A: “I need list of participants for the last quarter for analysis, could you get it for me, please?”
B: “I am very sorry, boss. It seems that our database system is not operating …”
B: “I could get some reports from the website but this is offline too …“
B: “Boss, we are also expecting a high-level multipoint video call from our donors in five minutes but our VC system is dead.”
An IT support team is a must in every company and institution nowadays. Not only in learning institutions, like the CEF, but in any organization. There are workstations, servers, learning platforms, videoconferencing systems, websites and database systems to be taken care of, and that is just to begin with. It can be a stressful situation for the whole organization when something goes wrong and IT support is not available.
Naturally it is convenient to have IT support at hand to solve any daily IT issues, but what is even more important is develop and run an excellent IT system that would fit the institution’s strategy and be suitable for future extensions and upgrades. Adapting the IT system to creative needs seems to be an everlasting topic. Creative needs are in constant change, which is why bigger, better and more complex solutions are necessary all the time. How to deal with that issue? IT services need to be planned well ahead, and that is one of our biggest challenges. It is almost impossible to predict what the future will bring and that is why good communication with end users is vital.
The CEF is a leading knowledge hub in the region. In order to support successful implementation of our learning program we needed a good database to manage the programs, current and previous participants, experts, and outputs for analysis. Because of our specifics and the strive for excellence, we decided to develop our own customized, dynamic and flexible web application (database) that can retrieve, store and output any desired data fast and easily. There are almost no limits when it comes to extensions or overriding the default functionality, which gives us a great advantage. In addition, the database is accessible at almost any location, which makes it even more user-friendly, but also brings more challenges in terms of security. The database allows us to remain in contact with all our participants and donors, and it contains a powerful customized search engine and an indispensable template system.
Apart from the internal database, we run several websites and learning platforms. We have designed our own customized website system with performance and creative freedom in mind for front-end and back-end development. Compared to the old system, the new web infrastructure is much more flexible and efficient. It allows for any new and potentially more complex solutions that the CEF might need to enhance the quality and availability of information for its members, partner institutions and other stakeholders.
Currently, we are redesigning our website www.cef-see.org to make it even more modern and appealing, so that the announcements of events would attract more participants and interest in the CEF’s offers and activities. The website now includes a photo gallery where participants can download photos of our events to any device, including mobile phones. To share materials with course participants we use various popular online tools, for instance Storify. In the publications section visitors can read and download annual, quarterly and workshop reports, course catalogs, brochures, papers, books, calendar and more.
The CEF has also developed the PEMPAL Virtual Library, available on www.pempal.org, which facilitates and promotes knowledge and experience sharing with free access to all documents available and shared by the PEMPAL communities of practice. Designed to be used in the three PEMPAL official languages – English, Russian and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian – the Virtual Library allows visitors to search and filter uploaded content by powerful and advanced filters. (PEMPAL, the Public Expenditure Management Peer Assisted Learning, is a network of public expenditure management professionals in various governments in Europe and Central Asia. These professionals benchmark their PEM systems against one another and pursue opportunities for peer learning, increasingly understood to enhance knowledge transfer.)
The CEF supports e-learning courses on a popular platform called Moodle, which is very modular and user-friendly both for developers and participants who can participate in training courses from virtually anywhere. E-learning includes webinars and videoconferencing and it is the present and future focus of the CEF’s IT support team, so as to contribute to better learning opportunities and outcomes for our course participants.
We also maintain blogs to share information with all relevant stakeholders and to make capturing, packaging and sharing knowledge even more successful.
Last but not least, the IT team takes constant care of security improvements and the IT infrastructure to reduce our response time to possible IT failures. We do our best to run and develop an excellent IT system, and strive to become even better.
Note: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the CEF.