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Chemonics Receives Innovation Award

Recognition for good work never gets old.
Nov | 14 | 2018


Nov | 14 | 2018

My full-time teaching schedule keeps me pretty busy. At the same time, though, I try to contribute to ASU in other ways. It’s a core tenet of my teaching philosophy. Today I’m pleased to report some good news. Before I do, though, here’s a little background.

Project Background

In July of 2017, my boss approached me about managing a project for Chemonics and I immediately said yes. In a nutshell, the project entailed building a database to track logistics and shipping data from African countries. I managed a small team of students who had impressed me early on in my 400-level classes.

Chemonics had initially requested a simple Microsoft Access database as a proof of concept. Given the limitations of the tool and Chemonics’ business needs, I gently nudged them towards Microsoft SQL Server in Azure.1 Cloud computing just made sense in this case. Down the road, this approach would allow the organization to extend its database in ways that Access just can’t. What’s more, it allowed for development of mobile apps with Microsoft’s PowerApps and Blob for unstructured data such as photos and PDFs. Ultimately, the Chemonics folks agreed with my assessment. Full steam ahead.

Cloud computing just made sense in this case.

Over the course of five months, the team followed Scrum—a popular Agile software-development methodology. I served as the product owner and maintained the product backlog. For collaboration, we religiously used Slack, Trello, Skype, Google Docs. I can count on one hand the number of e-mails that I sent over the course of six-plus months and I never had to invoke my three-e-mail rule.

Going Above and Beyond

Aside from delivering more functionality than requested, we came in 40 percent under budget and ahead of schedule. As I write in Why New Systems Fail, that doesn’t happen very often. In early 2018, with oodles of capstone projects to find and supervise for the forthcoming semester, I ceded control of the project to my friend and colleague Hina Arora.

Today I’m pleased to announce that the project won an Industry Innovators Award. From the USAID announcement (since taken down for some reason):

Chemonics won an Industry Innovators Award to recognize its collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU) to develop a transport management tool called TransIT, which is also being used on the GHSC-PSM project. Although transportation management systems are important for tracking where shipments are at any given time, whether they’ve been delivered, and costs at each stage, many commercial solutions are too costly or not flexible enough for diverse and low-resource environments. Together, Chemonics and ASU developed TransIT to offer a low-cost, flexible, customizable product that can be adapted to the needs of each country partner and its operations. This customized database aggregates end-to-end data—from distribution planning through delivery to the recipient—to track performance, location, and costs as commodities move through the in-country distribution network, which enables operations to run smoothly and on time.

Simon Says

Being recognized for good work never gets old. Beyond that, I particularly enjoyed giving my students and team members some real-world experience that complements what they learned in my class and at ASU.


  1. We used Access as the front end with a note to move it to Visual Studio in a later phase.

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