A large Sierra Leonean local bank sought the supply of a HRIS to manage its mounting human resources. Before taking up this drive, manual methods was used in managing their employees and payroll. As the bank grew, it had branches with employees spreading in almost 30 locations across Sierra Leone. Like business portfolios, diversity existed in job nature, people issues and locations. It was a challenge for the HR department to accommodate such; thus efficiency was deflating on a daily basis.

When the top management agreed in this regard, a foreign firm was consulted that was charged with the mandate of deploying and maintaining their HRIS. The consulting firm was chosen because of gullible international acclaimed positive track record and goodwill in the markets. The software was launched within months after the work order was issued.

Just like “a new married” the system was very effective when it was initially implemented. As time progressed, several technical and business change issues emerged. They encountered bugs and other issues that at times rendered the system non-operational for days. A bank defined by regular change in HR policies, there was almost always the need for such changes be reflected in the system functionalities. After days, sometimes weeks of system shutdown, the international firm sent in an international expert to provide support. These experts found it difficult to understand local circumstances spending longer time than expected to alleviate the met situation.

On the cost side, the bank was losing millions to sustain the travelling and living expenses of these experts. In the process of system shut down, the bank was forced to revert to previous manual methods of managing staff which was never catered for as a resulted of the presumed assurance.

The situation worsened to the point that management reversed to consulting a local firm that brought to the table a local perspective, just in time maintenance, 24/7 support and more importantly a drastic reduction of incurred costs. This locally based company has deployed a HR Cloud Software to make available quality, in time and cost effective software at the door step of local businesses.

Writer: Abass Shaw, Research and Development Lead, iDT Labs


Author: Abass Shaw, Research & Development Lead, iDT Labs

Do you know that there is a big gender divide in the use of ICT? Could it be a surprise that a substantial number of students and business owners do not own a personal computer? How about the fact that a lot of students go through tertiary education without having to struck a single computer key board?

Ok see how so true this is. This article will tell how a Free Computer Training Sessions for Women, University students and SMEs Folded Up.

The curtain of a “Five Days Free ICT Training Program” for 40 women, 10 Small & Medium Sized Enterprises, and 35 university students was drawn down on the 15th March 2016. The program was thrilled with inspiring statements and anxiety among beneficiaries to receive certificates of merits and a surprise package.

Starting the ball rolling Joe Abass Bangura, Chief Executive Officer IDT Labs gave s picture on the importance of complementing academic programmes with relevant ICT skills to match the demands required by the current day market. On behalf of Samskips, Mrs. Regina revealed in her statement “For us, this particular program is important, because when you look at the statistics there is a big gender divide in the world of ICT. And when you look at the way ICT is relevant in all sectors and beginning to take over the way things are done in everything, that gender divide in ICT means that women will be left further behind if we don’t encourage them to embrace ICTs”. Salton Massally Chief Technology Officer iDT Labs, cited that “we are in the world of technology where computing skills is relevant. He broadens that the training exercise was crucial in bridging the digital divide between the haves and the haves not apparent in our society.

Representing the beneficiaries, a male trainee reiterates the words of our CTO and calls for the expansion of the training exercise nationally to have others benefit from this initiative. A succinct elucidation of the current challenges faced by Sierra Leone university students was made by a female beneficiary who advanced that’ “we have a lot of students who go through the university without having to struck a single key board”. She pleaded that more training courses are organized in advance office tools like Outlook to consolidate the already skills they have bagged.

At the tail end, certificates of merit were awarded to all 85 participants coupled with each participant given a free computer. The effects of this segment of the exercise was not premeditated as we came to realize these computers gave the opportunity to most participants to own their first personal computers. Mr. Tanu, a student of IPAM, University of Sierra Leone testifies that “this computer has taken away my worries about how can I access a computer to write my dissertation”.

Words and literary songs of praises were echoed about IDT Labs and Samskips with some singing “God bless IDT Labs and Samskips”. As the balloons were mounted in the sky so this memorable event lapsed.


Do you know that ICT skills power 21st century businesses and workplace processes? How about the fact that a substantial number of university students lack rudimentary ICT skills? often besieged to fit in the modern work place. Will it be a surprise to know that most SMEs use smoky methods in managing daily processes? with the few using Microsoft Applications like Excel always vulnerable to duplicated data and error.  So what do you do? This post will tell you how IDT Labs is bridging this gap.

