My greatest challenge

Just two men and one big project.

For more than 30 years in the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau, a team of Danish researchers has been involved with a project to track and improve standards of health for children. Central to their work is the collection and structuring of scientific data in an IT system. Today the researchers use a database system based on DOS. In many ways, the system is no longer functioning optimally. So a new project is underway to develop a new system – a process that is now in its seventh year. As time passes, the pressure has increased to conclude the project. IT consultant Emil Rossing has been hired to find a solution.

The completion of the system in Guinea-Bissau hinges on just two people: a scientist whose focus is data integrity – and Emil Rossing, whose area is the last stages of development and implementation of the system. The project’s previous developer, who has since taken another position, can set aside time to answer questions every now and then. So the scope of the project isn’t as rigid as it often is in the private sector. 

Therefore the project demands very intense cooperation and constant interchange between overall project and implementation planning, task coordination, hardware planning and purchasing, logistics and not least the final development and testing of the software system. All of which has to take place within the financial constraints that come with a project of this kind. 

”Without drawing parallels to other IT projects in the health sector, I think that it’s necessary to acknowledge that the scope of this project was somewhat underestimated. At the same time, it’s a very ambitious project: The IT system has grown over time and now contains a wealth of functionalities that unfortunately were never entirely completed. In addition, the system must work under some unusual conditions that we’re not used to in Denmark – for example, Guinea-Bissau does not have CPR numbers to keep track of people, and there are no real addresses with street names and house numbers. The project has therefore divided the regions into a sector/number system – and tries to maintain the system by regularly painting numbers on all of the houses,” explains Emil Rossing.

His involvement in the project is about setting realistic goals and drastically cutting down on the amount of incomplete functionality to ensure that the users get a basic system that works well and is cohesive.

The next big challenge is just around the corner: In the months to come, Emil Rossing will be working in Guinea-Bissau where the system will be brought into everyday use. The new system resulted in a significant change to work processes, both for the many assistants that must correctly fill out the new questionnaires as well as for their supervisors, whose job it is to enter information into the new system.