Even “genies” need precise record-keeping and a professional homepage

Bernadette Szilagyi, Unlimited Program Manager, Microsoft Hungary

IMG_4828The goal of Csodalámpa Alapítvány in Hungary is to fulfill the wishes of children suffering from serious illnesses, thus alleviating their pain and bringing some change to the routine of coping with their condition. Since November 2003, a total of more than 1,200 wishes have been granted with the help of generous donors and committed volunteers. The organization receives a wide variety of requests, ranging from toys, computers and electronic equipment, to traveling and meeting with celebrities.

Making wishes come true – while caring for the children and their families and keeping in contact with donors – requires a great deal of work and an effective internal record management system. In tandem with these logistics, it’s vital that the Foundation have a compelling web site which not only promotes their activities, but supports those families still waiting for wishes to be granted.

Complex tasks, obsolete system

Up until recently, neither the internal record management system nor the homepage was up to these tasks. As founder Gábor Patzauer put it, “If we look at our record system in a project-oriented way, one child means one project.” They have to store the children’s personal data, their names, contact information, their condition, as well as all the necessary information of parents, guardians and other contact persons. Contact information and tax identifiers of donors and supporters also need to be stored. “In essence,” Gábor Patzauer explains, “there is a wish database and a partner database, and the latter contains the information for parents and donors. They are accompanied by a large number of secondary databases. Overall, the whole structure is quite complex."

Entering data into the system was a slow process. “First, our records were completely separate from the web site. All of our data was stored in Excel files. We practically did our database management manually, and one of our programmer volunteers would update the homepage manually. Then, we started using Microsoft Access, but we still needed to integrate this solution with the web site, and we had to turn to our volunteers again for help. Records from the Access database were still not transferred automatically to the homepage; instead we generated .csv files from the database, and transferred them to the appropriately programmed section of the web site using mirroring. There were also databases generated on the web site related to photos. If any changes to the site were required, we had to rely on our IT expert volunteer to make the changes. We also have an intranet, which means another separate database. We were pushing our current system to the limits working with disparate, complex, and scattered databases using a variety of methods, which meant we had a huge potential for error,” said Patzauer.  

A technology wish granted

Last summer, working with the current system became so difficult that employees of Csodalámpa Alapítvány started thinking it was time for a change. That’s when the organization requested a Microsoft software donation. “We knew that SharePoint functionality would serve the goals of the Foundation and simplify a lot of their internal management systems,” said Bernadette Szilagyi, community affairs manager at Microsoft Hungary. The web site also needed to be upgraded to help Csodalámpa to continue working efficiently.”

That’s when Viktor Farkas, a system engineer and the same expert who built the system for Octopus Deep-sea Archeology Research Association, was asked to assist. “Although the two projects are quite different in content, structurally Octopus and Csodalámpa have quite similar needs,” Viktor explained. On Csodalámpa’s side, Gábor Patzauer and an IT expert volunteer helped to analyze the requirements.

A Windows Server operating system was installed with SharePoint. Web design elements are being created with SharePoint to customize the user interface for Csodalámpa.

A long list of benefits

The new system will essentially facilitate the management of records and the tracking of work processes, while simplifying communications with external volunteers.

Viktor Farkas thinks that one of the greatest advantages of SharePoint lies in the query, search and statistics capabilities: “A kind of recycling exists inherently in this system. Once something is stored, it can be queried in any context later.” This will be of great use for Csodalámpa. As Gábor Patzauer told us, right now they can’t even collect supporter information for any given child, while in SharePoint this can be done with just a few clicks. Viktor Farkas emphasizes the importance of Office support, too. If someone needs to display their own information, they can change to the Excel view with just a click. Data can be saved as Excel worksheets, and these can be used in the usual way to create diagrams, reports, etc.

Also, the intranet will become more efficient by clearly separating access and login levels. “The intranet is needed because we don’t have much manpower to work with, therefore we don’t have extra employees for handling tasks such as answering volunteer queries. This will all be a thing of the past if volunteers can simply log into the system and find the necessary information themselves. Using our current system, this is nearly impossible,” Gábor Patzauer explains.

“While creating the database, we had to consider a great number of aspects, and SharePoint provided an excellent framework for integrating and applying these,” said Patzauer. “The system needs to store a large amount of medical data and other compulsory information, while complying with all relevant regulations. The approval of doctors is also required: documents with their signatures are scanned and attached to the data records. There was a case, for example, when the doctor wouldn’t let the child go to a rock concert as her wish, because in the child's condition it would’ve been dangerous. If a child wants to see a dolphin show, but air travel is not recommended, then flying should be avoided. These are all data that need to be stored in the system.”

Once all of the planned developments are finished a knowledge base will be implemented, which will enable the system to host and serve up best practices. This way, even new volunteers can check out solutions that worked well in the past.

A flexible solution is being developed for volunteer data and reports as well. This way, volunteers can write their reports on fulfilled wishes in any form, such as in Microsoft Word. This then can be easily added to the system using a template. "Using Office features is the easiest way to process information,” the system engineer explains. "Even PDF files can be easily processed, and the display of content elements will be consistent throughout the entire homepage.”

According to Viktor Farkas, publishing to the web site will be much easier in the new system too: SharePoint can instantaneously update all data entered. Depending on authorization, only a click will be needed to submit data. In the current system, as Gábor Patzauer explains, reports are practically edited on the homepage itself. “Therefore, volunteers cannot create the documents in the form required for publishing,” the founder says. "In SharePoint however, anything can be created in the format the system requires for publishing. This will make our jobs much easier.”
Overall, SharePoint will take a serious burden off the shoulders of Csodalámpa employees and let them focus their efforts on what matters most: bringing some joy into the lives of the little patients.

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