Earlier this year we helped Teach for All launch their Partner Learning Portal, leveraging our Drupal/Alfresco integrated osCaddie solution to help unify the efforts of their global network of partners. We had a quick chat with Andrew Ho, Teach For All's Senior Director of Information Technology, to see why our solution was the answer.
What were your main business goals and objectives with creating the Partner Learning Portal?
The main business goal for the Partner Learning Portal is to help Teach For All increase the impact of our 35 partner national organizations (or partners) via a platform for learning and sharing. Currently, we provide our partners with four types of support to help increase their impact:
- Capturing best practices and lessons learned and thought partnering with partners on adapting these lessons and resources to their contexts
- Fostering direct connections among partner staff, participants (teachers) and alumni – they are each other’s greatest source of inspiration and we see tremendous impact from bringing them together and fostering the network among them
- Accessing global resources – e.g., through global partnerships with international companies or funders – to provide additional support
- Utilizing the assets of a global network to contribute to the leadership development of staff, participants and alumni across the network
The Partner Learning Portal was originally conceived to help address primarily the first type of support above, “Capturing best practices and lessons learned…” To that end, the original project goals were:
- Increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which Teach For All and partner staff members can share, find, and access knowledge
- Give Teach For All a platform to manage knowledge as an asset that leads to improved partner innovation and productivity
- Provide a “One Stop Shop” for all sharable organizational knowledge – not just documents, but also eventually data (from Salesforce.com), data visualizations (from Birst, our business intelligence platform) and videos
- Capture and codify a library of knowledge
- Increase our partners’ ability to collaborate with one another
- Be scalable and have the ability to adapt and grow with the organization
Did these change over the course of development? If so, how and why?
Probably the biggest change that occurred over the course of development was the realization that people wanted to use the portal to not just search for knowledge products, but also to search for other people. (Effectively, having our Portal more directly address the 2nd type of support above, “Fostering direct connections among partner staff…” in addition to just “Capturing best practices and lessons learned…”)
Basically, what we discovered through extensive user testing and feedback sessions was that people were trying to use the portal to also find other people at different partners (and/or Teach For All) that were either:
- Experts in a particular functional area so that they can seek advice and/or other help
- People that had a specific background so that they can reach out and potentially collaborate on mutually interesting projects
While we had always planned to have a Network Staff Directory listing all of the registered Portal users (along with pictures and bios), we had not originally planned for this to be a core functional component of the site. Instead, the feedback that we received helped change our thinking on this. As a result, for our July Go Live, we built in some additional features that were not present when we initially envisioned the Portal. These features include more robust filters (including region/country, functional area and team) in the Network Staff Directory for people to more easily find other people. In addition, within each Functional Area section in the Portal, we highlight partner staff that are interested in collaborating on that topic, as well as Teach For All staff that are experts in that topic.
Going forward, we plan to add even more functionality around “fostering direct connections among partner staff” by adding robust People Search capabilities (currently, the site’s Search feature only searches for knowledge products and not people), as well as enhanced user profiles that take into account some social networking features, such as gamification (e.g., badges for specific activities) and the ability to see what a user has “liked” or commented upon.
How did you end up deciding to use Appnovation's osCaddie solution over other possible options?
When we initially envisioned the Partner Learning Portal and were still trying to decide which platform to put it on, we had a few specific “core” requirements that we wanted the system platform to meet. These were:
- Robust document management system – We wanted a system that would allow us to manage our growing library of electronic documents and make it as easy as possible for people to find the documents that they are looking for. We also wanted it to have workflow capabilities so that we can have a streamlined editing/publishing process for documents. Lastly, we wanted it to have robust document security capabilities and allow our administrators to control access to each individual document, as well as groups of documents, based upon user profiles.
- Annual maintenance cost had to be scalable – Specifically, we really didn’t want a system that would charge us a flat per-user license cost for maintenance. As the Partner Learning Portal was intended to have a potentially exponentially growing user base, we knew that any per-user license cost scheme would become monetarily unsustainable fairly quickly.
- Provide for a strong user experience – From the get-go, we wanted the Partner Learning Portal to incorporate a strong user-friendly design that would take into account both novice and expert users of the system. We also wanted a front-end design that would allow us to incorporate the integration of content from multiple sources: documents from a document management system, web content from a web content management system, data from Salesforce.com, etc.
- Ability to reside in the cloud – Due to our organization’s nature of sharing office space with other, larger organizations (and therefore having no in-house server space), we needed a system that didn’t require us to establish in-house servers to host and support.
Based on these four requirements, we ultimately came to the conclusion that a combination Alfresco/Drupal system would meet our needs. Alfresco was a robust document management system and, thanks to its open-source nature, it’s maintenance cost structure was not based on a per-user license basis. Alfresco integrates very well with Drupal and, by leveraging Drupal development to be the front-end (vs. native Alfresco), it would satisfy our need to provide for a strong user experience. Lastly, Drupal can be hosted with Acquia, while Alfresco One has been proven to work very effectively while hosted directly on Amazon Web Services.
Once we were fully agreed that the Alfresco/Drupal solution would be the best option for our Partner Learning Portal, the choice of using Appnovation’s osCaddie solution was a no-brainer. Appnovation has, by far, the most experience developing hybrid Alfresco/Drupal sites of anybody and their osCaddie solution was just the perfect fit.
How has this project impacted your organization so far?
Since the portal launched (on July 29, 2014), we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both partner staff and Teach For All staff with the general sentiment that the portal will be transformative to people’s work… specifically, in people’s ability to find key information without having to email back-and-forth with others looking for it. We’re currently in the process of gathering actual users stories of the portal making a difference in people’s work lives (and it might be several more months before we have some strong reflections). Once we have those, we will definitely be sharing them out to others.