Fanning this smoke, iDT Labs is accelerating a “Five Days Free ICT Training” (Monday 14th – Friday 18th March) targeting SMEs and University students. After weeks of invitations to applications, over 300 applications were tendered. Consequently, 85 candidates met the threshold of which almost half constitutes women the balance being filled by SMEs and students

Training in progress

Training in progress

With the exercise having kicked off on the 14th March 2016, on the first day participants were oriented on the essence of the entire exercise, expectations and delivered course overview. Statements by partners, trainers and relevant incubations like Carreers.sl were made.

I am very happy to be here. The first day of the exercise gave me a broad understanding what the training will provide me Mariam Bah, female participant.

The second day (15th March 2016) commences the actual training. Participants were taught computer basics; focusing on types of desktop applications, setting up a computer, using a computer, handling files and folders, protecting PC, connecting to wireless and safely shut down.

Really amazing learning a lot” Ejata Barrie

This exercise is expected to empower business people and students with new skills, deliver them authentic certification and a surprise package that will be unleashed.

 

We will provide you updates as the exercise continues

 Courtesy of iDT Labs, the team behind IDT Cloud Software (ICSS); a cost effective and high quality mission critical software for businesses and NGOs.

 

Author: Abass Shaw, R&D Lead IDT Labs


Author: Sylvester Johnson & Abass Shaw, iDT Labs

“Finding a job is a full time job” depicts the cloud that existed between job seekers and job opportunities in Sierra Leone. This challenging scenario occurred in an economy experiencing spiral growth driven by the mining boom, agriculture and service sectors. Consequently, a plethora of jobs were created. Despite the plethora of jobs, 70% youths were either unemployed or underemployed (UNDP, 2010) with an estimated 800,000 youths actively searching for a job.

Before We Came In

In order to connect with jobs, youths had to travel long distances to get access to job information centralized in Freetown. Some migrated to mining areas where they could access job information or constantly gave calls to friends and family members having access to thinly circulated newspapers. Libraries with daily newspapers were often jam packed with graduates hunting for job information.

Apparently, jobs were mainly advertised via word of mouth and newspapers. Whereas the distribution ambit of jobs advertised via word of mouth was very narrow, only a minority of Sierra Leoneans read newspapers of which most are predominantly in the Western area. This factor deprived a large proportion of job seekers the ability to access job information.
Whilst the access to job information was puzzling, the cost of attaining job information was frustrating. The average income job seekers had to buy series of newspapers to access job information. The worst case scenario was experienced by poor job seekers, often in the majority, who resigned to faith and became non-active job seekers. This scenario created barriers to thousands of job seekers.
Employers on another hand were left with the no option to but advertise on daily newspapers. Using traditional media, employers mainly received applications from people that were no way near qualified for their positions. Without knowledge of the applications that meets the set requirement, employers had to go through each and every application to ensure that the ideal candidate is not missed. And that was a frustrating and tiresome task that often leads to some employers seeking foreign expatriates. In most cases, there were qualified Sierra Leoneans abroad being deprived of job opportunities home as job vacancies were only given a local audience.
From stories narrated from both sides of the coin, Job seekers & Employers, revealed there were both job opportunities and qualified candidates in the labor market; the reason for the seeming lack of both, we discovered, was in-existence of a centralized environment wherein both job-seekers and employers can fulfill their search requirements.

When We Came In

In response this scenario, we developed Carreers.sl a centralized platform for job information. Careers.sl powers innovative and low-cost ways in bringing job-seekers and employers together. Making use of technological models like the Internet, WAP, and SMS, Careers.sl lowered the search cost and barrier to information for both job-seekers and employers, providing basic labor market information to them and a centralized meeting point wherein the two groups can interact. Sierra Leonean jobseekers around the world the first time had the opportunity to register and upload their Resumes and certificates, apply to job vacancies online and were contacted by potential employers. With over 10,000 followers and an average of 15 new jobs posted weekly, Careers.sl is Sierra Leones biggest job search engine.


Small and medium size enterprises constitute the backbone of the Sierra Leonean economy. SMEs generate jobs, they underpin service delivery whilst greatly impacting GDP growth. They are active in every sector, from retailing to services, healthcare and finance etc. They are in large cities, small towns, and even the most remote villages in the countryside, where they engage in a wide range of agricultural activities. Often stated by the Common Sierra Leone, the most remote communities have a Fula Shop.

