A complete suite
A3ES wanted to drop the paper based management of its evaluation processes. These processes were made up of several forms, some of them very long, and to be filled by various, at times geographically dispersed, stakeholders. The solution had to be flexible enough for various process types and simple enough for various user types.
The agency is now an international reference for having a completely computer based operation. A3ES is now unique among its peer agencies across Europe. Over 700 processes taking place every year, and with about 7 stakeholders per process, a lot of time is saved by having everything in a digital format, and there is a lot more detail in analytics and reports.
The whole story
The mission of A3ES is to contribute to the improvement of the quality of Portuguese higher education, through the evaluation and accreditation of higher education institutions and their study cycles.
A3ES is a private law foundation agency, established for an indeterminate period of time, with legal status and recognised as being of public utility. The Agency is independent in its decisions, without prejudice of the guidelines fixed by the State.
The agency was founded in 2007, and has counterparts in several other countries, striving for the same goals. Before this project, every evaluation process was paper based. With over 7000 processes taking place per year, each of them with at least 7 stakeholders, the bureaucracy was stealing resources from the mission itself. The project goal was to revert this, and regain focus on assessing and accrediting higher education.
A complex solution made simple
The implementation was done in 3 stages:
First, the institutional website, to allow the agency to let the world know what it was up to.
Second, the foundations for the process manager, as well as the implementation of the first evaluation process. Special care was taken to make sure everything was sufficiently generic to adapt to future evaluation processes.
Third, the normalization and creation of procedures to get new evaluation process types off the ground.
This project involved extensive training. DRI trained key agency staffers in general platform usage, and in turn, A3ES toured the country doing large training sessions for universities — their own “customers”! We also did some technical and administrative training for the agency’s IT staff. At present, new evaluation processes are created and configured with both teams gathered in a single site.
A 2 piece, integrated solution
The solution has two major components: a Drupal based website (www.a3es.pt), that has both institutional information and where all the evaluation results are published, and a SugarCRM based process manager. While the site itself is a simple implementation, the process manager is what makes the whole project special.
DRI used Drupal and SugarCRM Community Edition as base platforms, PHP, Zend Framework, ExtJS, XML and MySQL as technologies. The institutional portal itself is implemented in Drupal, and SugarCRM acts as a process management back office and core platform. However, the process stakeholders only interact with a custom designed interface, simply crafted with process in mind. When an evaluation process is finished, the results are automatically published to the website and competent government bodies.
The agency is now an international reference for having completely IT-enabled its processes. The project has been live since 2009, several evaluation cycles have completed successfully and the relationship between stakeholders is a true partnership.
The agency had many benefits in mind when they took on the project. Namely:
- No more paper management;
- Near real time interactions between all stakeholders;
- Less time spent on procedural routines, more focus on the job itself;
- Digital audit of everything that happens during a process;
- Alarms and automatic time tracking per process;
- Automation of several workflows - like results publishing at the web;
- Customizable, real time reporting that allows the agency to collect actionable data from processes;
- Archiving does not require a 2 story building.