18 October 2020

Top 10 Bhutanese Mobile Apps 2020

This has been something I wanted to do for a long time; to assess Bhutanese Mobile Apps and make a Top 10 list. I wanted to measure the apps based on the tangibles such as the number of downloads, users and reviews. But when I actually began working on it I realized that if I were to base my list entirely on the tangibles then there is no input from my side. I found it important to grade the apps based on the usefulness and user-friendliness. Since it's my list I want to judge the apps based on how useful they were to me. 

Top 10 Bhutanese Apps

After the list was made I found out that only two apps of the 10 are strictly private, rest are all institutional and government service apps. His Majesty the King shared a story about how Instagram, with just 13 employees was bought by Facebook for $ 1 Billion in 2012, which was way more USD than Bhutan had saved since the reign of the Third King. Since hearing that powerful speech I have been showing an extra interest in apps because I feel the only equitable chance we have at doing something big in the world would be a made in Bhutan application. It's worth creating a national think tank and making a big investment. 

For now, all top ten apps combined + Druk Trace app doesn't total up to a million download. 

Following are the top ten made in Bhutan apps on my list;

1. mBOB (100,000+)

mBOB

It is the official mobile banking app of Bank of Bhutan. The app has literally put banking on our palm. Until recently BOB deducted Nu.10 every month from the mBOB users, which was sharply criticized. I didn't mind the small fee because of all the conveniences it offered; Mobile recharge, Mobile payment, Money Transfer, Bill Payments, etc.  Since installing the app some years ago I have never bought a single paper voucher or went physically to pay the electric bill or house rent. 

There are similar apps by other banks, such as MPay, TPay, ePay etc. which may be as useful but since I personally benefited from mBOB alone I chose mBOB. 

DDC Dictionary

2. DDC Dictionary (1000+)

It's a bilingual Dzongkha - English Dictionary app from G2C Bhutan. The app is quite handy in confirming Dzongkha spellings and meanings. It has come to my rescue every time I help my daughter with her Dzongkha works. I think the developer has uploaded an entirely new version instead of updating the original app because it should have more than 1000 downloads it has recorded. 

Druk Zakar

3. Druk Zakar (100,000+)


The Druk Zakar App from Dratshang Lhentsho provides a 12-month day-to-day astrological calendar based on the Bhutanese lunar year. As Bhutanese, we are believers of tag da tendrel (Auspicious signs) before starting a new venture or a long journey or making major decisions in life. Traditionally, we had to go to an astrologer for a consultation but with this app, we could be astrologers ourselves. This may have disappointed the astrologers but for the rest of us, it was a blessing. 
B-Trowa

4. B-Trowa (10,000+)

It's a TV and Radio streaming app from Bhutan Telecom. The only reason this app is on my list is that it streams BBS TV live for free without requiring to register. I feel that this must be the app that's keeping fellow Bhutanese living and working abroad in touch with their homeland. 
Azha Pasa

5. Azha Pasa (10,000+)


It's an eCommerce app with the vision to expand to delivering skills and services but for now they have made their mark by delivering vegetables, LPG and providing garbage pickup services. I have used the app several times to refill LPG cylinders and it's amazing that they charge just Nu.100 for their service. For that cost, we don't even get a cab ride from home to town forget about getting a heavy cylinder delivered home. I have also used the app to get vegetable delivery during the lockdown, which has made me forever grateful to the app. 
Druk Ride

6. Druk Ride (1000+)

Druk Ride is a taxi and bus ticket booking app. It's an app whose time has really come in Bhutan but I am yet to see the real success of the app. Initially, there were three taxi apps but only Druk Ride survived because the market is just too small and awareness on the smart technology is way too less, especially among the cab drivers. I have used the app to book bus tickets to Pling and I was really impressed. I only wished if Haa Bus tickets could be booked on this app. 
POL Depo App