Current state

Despite their centrality to the lifeblood of the Sierra Leonean economy, a significant number of SMEs continue to use manual methods in managing their sales, inventory, accounts, etc. They have books to record their finances, sales and inventory. A few sought to using basic applications like Excel, though a step in the right direction, they are vulnerable to duplicated data, limited queries capabilities and intelligence mining, weak business control and poor coordination in managing their business processes. This often leads to corresponding scenarios affecting their efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. Undertaking the Human Centered Design Approach, we recorded the story of a business man who narrated the difficulty he is facing to understand sales turnover. This business man often imports over 50 Containers of goods that are sold annually for which profits accrued he finds very discouraging. Highlighting the problems often faced, he further mentioned “as we approach the zakat (alms giving to the poor in Islam), I often find it difficult to evaluate to know the amount I should offer”

Several ICT companies in Sierra Leone provide Enterprise Resource Planning Software, Accounting and Human Resource packages with pricing beginning from $10,000 and climbing, effectively keeping them from the reach of all but companies in the big three, Mining, Mobile Network Operators, and Banks. As such SMEs cannot realize the intelligence, accountability and efficiency gained by computerizing their business processes.

Our direction

To help enable SMEs we have developed the iDT Cloud Software Service a SAAS offering enabling SMEs by providing access to high-powered mission critical software. This service gives SMEs access to accounting, human resource, warehouse management, fleet management and Point of Sale services via the cloud. With our new direction, in seconds, SMEs can have access to these software services, paying small monthly fees whilst also avoiding the significant upfront and


Author: Salton Massally, CTO, iDT Labs

West Africans generally associate open-source software that is freely available to use and modify as being inferior to commercial alternatives. This is a consequence of both their lack of understanding of the open-source model of software development, and a general consensus that whatever is free is usually of little or no value, as is the case with most commodities in West Africa. Compared to normal users, the governments in the region are even more distrustful of open-source software, since they erroneously believe that the closed nature of commercial software offers them increased security.

While we were planning on digitization of hazard payments to Ebola Response Workers (ERW) in Sierra Leone, which was a project funded by UNDP, some of the major criteria set forth to us were as follows:

  1. The solution had to be relatively inexpensive
  2. There was great emphasis on quick development of the system; we had two weeks to plan, develop, and deploy the system
  3. The solution had to be stable considering the consequences of major downtime or data corruption

With these criteria in our minds, we set out evaluating open-source projects that would not only help us to meet them, but would also be responsive enough for our functional requirements.

Naturally, realizing that finding a ready-made holistic solution meeting all of our specifications was improbable, we divided our scope and evaluated various options against these:

  • A Core database to house ERW records, generate pay lists, and to record payment history and payment issues.
  • An SMS interface through which alerts and status updates could be sent to ERWs and queries received and processed from them.
  • Deduplication of ERW records based on their profile
  • Deduplication of ERW records based on facial recognition
  • A process for field based data collection

Odoo, formerly known as OpenERP, is a suite of open-source enterprise management applications that easily emerged as the best fit for our core database requirements. It’s major attraction was the ease with which one could develop addons, while its large user base and browser-based user interface made it even more appealing. With Odoo and its PostgreSQL database engine forming the core of our solution, it was relatively simple to develop our extensions, with its webservice architecture integration with external components via its excellent XML-RPC interface being fairly straightforward. Another advantage was that Odoo already had a human resource addon whose design was not far away from what we wanted.

For SMS communications with the system, we decided on using the robust Kannel SMS gateway. We already had extensive experience with Kannel and so didn’t experience the configuration nightmare that first-time users typically go through.

Data Deduplication was to be an integral part of the system. With tens of thousands of record supplied to us via excel spreadsheets, we had to properly plan for a considerable amount of duplications in the records. Deduplicating data was particularly tricky because of the unlimited ways a person’s data can be represented. No convention existed for recording ERW data and so there was an absence of important fields like names, telephone numbers, address etc that we could use to deduplicate our dataset. Factor in the possibility of spelling mistakes and largely incomplete data, and the magnitude of the deduplication nightmare increased. For this problem of extracting, matching and resolving entity we had to turn to machine learning, natural language processing and statistical techniques. This ruled out using the power of postgresql alone as relational databases are not meant to handle complex entity resolutions. Instead, we turned to yet another open-source project, Dedupe.

Initially we flirted with using elasticsearch, an open-source search engine.However we quickly realized that this solution would take much more than the two weeks we had, so we settled with Dedupe, a python library that uses machine learning to quickly perform de-duplication and entity resolution on structured data. After adding some custom code, we got it firing exactly the way we wanted it to.

