RapidSMS is a suite of different products all created from the same underlying pieces of computer code. Each one was crafted to solve a specific problem of a field office. The underlying code-base is open-source, so anyone can use it to build their own tools, and designed to be customized for the varied needs and constraints of UNICEF and the developing world.
Each RapidSMS product is an SMS-based tool that enables mass-scale mobile data collection and messaging. Users can collect both quantitative and qualitative data through customizable SMS forms adapted to the demands of each situation or project. Quantitative data from the forms can be edited through a RapidSMS web interface, exported to Excel, and displayed with a built-in graphing tool. Qualitative data can be collected in open-ended questions known as ‘general queries.’ General queries can be used to poll a base of users or community on a certain question or topic, and all responses are stored in an SMS inbox for easy review.
With the RapidSMS web interface, multiple users from around the world (with proper log-in credentials) can simultaneously access the system to view incoming data as it arrives, export new data-sets, and send text messages to users. Being "open-source" software RapidSMS is free to download, use, and modify — and runs well even on low-powered and older computers, needing only a GSM modem and SIM card to get started. RapidSMS leverages popular programming languages, and thus is easily integrated into existing ICT systems.
A RapidSMS implementation has optional audio capabilities so users can leave voice messages or browse information through an IVR interface that can recite text or play audio clips over the phone. This currently requires a computer with PBX hardware installed and a land line or voice-over-IP line; however UNICEF Innovations is currently working to develop a solution that uses a standard cellphone (connected to the computer) to receive phone calls and record messages into the system.
RapidSMS source is hosted at GitHub at http://github.com/rapidsms.