone could save thousands of lives a year. Importantly, OneBuzz could provide a return on investment of over 100:1 to governments and aid organisations by optimising the utilisation of scarce and often expensive anti-malarial resources.

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How did they get it done?

There is much more to Team OneBuzz's success however than lofty goals and clever technology. For starters the team is incredibly passionate about what they are doing.

Team leader Vinny Lohan has actually suffered from two bouts of malaria and for him and the others this fight is personal.

Secondly, they did an incredible job of securing endorsements from a variety of high-profile organisations and individuals. One of these is New Zealander of the Year, Ray Avery. In fact, OneBuzz have already partnered with his organisation Medicine Mondiale in order to get the service up and running and saving lives as quickly as possible.

The third factor in their success is that they are coachable and they get stuff done. In every single meeting I had with them they were attentive, engaged and focused on achieving the best possible outcome.

There wasn't a single instance where an action item hadn't been addressed by the time the next meeting rolled around. Lastly, the guys understand communication and marketing which has surprised a few people given they're all engineering students.

They had some excellent assistance from Unlimited's Mark Revington but they also possess a natural talent for getting their message out there. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Vinny is one of the best presenters I have seen in my twenty-five years in the IT industry.

Tuesday night provided a wonderful reminder that New Zealand can, and does, produce world-class ideas and take them to market. It also helped highlight the fact that success all comes down to a combination of ideas, execution, passion and - most importantly of all - people.

Funny how the other ones all seem to fall into place if you get that last one right.


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