PERTAPIS was selected in May as one of the partner VWO for the 2008 projects. PERTAPIS has been providing social, educational and welfare services to the community since the early 70’s. It runs several homes under its organization, namely, PERTAPIS Centre for Women and Girls (PCWG), PERTAPIS Children Home (PCH), Bukit Batok Hostel (BBH), PERTAPIS Halfway House (PHH), PERTAPIS Senior Citizen Fellowship Home (PSCFH) and Welfare Trust Fund. A more detailed description of the centre, its goals and its services can be found at their website
The organization traditionally keeps their large amount of information in paper form. The most important file to be stored and maintained in all these homes was the Case Management File of each of their clients, which contained all the important documents related to the client. It contained documents like admission forms, medical documents, school/work documents, court documents, assessment of clients by social workers, care plans created for clients during their stay in a home, etc. Whenever a statistic or some information was required, admin staff or social workers have to browse through all the documents in the file to find the one they need. Limited staffs managing many clients have to keep track of many such case files. Thus, the main focus of the IT system was to build a system to effectively replace the 'thick' Case Management File as much as feasible.
In addition, the IT system also included modules to manage their staff and volunteer information, to manage activities conducted by the homes, to track visitors to the home, to track donations and other logistics, etc.
A 7 member student team under the guidance of Dr. Ben Leong began working on the project, with a deadline of 3 months to complete and deploy the system to PERTAPIS. Our aim was to build a comprehensive, computerised framework to capture the large amount of information in electronic form, in a way that is as natural and as intuitive as possible, with minimal impact on the original workflow of the homes.
During the first stage, meetings and site visits were held with PERTAPIS to understand the daily procedures and workflow in each of their homes. After understanding the specific needs, a detailed user specification report was created for each of their homes. The report contained what we understood as the modules needed best to improve the workflow in that particular home. After confirmation with the respective homes, necessary modifications were made and a master user specification report containing the specific modules of IT system that we would be building was presented to PERTAPIS. Upon mutual agreement, the project advanced to the next stage.
During the second stage, our team got down to coding the actual system. Using a powerful content management system, Drupal, we proceeded to build the system. After passing the Drupal learning curve, developing conventions and methodologies along the way, each student in the team was assigned one or more modules. During this developmental phase, further site visits were conducted to talk to the actual staff (mostly social workers) who would be using the system in order to gain a sound understanding of their workflow. During these visits, prototypes of the system were presented as well in order to work out the best possible solutions in terms of minimizing work for the staff. Once the modules were completed, peer testing was done among the team to ensure the working condition of the modules.
During the third stage, preparations were done to deploy the system to the first PERTAPIS home: PCWG. The finished modules were uploaded to a server and the PCWG staff was given access to the system for a trail period. Feedback from the staff during the trial period were incorporated into the modules and the system was ready for its first deployment.
In the final stage, the server was brought down to PCWG and the system was successfully deployed on 18th September.
How the Project Helped PERTAPIS
The IT system has definitely helped PERTAPIS in terms of data management. It is now easy for them to store, retrieve, search and analyze the information they require, without the need for bulky case files or huge storage cabinets. Some significant benefits are detailed below:
Data entry can now be done with just a few clicks but at the same time capture all the information required. The traditional paper forms, more often than not, contained fields where the information to be filled were repetitive. Now, the system provides intuitive form elements like radio buttons, select boxes and checkboxes where possible for easier data entry, thus saving valuable time.
In addition, visitor sign in/sign out is now done with a barcode system where all the visitor needs to do is scan his/her identity card. This makes visitor tracking a convenient and speedy process. Furthermore, the 'green card' previously used to associate next-of-kin to client is no longer necessary, since the system is able to retrieve such information automatically.
Having data in electronic form enables retrieving data quickly and effortlessly through the search interfaces built in the system. This will save the staff time previously needed to hunt for case files and browse through their contents. Also, client information is preserved in the database even after he/she is discharged, and the information may be retrieved easily at any later date, if the need arises. Having records stored in an electronic database keeps it safe from being misplaced or forgotten in the process of changing staff.
Automatic Information Compiling
With all the data in electronic form, it becomes possible to automatically compile the data to generate reports that would otherwise take hours or days of work to complete. For example, a list of visits made by tutors and the time duration each spends in the centre can now be obtained with a few simple clicks, whereas previously manual scans through a sizeable volume of paper records was needed. Such generated figures also have the benefit of being free from human error.
All in all the system will help improve the workflow of the partner VWO by making previously tedious and repetitive tasks quick and easy. Moreover, there is significant reduction in manpower and time needed to do the above. Thus, PERTAPIS is able to contribute more staff and much more time to serve the community, even better.
The team comprised an international body of students, hailing from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India.
The multi-talented team comprised:
- Lim Yuen Hoe, 2nd year student (Project Lead)
- Edward Chua, 2nd year student (Interface Designer, Developer)
- Le Nhu Viet, 2nd year student (Database Manager, Developer)
- Le Viet Bach, Jonny, 2nd year student (Developer)
- Nguyen Trung Dung, Eric, 1st year student (Developer)
- Rashmi Sukumaran, 4th year student (Developer)
- Shweta Ramdas, 2nd year student (Developer)
Seeing the gratitude on the staff’s faces when we first demonstrated our system to them was very encouraging, and made all the hard work we’ve spent during the three months all worth it. Definitely a very gratifying and amazing experience.
– Edward Chua
There are not many places where you can gain knowledge for yourself and help the society at the same time. CVWO is one. The chance that I was given was just amazingly interesting :)
Learning and at the same time being able to give back to the community is a rare opportunity for anyone. Getting to work closely with a dedicated organization like PERTAPIS and being a part of the good they do for the society was a truly enriching experience. The lessons learned would be cherished much longer than those learned in any classroom.
It was a lot of very tough, very harrowing work. But people use what we build, and people benefit. And that makes all the difference. Besides, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger ;)
– Yuen Hoe
We built the system on a relatively new platform none of us were familiar with, so it was a challenge learning everything from the ground up - figuring out how to get things done, developing techniques and setting conventions along the way. We also had to deal with an unforgiving time schedule, and struggled to deliver on time, having encountered many unexpected setbacks along the way. Above all these interacting with our partner VWO, extracting and properly understanding their needs, as well as balancing this against the resources we had was in itself an endeavour that proved both challenging and educational.