7. POL Depo (10,000+)


This app is from the Department of Trade to facilitate the issue of the coupons for LPG and Kerosene, In pursuit of Improving Public Service Delivery. If you don't have this app you have to visit DoT physically to get the coupons and then head to the Fuel pumps to get LPG or Kerosene. Strangely, you can't just download and use the app right away, like many services in Bhutan, you have to visit DoT physically to get the app registered. 


mRSTA

8. mRSTA (10,000+)

This app built by RSTA gives access to Information related to Driver License and Vehicle Registration of an individual and facilitates services like the renewal of both the documents, which otherwise require us to visit the office physically. The app though poorly branded (both the name and the logo) has really good features. Very soon we may not need printed license or registration documents as long as we carry a phone with this app on.



9. eTeeru (50,000+)

This mobile financial app from Tashi Cell is perhaps the best-marketed app but it has more than a few shortcomings; first, it came into the market too late. There are over five banking apps that are giving the same services eTeeru is offering. Second, it is only for the TCell subscribers which leave the majority of the population out because more Bhutanese use bMobile, including me. If it could be registered using bMobile number I could have at least tried because I have seen so many shops with eTeeru QR code ready to be used but seemingly no users because for now, everyone is happy with mBOB. But if they could maintain the pace of promotion and make necessary changes, I can see it replace all the banking apps, especially on the shopping front. 
Bhutanese Bloggers

10. Bhutanese Bloggers (1000+)

This app features the latest blog posts from the community of Bhutanese bloggers. It was designed to create a platform for every blogger to enjoy equal readership, but since the developer doesn't live in Bhutan anymore, it's really difficult to update the list of bloggers. Without a functioning association, we don't have a dedicated team to look after the app. We may revive it soon. Yes, I am involved in this. 


This is the end of the top 10 list but while talking about the Bhutanese apps, let me draw your attention to the most important app at the moment;
______________________________________

11. Druk Trace (100,000+) 

Druk Trace is designed by G2C for contact tracing during the pandemic. I am sure this is the most downloaded app in Bhutan and I hope you have it on your phone. Having the app on your device is not enough, you must use it wherever you go. I hope someday when all this is over, we can make good use of this app and the data. 

Perhaps we could upgrade this to the national chat platform, Sungjoen App the government envisioned. 

Druk Trace



17 October 2020

Rate for Domestic eCommerce Vendors-2020- A Milestone

I first got in touch with Bhutan Post in December 2019, sharing about my Bhutanese book project called BOOKNESE and how it needed the support of cheaper postal service to become a success that I had envisioned. 

In my proposal, I urged Bhutan Post to consider a subsidised rate for sending books within Bhutan, because I wanted the bookstores in Thimphu to be accessed by every Dzongkhag through BOOKNESE at an affordable rate. I don't see a possibility for some Dzongkhags to ever have bookstores of their own, and therefore it's a smarter option to link them to bookstores in Thimphu, and even Paro. (Read about how BOOKNESE is going to do that.)

October 16, 2020

The current domestic rate of sending a book (or anything), which weighs 500g, is Nu.196 and the next unit on the weight slab is 750g which costs Nu.232. At an average, a book is 300-600g, and it may cost Nu.300, if we add the postage cost, it's going to be a staggering Nu.600+. Who will pay so much for a book? Seriously, books are hard to sell and a heavy postal charge will only make it harder. 

Domestic Rates

As a big national institution that is as old as history, Bhutan Post doesn't need us to promote them. They are bigger than any brand. So what is in it for them? I proposed to appropriately acknowledge Bhutan Post on our platforms, packaging materials and media publications as our partner in promoting Bhutanese literature, reading culture and Bhutanese book market. I found more wisdom in asking them to share the responsibility of creating a better society through the promotion of literature. 

Even though I wasn't good at negotiation, Mr Thinley Wangchuk found merit in it and passionately took it up with management. It went back and forth a couple of times in the course of the last 10 months. He agreed it was timely that they made their services consistent to the changing market trends, especially the emergence of e-commerce in the country. While discussing my proposal, they took a broader stance and made room to accommodate all eCommerce ventures within the framework that is worked out for BOOKNESE.