Deduplication using the passport pictures of ERWs, when available, was done with the help of OpenBR and OpenCV, a facial recognition library and computer vision project respectively.

A requirement of the project was the ability for data to be collected in the field using smartphones. For this we leveraged the excellent Open Data Kit project (ODK), a suite of tools that allows data collection using mobile devices and data submission to an online server, even without an internet connection or mobile carrier service at the time of data collection.

Adopting open source projects in our solution ensured that we finished well within our rather stringent timeframe and budget, putting together a robust solution that would have taken us years to develop if we were to do it from scratch. The works of thousands of excellent programmers in the open-source space ensured that Sierra Leone effectively and efficiently solved what was the most complex and easily volatile aspect of the Ebola response, the distribution of hazard payment. The only component we had to pay directly for was the SSL certificate used to secure communication with the server.

Seeing how successfully open source software was deployed in our context we hope to see this ideology embraced by West Africans. With billions of dollars being wasted by both Governments and the International Development Community operating in our sub-region on low-quality, non-functional software shelved after few months due to poor quality or low user adoption, it is imperative that we turn to the open source landscape for our software requirements. The billions being poured into commercial software licensing can easily be redirected at more pressing needs, such as poverty alleviation, HIV and Malaria prevention, to name a few.


It is no doubt that impactful innovation is not done in isolation of the problems it solves, surrounding processes and accompanying open space for exhibiting and building partnerships. Filling in these gaps that have existed in Sierra Leone, the UNDP Sierra Leone, led by Country Director Sudipto Mukherjee has been driving such innovative space for young people with different backgrounds, interests, ideas and initiatives for social good. This unique space UNDP leads, continues to drive young entrepreneurs and innovators all around the country. Not surprising, the impact of the innovative space being created by UNDP was acknowledged by Salton Massally, iDT Labs Chief Technology Officer and first winner of the award in 2013: “This award played a pivotal role in helping me develop. The youth innovation award organized by UNDP showed me the way and provided me with a platform to drive boundaries. Winning the first award was a turning point in my life.”

Sierra Leone’s population of 6 million people – 70 percent of whom are young — presents source of innovation, hope, resilience and power to transform communities. This sums up the transformative efforts of UNDP, its shrewd leadership Sudipto Mukherjee, iDT Lab’s Salton Massally, Deputy Vice Chancellor FBC and panelists in this year’s Social Good 2015 Summit held at the Mary Kinsley Auditorium, Fourah Bay College. This one day summit convened by the UNDP under the theme “Post Ebola Recovery and Sustainable Development: – brought together 12 participants and over 200 members of the audience.

In the words of Sudipto Mukherjee, in his welcoming note “Information Communication Technology is the combination of youth power and technology is extremely potent and if used for social good can be transformative”. He called on young people to innovate and solve problems in their communities. He reminded young people of their potential and how they could champion Sustainable Development Goals that Sierra Leone, an emerging nation, profoundly needs. Mr. Mukerjee noted that technology and new media plays a central role in young people’s lives, giving them voice where there was none before. He added that “‘while the good news is that they are using technology and new media – the challenge is to inspire them to use it to change their world in a positive way. In other words, using technology and new media to unleash the power and creative spirit of young girls and boys for Social Good.”

“Before we came in, the management of ERWs was in its simplest terms a challenging one. The management of ERWs and payroll was defined by weak access, delays, corruption, and general dissatisfaction. The system we developed automated every related ERWs record, contracts, previously manually managed and stored in shelves” were the words of Leslie Gordon Browne Project Manager, iDT Labs– sharing the role that iDT Labs played in digitizing the payroll of over 30,000 Ebola Response workers.

The climax of the summit woke up the innovative genius in young people from all over Sierra Leone presenting innovative ideas and inventions for a star prize of $2,000. Innovative solutions on energy, e-learning, techhubs, and alternative healthcare delivery were unleashed by energetic young people with an amputee Archippus T. Sesay from Makeni emerging as winner with his artificial low cost limbs for amputees using local materials.

The programme was splendid and indeed UNDP Sierra Leone with its astute Country Director Sudipto Mukherjee, is awaking the innovative genius in young people. We hope to see other actors in the International system emulating the impactful work of UNDP Sierra Leone.


