They say necessity is the mother of invention.
The past six months are probably the toughest the world has seen in recent times. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended everything—from the way we work to the way we live. And even our relationship with time.
Some of the disruptions have been huge. For instance, people switched to working and learning from home overnight to maintain physical distancing.
Some changes were not so big, but they were significant. Social distancing in queues was one such change. But how do you keep safe physical distance while maintaining the efficiency of waiting your turn in a queue?
Raima Zachariah, a 23-year-old Bengaluru-based software engineer, had just the solution in SimplQ, a free virtual queue management system.
Raima conceptualized SimplQ before the pandemic when she was forced to wait for a long time to get a restaurant table. But it was when the pandemic began that she immediately realized its applications in the ‘new normal’.
She then made SimplQ’s software free so that small establishments could set up virtual queues and invite their customers to book their turn to shop. This helped reduce any anxiety about exposure to infection, especially in a dense urban center such as Bengaluru.
“A lot of us waste a lot of time on a daily basis standing in queues and it’s become so normal, be it medical shops or be it in restaurants or be it in offices,” says Raima. “This is where we wanted to make a change… We want this (virtual queues) to become the new normal. With COVID-19 and lockdown and physical distancing, it’s so much harder to manage people in a store.”
And that’s why Raima is one of 10 Harappa Habit Heroes, an initiative that recognizes the can-do spirit of ordinary people whose attitude during these challenging few pandemic months has made a difference.
They are also Habit Heroes because of their extraordinary engagement with the community during the lockdown and their use of one or more of Harappa’s 5 Habits—Think, Solve, Communicate, Collaborate, and Lead.
Raima’s virtual queue is a game-changer in many ways. Some apartment societies have adopted this technology to enforce social distancing norms.
Intent on keeping it simple in such complex times, she kept the system completely web-based. Users don’t need to download any application on their mobile phones. Customers can check their position in the queue through its webpage and get notified when their turn comes.
She’s now looking at how to take this idea forward. She and her team made SimplQ open source which allows others to also contribute to and develop it further.
A team of 10 developers is also adding customizable features such as receptionists to help prioritize patients in a queue depending on their symptoms.
“With SimplQ, the one message that I want to give is that there are always alternatives and there are always solutions to problems. We don’t give that enough thought,” says Raima.
Atul Rokkam is an intern at Harappa Education. He completed his degree in Economics from Ashoka University and will spend the next year studying Mathematics and Philosophy at Ashoka. He aims to work in the development sector, with a focus on education and health.
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