The MOU was signed between Bhutan Post and BOOKNESE on October 16, 2020, wherein, Bhutan Post offered a new "Rate for Domestic eCommerce Vendors-2020"  which will also be offered to any eCommerce venture that may apply hence. 

When I tested the usual EMS service by sending a package weighing 808g, for which I have only taken Nu.20 as a postal charge from the clients, I was charged Nu. 250. With the new rate, I will only have to pay Nu.100. Unlike the regular rate, where it will climb with increase in weight, the new rate has just two slabs, and the next higher rate we pay is just Nu.150. It's going to make a significant difference in the way we do eCommerce. 


By making it a standard rate for the entire rising eCommerce industry, BOOKNESE was relieved of any conditional burden arising from the partnership. But we shall always remain grateful and adhere to other terms of the Agreement, and ensure that we as a pioneer set a good example. 

09 October 2020

Saving Old Toilets in Schools- An Example from Bhutan

The most satisfying among the projects carried out by Bhutan Toilet Org is the School Toilet Upgradation project. We have been able to train hundreds of school staff to help us transform hundreds of toilet overnight. The combination of smart process and amazing SATO technology made the project one of the most cost-efficient projects.  

We have crossed over a thousand toilets in just over eight Dzongkhags making a saving of at least Nu. 13 million for the government. Of course, these many toilets wouldn't have been upgraded if it wasn't for the project that offered get rid of the old toilets and upgrade them to the next generation toilets using SATO pan. 


Punakha

Within the project, another surprise emerged when we learned that some of the really old toilet structures that were waiting to be dismantled got a second lease of life. While working on some 16 units of pit latrine in a school in Thimphu as part of the pilot project, I noticed an old but strong 10 -unit toilet structure that was closed and left unused. Upon inquiry, the school told me that the toilet was closed for decades and they were only waiting for a budget to demolish it and construct a new one. 
Samtse
Honestly, school toilets are hard to come by. There are a hundred other important things to build in school that toilets are the last things to get attention. That's why you will see that it takes tenures of several principals to finally get a new toilet constructed in a school. And when you hear someone say that they are waiting for a budget to build or renovate a toilet, you know they are being a buffalo waiting for the yak. 
Thimphu
I requested the principal to open the old toilet, which was shut so brutally with hundreds of random nails. Once open, I could see it was a pit latrine with cemented floor and the only problem seems to be the pit which was filled with thousand random things. If we could empty the pit then we could install SATO pan over the pit. The school took the challenge to empty the pit by filling it with water and sucking it out using sewer suction truck. When I visited the next time the pit was emptied and ready to be upgraded. It took was a few hours to install SATO pan on each of the ten units and within the next few days, it was ready to serve its second term. 

Calculating the cost, we found out that we managed to save the old toilet in less than Nu.50,000. If the school had to rebuild a 10-units toilet it could cost at least Nu.1.5 million. Therefore, to be able to save Nu. 1.4 million within a few hours was a significant achievement, but the priceless part of this was reviving and adding 10 more units of toilets for the students to use in a few days. 
Chhukha

The same magic was done to a toilet each in Samtse and Saprang, two blocks each in Chhukha, Zhemgang, Haa, Wangdue and Punakha. To Punakha and Sarpang, Education Secretary, Karma Tshering, then the DG, specifically ask us to go there and save the old toilets that he had instructed the school not to touch until we came to upgrade.  

Since then, we have requested the Education Ministry to disallow school to demolish any old school toilets and it's been circulated thus across the country. 

This story of saving old school toilets inexpensively has been shared on various platforms to encourage similar initiatives across the globe. This could not just save millions in the cost of constructions, but also ensure an instant solution to toilet shortage issues and also the quality of toilets in schools.

Punakha


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