Author: Abass Shaw, Lead Researcher, iDT Labs

Going through published healthcare literature, it is evident that the Common West African Person accesses one of the weakest health care systems in the world. The Common West African travels miles, crossing rivers and streams to access healthcare services that are often flawed. There is a far obvious divide between healthcare, facilities, practitioners available and persons in need (Sierra Leone 3 doctors- 100,000 persons, World Health Organization, 2013).

This challenging scenario we realized does not just require a readymade solution but one that is reflective of the needs of end users. Using the Human Centered Design Approach, we set ourselves the task of recording experiences of Common West African Persons, Medical Practitioners and Healthcare data users. This task drove us to visit slums, strolling streets and knocking on the door of offices in order to harvest a holistic view of all stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem, prototyping the solution, whilst understanding preferred delivery methods, and expectations of clients.

On the 26th August 2015, the sun rose shining on survey officers in the Slums of Kroobay and Susan’s bay thought to be ideal for locating representative of Common West African Persons earning less than $100. Going through the biggest slums in Sierra Leone, we interviewed 25 persons constituting street traders, tailors, and teachers. Amidst the low level of education of respondents, Survey officers were greeted with the challenge in harvesting required data even with the simplest form of explanation. The next day, we hopped through government offices, police stations, strolling in banks, business enterprises reaching Common West African Persons earning $200 and those above $500 respectively. Climbing steers and waiting in receptions, we were able to record the perspectives of 35 Common West African Persons earning $200 and $500 respectively.

A week after, we navigated the wheels of the exercise to reach medical practitioners on their professional perspectives. Going through several hospitals and pharmacies, we were able to record the participation of 25 medical practitioners who diagnosed the current state of the healthcare service delivery, presenting their views on delivery method, payment and expectations on the alternative that Welbodi brings.

Summary from key findings….

  • Generally, West African Persons are not satisfied with current healthcare mainly because of cost for those less than $100 and accessibility & quality issues for those earning $200 and above $500 respectively
  • Voice Calls was by far the chosen delivery methods with SMS, web and video being chosen based on literacy level, thus income.
  • A number of Common West African Persons visit Pharmacies as main source of medical care; they do visit medical doctors but rarely.
  • Network failure, wrong prescription and astronomical charges were the main criticisms levied against the solution.
  • Almost all respondents mentioned the prototype to be good with responses on simplicity and complexity of the solution depending on their income levels

As the Ebola recovery efforts are ramped up in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, cash transfers to citizens is going to be a major component of programs that need to either remunerate health workers or provide social security for affected groups. It is vital for the different cash transfer programs to collaborate amongst themselves to clamp down on the number of duplicate records of people that results in a substantial number of people receiving multiple payments. However, this process is currently carried out via manually cross-checking the excel-based payment records, which is a time-consuming and error prone process.

To solve this issue,we are working on the creation of an open cash transfer data platform that development sector organisations in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia can use to automatically identify duplicate payment records within both their own datasets as well as across datasets of other organisations and programs.

Our solution shall leverage a number of open source technologies.

  • The web portal shall be based on CKAN, a powerful open source data management system that would provide tools for streamlining the publishing,sharing,finding and using of datasets of the organizations.
  • This web portal would be integrated with Dedupe, a Python based machine learning system for performing similarity analysis and entity resolution on the structured datasets.
  • The web portal would also be integrated with ElasticSearch, an enterprise-scaled distributed, multi tenant capable for providing full-text search capabilities and advanced search features.

Using the functionalities of both Dedupe and ElasticSearch, our web based portal would enable the development sector organizations to upload their beneficiary datasets and to automatically detect duplicates and double dippers both within their own datasets as well as the shared datasets of other development organizations.


By HAROLD MAC-SAIDU, FRANCIS BANGURA, AND ABASS SHAW

IN THIS CASE STUDY, IDT LABS STAFF HAROLD, FRANCIS AND ABASS DISCUSS THE PIVOTAL ROLE THAT WE PLAYED THROUGH TECHNOLOGY IN SIERRA LEONE’S FIGHT AGAINST EBOLA.

In order to curd the Ebola Epidemic at its peak, robust social mobilization activities were organized, State of Public Health Emergency was instituted, there was increased flow of financial and material resources constituting the construction of more Treatment and Holding Centers, the procurement of more ambulances, PPEs and more importantly the recruitment of thousands of Nurses, porters, cleaners, Lab Technicians, Nursing Aids, Burial Teams etc.

