It all started with an idea. A spark. Dhananjay and his roommate, Anmol, had always been interested in starting something of their own. Timble wasn’t a project for design credits or an IITD initiative floated to students. It was the brainchild of two undergraduates of the electrical department! A brainchild that has since been identified by the IIT Delhi's administration, and made them the awardees of the Smart Campus Award (2016), Batch of '89 Innovation Award (2016), Design innovation translational seed grant (2016) and Open House Dual Degree Award (2017).
With an existing attendance record database exceeding 2.6 lakhs, a coverage of 84 rooms and enrolment of over 4000 students and staff members, Timble Paperless Attendance has certainly come a long way since its inception.
Dhananjay Goel Anmol Gupta
It all began on September 22 in their third year, as Dhananjay recalls, “We started a website by the name of StudyIndia.com, an online portal for IIT Delhi students to share notes.” They had realized early on that they wanted to target the every-day problems in the IITD community. The problem of copying notes a few days before exams and wasting precious time in doing so caught their attention and they tried to have a go at it. Similarly, they started targeting other problems in their vicinity. They realized a lot of time was being wasted in taking attendance.Dhananjay explains, “If we take 5 mins per class to be taken up on attendance, then considering the number of lectures in a semester, this time amounted to 4 hours per course. And taking into consideration 750 courses ongoing in a semester, it surmounted to a huge time of 600 hours per year or 50 full working days!”
The idea of Timble is not just the attendance application which helps the IIT Delhi administration and other colleges to mark attendance. It’s to harness the underlying benefits of inducing revenue in the form of time- the most precious commodity.
Well, why was an app the best way to implement their idea? In 2008, there was an incident in IIT Delhi of damage being caused to the biometric machine, a machine in which you verify attendance by using a unique body part (usually a fingerprint). The problem arose in the functioning when the students poured water on the machine, damaged the sensor, etc. rendering the machine useless. There were many alternatives which were tried - the administration started using a different ID card for attendance, and yet again it was misused as students started sharing their IDs with each other. So, it was clear that something else was needed.
Creating the business and technical plan for any product is always difficult. They had to carefully analyze the demand-supply scenario and ensure that their application is able to overcome the shortcomings of their ancestors. They did an extensive survey spanning several colleges. They talked to all the stakeholders (professors, TAs, etc.), held meetings and pitched sponsors for their project. They started this project in May 2014 and finally launched the product by January 2016.
Technology and Know-how:
The technology, in general, is what it looks like. It’s an app for marking attendance, using location and identification to ensure the credibility of an individual. The technology is elegant in it's simplicity. The user interface just uses face recognition, biometric sensors, and location and combines their utilities to do efficient leave management, workforce distribution and staff attendance. It works on all laptops, mobiles, and desktops that run on Android, iOS or Windows. As for the software used in making this application, they are diverse due to their aim of enhancing the application’s accessibility. While Java/Android Studio was used for the Android app, Objective-C/Xcode and Xamarin platform were used for the iOS and Windows apps respectively.
As to what prior knowledge they had for developing this, Dhananjay quoted Queen Elizabeth - “Engineering is using science to find creative and practical solutions.” He adds that there is no problem that you can’t solve if you put your mind to it. Whether you code a chip or develop an app, it basically boils down to solving a problem! It is no way related to what all is taught in the Institute. It’s about realizing the worth of resources around you. And then use the ultimate tool - your brains!! And that is exactly what Anmol and Dhananjay did. Although the cryptography courses in their department helped them to some extent, most of their back-end programming was possible only due to extensive self-study and taking tips from fellow tech enthusiasts. With Dr. Brejesh Lall and Dr. Shantanu Roy being exceptional in their role of mentors, Dhananjay and Anmol also took valuable guidance from, not only professors of electrical department - Dr. Ranjan Bose, Dr. Bhim Singh, Dr. Joby Joseph, but also Dr. M. R. Ravi (mechanical), Dr. Kolin Paul and Dr. M. Balakrishnan ( both computer science).
To make Timble a fully functioning product with minimum glitches, was a long and tedious task. Some of the numerous challenges were:
1. Ensuring the best user experience. They had to ensure smooth and easy functioning of the application and they had to change their database, if say, even a single student forgot to mark the attendance.
2. Ensuring that the app is not too heavy i.e. doesn’t affect the battery life much or put too much load on the phone.
3. Making sure that the custom functionality was deployed efficiently. Dhananjay says “Whenever you do anything in theory, you can solve everything perfectly there. But the moment you deploy it there practically, many problems arise. Things don't go the way you want it too.”
4. Handling the offline customer experience. They had to set up the customer care centre and had to ensure all the calls and emails should be answered in time. A separate team was employed for this. They set up a help centre in other colleges as well to make user experience smoother and rectify complaints from the users. They even handled problems on an individual level - to the extent of representatives going and helping the students in the class with the attendance.
They aren’t planning to stop here. They are not limiting themselves to just class attendance. They are pitching in clients for office attendance and adding features to their app as per the client interests like HRM solution for colleges and offices all across the country. The app has become smoother and the customer care team makes sure every mail is taken care of. In the future, they are hoping to cater to more offices and institutes and include features like expense management and bill management. They are updating the app as the client requirements vary. They are going for version 1.1.100 next semester, and it’s their 103rd version!
Their current clients include companies like NDA the team is leaving no stone unturned to expand their outreach. By the end of the current financial year, they plan to have all the IITs and IIMs in the loop.
Good luck team Timble. We wish you guys all the best for your future endeavors!