TEPP portal – success story of cooperationFebruary 8, 2023
Estonian IT companies helped to create a unique portal for the European Commission.
Competing companies of the field joined forces to work on a common goal – to create an environment for managing European Union projects. Add together a tight time frame, multiple parties, and an international team of four different companies, and the result is a truly exciting challenge.
The partners joined forces to develop and implement the idea of the TEPP (Team Europe Partnerships Portal). The Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications (ITL) helped to coordinate the idea, Gofore Estonia OÜ and Kodality OÜ were responsible for the architecture of the new portal, Trinidad Wiseman OÜ was responsible for the design, Aktors OÜ was responsible for software development, and project manager Katrin Rohtla brought the parties together so that the portal could begin to be completed. Everyone had to be on the same page with the European Commission – the owner of the solution, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the client and beneficiary of the environment.
Kedi Välba from Aktors OÜ emphasises the uniqueness of the project: there has never been a similar successful cooperation project between ITL companies in Estonia. In order for the work to be completed, a consortium was created under the auspices of ITL and led by the cluster. “This is an example of good cooperation, where instead of competing, companies worked for a common result,” she praises.
According to Kadi Metsandi, Director of Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all parties were flexible: “Everyone was thinking out of the box, so to speak, and as a result, an innovative solution was born, which is a very good reference for Estonia as a country and also for the private sector. The solution is easy to use, the entire Estonian development team was highly praised.”
Brings together those in need of aid and those providing aid
Kadi Metsandi recalls that the original idea was born in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was raging – the need to help was great, but there was no central platform to bring together those in need of aid and those providing aid. “Therefore, at the beginning, the focus was on health care, and, among other things, innovative solutions to mitigate the pandemic,” says Metsandi. “Then our idea expanded, we focused more broadly on third world partner countries, bringing together supply and demand.”
As such emerged the opportunity to bring interested parties together: the partner countries can see the offers on the portal and can choose the best one according to their needs, while the European Union presents its innovative solution. In addition to an overview of solutions and services, the portal is an information bridge for service and solution providers, financial institutions, representatives of member and partner countries, and EU institutions.
The solutions were found quickly
By the time the consortium was approved, the development was already behind schedule: the first tenders failed, and in the end a consortium was created that built a working version in four months, i.e., in a very short time. “The project had a very ambitious goal and limited time, so we decided to use agile methods and such an approach. After five weeks, we had a designed prototype and three months after beginning the work, an MVP was already developed and we could start testing on end users,” said Katrin Rohtla, the project manager leading the project on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lilian Tomingas-Frolov from Trinidad Wiseman says that they worked in three different time zones at the same time: “When we had our morning meetings, the developer living in Armenia had already been working for several hours. To save time, we had to make sure we said that person the night before what they should be doing in the morning.”
Tuuli Pärenson from Gofore Estonia OÜ adds that in the case of a short time frame, it is necessary to approach the task in an agile manner: “The time pressure led to a willingness to try a new approach. It was impossible to spend two months for analysis and only then see what could be developed in two weeks. We immediately began to implement a solution that could also be used partially if necessary.”
Upon starting the project, it was first defined what everyone’s role in the project was, how information was communicated, and what the work routines were. Completed work was constantly analysed and decisions were made on how to move forward. As such, a system was created that all development parties understood in the same way. “All in all, the cooperation turned out to be quite good, the team worked in synergy and there was a common goal. This is how projects with a tight schedule have to be built,” says Maksim Zukov from Kodality OÜ.
Lilian Tomingas-Frolov from Trinidad Wiseman recalls that to begin with, the analyst and the designer looked at the initial review and explained what kind of additional information was needed from the client, while taking into account the schedule and financial constraints. “The next step was mapping the requirements and simplifying the functions of the portal to make TEPP as user-friendly as possible. For example, we created a filtering option for users so that they could search for partners on the portal based on a specific role and project type,” she recalls. “We also adjusted the wording of the portal so that it would be understandable to the average user, and after that we were able to move on to the appearance prototypes.”
Maksim Zukov also highlights issues of scalability and security. “As this is a portal that is used all over Europe and the expected load is high, it was very important in the architecture to ensure availability: it had to be designed into the solution immediately along with security,” he says. “You always have to remember that technological decisions must be of high quality – if the foundation is not in order, problems will arise later.”
According to Kadi Metsandi, feedback for the development has been positive: “A seminar was just held where we introduced the portal together with the European Commission. Now it is important to get a lot of users and uploaded offers to the portal. Work is being done in this regard.” All in all, TEPP helps to make Estonia bigger in the world: after all, there has never been a similar major project with the European Commission before. “Truth be told, the European Commission has never implemented a project with a member state in this way before,” Metsandi points out.
“We can be content. Thanks to a common goal, excellent attitude, communication, and flexibility, a portal has been created that suits all parties and benefits many people all over the world,” sums up Lilian Tomingas-Frolov.
“From ITL’s point of view, a consortium of companies that achieved such a result is a success story,” said Doris Põld, CEO of ITL. “The role of the union was to give momentum to a good idea and support companies that usually act as competitors in working towards a common goal. We also acknowledge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which entered a dialogue with the private sector early on through ITL in order to jointly find the best solution.”
Three parties were brought together in the creation of TEPP:
donors of development aid (countries/institutions with sufficient funds);
those in need of aid, i.e., development aid beneficiaries (countries);
service providers (private sector).
small time frame;
different expectations from different parties. (Estonia and Germany, for example, also have different expectations as providers of development aid, because each country has its own characteristics);
the customer and beneficiary (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and the owner of the solution (European Commission) are different institutions, which meant that expectations had to be precisely negotiated and managed.
- The architecture of the environment was built by Gofore Estonia OÜ, who also ensured cooperation and project management so that new people could find their appropriate role in the project, and helped keep the project together.
- The architecture of the portal was also developed by Kodality OÜ, who participated in the kick-off, helped the company developers to start the process, and consulted on how to solve complex architectural issues.
- Design and testing were done by Trinidad Wiseman OÜ.
- The role of Aktors OÜ was software development – so their work was mostly focused on the first months after the project was launched, and when the project was handed over, they provided support for maintenance work and implemented improvements for another six months.
- Project manager Katrin Rohtla ensured the smooth development of the project between all parties, including the various partners in the team, the European Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The prototype of the EU’s joint platform for innovative solutions was created for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the companies of the Estonian ICT cluster and the article was written within the framework of the ESTDEV – Estonian Center for International Development Cooperation project.