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A One-of-a-Kind Implementation

Last summer saw the completion of a very special implementation: the Viafrica Foundation began using TOPdesk in Kenya and Tanzania. This article includes all the details about this unique implementation.
TEXT: NIENKE DE WILDE

The driving force of the future


Viafrica is a foundation that is committed to helping set up IT projects in Africa. Their focus is on practical applications of IT within a local context and their long-term management. Viafrica Tanzania and Viafrica Kenya have been set up as local branches to serve this purpose and operate as independent enterprises. The foundation was established in 2003 by Joost Dam. After receiving his degree in Social Geography of Developing Countries, he found himself immersed in the IT world with jobs at Pink Elephant and the University of Amsterdam. Regarding the Viafrica idea, Joost says that, After finishing school, I wanted to work in and with Africa, but not in the traditional way. My idea was to do something with IT. I wanted my work to be geared towards the middle class, not the poorest of the poor, as are the Millennium Development Goals. In my eyes, the middle class will be the future driving force of economic development.

enthusiastic volunteers and seventeen paid employees eleven of which are located in Tanzania, four in Kenya and two in the Netherlands. At the moment, they are working on CLASSworks (which stands for Computer Learning and Sustainable Support Works) projects in Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal. These projects are designed to enable secondary schools to integrate IT into their lessons. Joost Dam: Viafrica believes in durable solutions. A school invests in good infrastructure, teachers and security, and Viafrica supplies the hardware and software and trains the teachers. The school then signs a service contract for the maintenance and user support. Joost continues: By bringing in TOPdesk, I want the local Viafrica branches to be able to operate as professional service providers. We are already supporting 85 schools. Another 30 will be added to that number in 2009, and the amount will continue to grow in the future. It therefore became necessary to implement a professional tool firstly to be able to keep an eye on the infrastructure and,

secondly, to be able to provide adequate support to the users.

A gift
Investing in IT education is important to TOPdesk as well. Consequently, TOPdesk sponsors many student associations and offers discounted educational licenses. When Lydje Snieders, a Customer Relations Manager at TOPdesk, got in contact with Viafrica, she was immediately impressed with the foundation. She wanted to find out if TOPdesk could support Viafrica. After discussing the particulars with Joost Dam, TOPdesk decided to offer the software to Viafrica free of charge. In addition, the Viafrica Foundation also received three days of consultancy and a number of training courses at the TOPdesk office in Delft as a gift. TOPdesk assists the employees in Kenya and Tanzania in providing ample support to their clients. For the

Classwork
Today, Viafrica consists of twenty

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purpose of distributing hardware to the schools, a centralized location has been set up in both countries. This location also functions as a service point, which schools can approach with their questions or problems regarding the hardware and software.

Priority number one


Reality, however, can be a different story. When visiting schools, employees of Viafrica often find that equipment is broken or that teachers are having problems using the software. Under similar circumstances in European countries, it is usually considered normal behaviour to seek help from a help desk or support department. In Africa, on the other hand, many users are hesitant to seek help. They are often worried that they will be blamed if something does not work and are not accustomed to sharing their lack of knowledge or understanding with others.

For that reason, more information was needed to improve user support. For example, if the most frequently asked questions were discernable, the teacher training could be modified accordingly. And to provide better local support, Viafrica employees wanted to know what hardware was present at the schools, so that they could bring along the correct parts and information during school visits. Additionally, more insight into the stock levels at the service points was required and the processing of hardware from the Netherlands needed to be optimized. During the implementation in Delft, the situation in which TOPdesk would be used was recreated as much as possible. It was set up simply, to give the introduction of TOPdesk the biggest chance for success. Priority number one was ease of use for the people that would be working with TOPdesk. For example, optional fields were used so that

all mandatory fields on Hardware cards would appear on one tab.

Peripheral equipment and parts


The Viafrica Foundation is now using the Incident Management, Configuration Management and Stock & Order Management modules. Incident Management and Knowledge Management are used to register and process problems and questions. Stock & Order Management is used to keep track of the stock of various pieces of equipment. Configuration Management is used to follow the complete life cycle of each piece of hardware. The cycle begins in the Netherlands with hardware that is then delivered to Kenya or Tanzania. This data concerning the hardware is read in with an import in the local TOPdesk database. A record can then be kept of whether the equipment still works when it arrives, if it

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has been tested and whether it is ready to be distributed to the schools. When the hardware is delivered to a school for use, it is linked to that school. Viafrica also takes care of the processing of old hardware. Schools can turn in the outdated equipment and Viafrica transports it back to the Netherlands where it is disposed of in an ecologically sound manner.

Role-playing
Joost Dam travelled to Africa in August 2008 to look after the introduction of TOPdesk. Joost: The implementation in Kenya and Tanzania went smoothly. In a technical sense, there were no problems. But we still had to see how quickly the application would

become a part of daily working life. Assisted by existing TOPdesk course documentation, Joost put together training material that could be used on location in Africa, so that the users could properly prepare themselves for using TOPdesk. Joost Dam: I did a lot of role-playing to explain the TOPdesk essentials, to which the reactions were positive. But I know from experience that these kinds of systems require constant attention because many people are inclined to let things go without registering them. Now that the programme has been in full swing for a few months, Joost has noticed a change for the better: Since the programme has finally clicked with the users, they are beginning to see the benefits

of registration. For example, they like being able to transfer a task to a colleague by means of an incident. In addition, Joost affirms that the employees have also picked up the processing of stock items and the registration of hardware quite well. I feel like it is catching on. It is a slow process for which you cannot see an immediate result. At the moment I am waiting for the first lists that contain the actual stock levels for the bookkeeper. We are now ready to take the next step: running reports in TOPdesk and using that information. Do you want to find out more about the Viafrica Foundation? Visit their website at www.viafrica.org.

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