Despite of these measures, there was an apparent cloud in the management of Ebola Response Workers, presenting a challenging scenario. There were strikes actions almost everywhere as a result of lack of just in time salary payments, inefficient payroll administration, poor employee records management, and ghost workers: accumulation of these led to a significant ERWs resentment and misplacement of funds.

The scenario faced in managing ERWs was summed up by Sudipto Mukerjee, UNDP’s Country Director who posited that “One of the most difficult things about tackling the Ebola crisis is in the area of human resources. You can construct a treatment center in a couple of months. You can construct a community care center in two to three weeks. But managing people can be a major challenge.” In stating the central role of ERWs in the fight against Ebola Mr. Mukerjee said. “We cannot afford to lose a single minute where people have put their tools down and refuse to work,”

This case study presents a plot on how IDT Labs was able transform the challenging scenario faced in managing workers engaged in one of the “world’s most dangerous jobs”. It highlights the problems NERC wrestled with in managing ERWs and how IDT Labs probe, diagnose and provided a timely prescription.

BEFORE WE CAME IN

The management of ERWs was in its simplest terms a challenging one. The management of ERWs and payroll was defined by weak access, delays, corruption, and general dissatisfaction. To access an employee’s data, staffs of EOC and later NERC have to go through multiple layers of paper forms stored in shelves that were prone to fire accident or deliberate alteration. The state of these documents did not any way allow collaboration in access among NERC and its partners. The most advanced piece of software they used was Excel. Whilst cheap and common, Excel in such a national framework, presented NERC serious challenges evident in the lack of professional quality records, data management issues, the inability to efficiently identify data errors, the lack of detailed sorting and querying abilities, restricted finite number of ERWs records, and sharing violations among authorized users wishing to view or change data at the same time.

Convoys armed with soldiers after any two weeks rotated around the country to do desk payment. Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars was physically conveyed to treatment, holding, care and affected community centers right round the twelve districts of Sierra Leone with ERWs waiting in long queues at times in the rain and hot burning sun. Payment most times was delayed either because of bad roads in navigating deplorable roads or the activities of corrupt officials who embezzled these funds. This circumstance led to frustration and anger among some ERWs affecting the fight against the virus. This anger was vented in so many areas prominently Kenema where ERWs drop an Ebola corpse in front of the Kenema Government Hospital.

Whilst the challenges in channeling payment were conspicuous, government and partners were losing millions of dollars. This was confirmed by the CEO, of NERC, Rtd. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh, (within weeks in office) unearthed over six thousand ghost workers receiving salary. This went on an extent in which the President Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma in his statement mentioned that “Ebola money is blood money and that people should not siphon it”

HOW WE CAME IN?

In the midst of these challenges affecting the fight against the disease, the National Ebola Response Center and the UNDP led the effort for an automated ERWs Directory and Payment System. In response to this, we were contracted to provide consultancy services for development of an Automated Employee Directory and Payment System.

THE SYSTEM WE DEVELOPED

With a thorough evaluation and understanding of NERCs ERWs management and payment processes, we were able to develop and implement the NERC Ebola Response Workers Directory and Payment Database System designed to ensure efficient management and payment processing of Ebola workers.

This system we developed provided ERWs Directory used to manage details of ERWs, their personal information, contracts, and payroll linked with payment methods such as banks and mobile cash transfers.

OUTCOME

The system we developed automated every related ERWs record, contracts, previously manually managed and stored in shelves.

The system we developed provided adequate duplicate and issues management capabilities, identification of data errors features, advanced sorting and querying abilities and features for sharing and collaboration in data management.

The system virtualized Payments currently being use to channel the payments of over 22,000 Ebola Response workers around the country via payments mediums like the banks and mobile account.

DATA ENCODING

We were also grappled with the conversion of over 20 thousand ERWs data stored in manual forms into the database. This exercise was a neck breaking one; we wrestled with not only the transfer of data from thousands of forms but also ensuring that such data were accurate amidst the horrible nature of the forms: some of the original ERWs forms had no pin codes, mobile numbers, account numbers, a mismatch of one/two digits and the not forgotten poor handwritten in ERWs forms.

OUTCOME

We were able to transfer over twenty thousand ERWs data into the system setting the base for its operation.

VERIFICATION

Amidst the presence of incomplete ERWs details on forms, ghost workers (putting strain on the resources of government and partners), duplicates data and the need to further ensure eligibility, we steered the ship to the verification of ERWs.

