Students key drivers for global IT platform of Doctors Without Borders

“What Lerten and Evert did for Doctors Without Borders within the space of 6 weeks is nothing short of a miracle,” says Kim Koffel, a seasoned business transformation consultant at Doctors Without Borders (DWB) who worked closely with the two Vlerick students during their in-company project. “We are very lucky Lerten has agreed to come and work with us at DWB and, in the future, we are looking to Vlerick to be a key partner for projects. We could not have done what we did without the support from Vlerick and Prof. Öykü Isik in particular.”

Doctors withoug Borders in-company project
From left to right: Luke Tremblin, Professor Öykü Isik, Kim Koffel, Evert Van Trappen and Lerten Viroux

With missions in more than 70 countries and as a first responder providing medical assistance Doctors Without Borders (DWB) is one the most respected humanitarian aid organisations. However, DWB’s current IT infrastructure is hindering the organisation’s ability to respond to those in need. “From our origins, DWB has always been a highly independent organisation,” Kim explains. “That’s reflected in the fact it has five operational centres, each with its own IT infrastructure.” In order to improve the ability to respond, the development of a common Field Network Kit is essential. The FNK is a ready to deploy, off-the-shelf kit providing connectivity, network protection, applications, data storage, and environment management for DWB field missions.

Specific dynamics and sensitivities

Can you develop a methodology for evaluation of different technical components and features that allows us to agree on the specifications for a common FNK? That was the key question of the in-company project Lerten Viroux and Evert Van Trappen were presented with at the end of their Masters in International Management & Strategy. Relying on their backgrounds as engineers, they immersed themselves in an environment they weren’t familiar with. Lerten: “We had to deal with the specific dynamics of an NGO, manage the decision-making process of the decentralised teams and also take into account the requirements to protect DWB infrastructure and data. The protection of this data is therefore of the utmost importance. A good example is communication with HIV patients regarding treatment. DWB stores contact details for large number of HIV patients and it is essential that this information remains private and confidential.”

“One version of the truth”

This idea of one single platform understandably met with some reluctance among the operational centres, which were biased towards the equipment they had been using so far. A multidisciplinary team composed of members from the different operational centres was therefore put together. Kim: “The students managed to convince the team, get the information and feedback they needed and work out a methodology to assess and structure all our products and their features in a simplified and automated way, so that all the operational centres can start from one version of the truth for each product. It allows DWB, for example, to make uniform requests for proposals across all operational centres and evaluate purchases. I remember being sceptical at first, especially considering the very limited amount of time they had. But they managed to pull it off! Within 12 months the real impact of this project will be visible in the field missions.”

Kick

How do Lerten and Evert look back on their work for DWB? “I was more involved in the operational side of the project,” Evert says. “But the kick I got out of this project is that the DWB people in the field can focus even more on their core activity, which is saving lives and giving help to the people who need it most.” Lerten agrees with him: “This has been an awesome experience. You get to meet so many passionate people, you hear so many interesting stories. It has affected me to such an extent that I’ve decided to continue working on the project.”

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