We undertook a national biometric verification of Ebola Response Workers around the twelve districts of Sierra Leone visiting almost all treatment centers, holding centers, care and affected communities.

With need to further ensure efficiency, including missed ERWs, further update data, facilitating contracts and the execution of the new revised Hazard Policy; we also executed a ERWs Mop Re-verification Exercise in all twelve districts of Sierra Leone.

OUTCOME

After this exercise, a very good number of duplicates were weed out, double dippers identified, incorrect and incomplete data were updated.

The Mop Up re-verification exercise led to the re-verification of approximately 4,000 ERWs, re-categorization of ERWs based on revised Hazard Policy and corrected records for all 4,000 ERWs missed out in the re-verification in January 2015

MANAGEMENT OF NERC PAYROLL SYSTEM

The day to day management of the system was done by officials from NERC, UNDP and technical staffs from IDT Labs. The responsibilities of the technical team was to handle the following tasks:

  • Make sure the system is up and running and accessible to only few selected personnel
  • Do necessary upgrades to fit the dynamic needs of its clients
  • Do frequent checks to eliminate duplicate payment accounts
  • Working with heads of facilities in making sure the list of current ERW is up to date and is reflected in the system.
  • Prepare payment list in the form of ‘cycle numbers’ for all ERW’s in the system and sent to the fiduciary agency for approval of payment.
  • Using the system for calculating backlogs i.e. monies owed to ERWs who were working but didn’t get paid because of several reasons.
  • Managing help desk related issues such as case management and resolutions

SOME PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED AND HOW THEY WERE SOLVED

As problems keep on arriving every day at the help desk, some were repeating issues whilst others were absolutely new issues, we work relentlessly in making sure that those problems are being solved accurately, efficiently and on time. Some of the challenging issues are listed below

  • Team member’s skills: Managing the system at the NERC requires a lot of technical skills which will help to fast track the pace of the work. One key issue was most of the Help desk officers that were recruited at that time had a little or no technical skills and that created a big impact on us from IDT labs because our mission only covered technical management of the system and providing consultancy advices when necessary, but we had to go beyond that by providing extra services like doing maintenance on computers and peripherals, configuring networks, installing operating systems and setting up new Computers etc. All these extra services added the work load on us, hence we conducted several trainings for the help desk officers on general computer usage and management of the system when chanced to do so, these trainings were done to bring the officers up to speed and balance off the work load on us.

  • Work Overload: Another issues we faced at the NERC was the issue of work overload. As mentioned earlier, because the staff we were working with didn’t have good technical skills even after conducting several trainings, we had extra work load on us in order to keep the truck moving. We had to work 6 days a week and a minimum of 12 hours per day in order to meet our deadlines and submit results on time.

  • Underpayment Claims: In addition to that, we were faced with an issue of underpayment and some ERWs not receiving payments at all in some districts. Part of the team including the project manager and a NERC admin official had to travel to several districts using the system as a guide to actually troubleshoot the issue of under payment and no payment to some of these ERWs that were making such claims. With the system at our disposal we were able to figure out all ERWs that were paid and how much they were paid, for those who were not paid we were also able to determine the reason for non-payment and their issue was dealt with accordingly.

  • Daily Reporting: Initially our daily reporting structure was like this, all help desk officer around the country did their individual reporting in excel and send it at the end of the day to the technical team for final collation. This method was slow and time consuming because there wasn’t a fixed reporting format for the help desk officer to use when sending their daily report. To make the work more effective, we created a case management template and centralized it on a cloud-connect basis accessible to all the help desk officers, this was done using the google online sheet. Using the online case management gave us control of all cases reported by ERW’s, as it was now easy to track which cases were resolved and which were pending, those pending were the first to be dealt with the following week to avoid ERW’s coming repeatedly for the same issue.

  • Wrong Payments: furthermore, we encountered another setback lately, the ERW’s reported a lot of wrong payments made, this was due to poor implementation of the revised hazard policy, this policy stated that all payments of ERW’s to be solely bank based. During re-verification the ERW’s, to fill up spaces, gave extra bank accounts that didn’t belong to them, and some gave accounts that were invalid, but all these was not noticed because most of the payment before the revised policy was MNO based, implementing this new policy without much preparation caused a lot of wrong payments. To avoid the issue from repeating in the next cycle we requested all ERW’s to provide valid BBAN numbers that belonged to them, these information was then updated in the system as against the next payment cycle.