He describes himself as a stoic, stubborn and attractive person and he is the creator and developer of the Online Membership System (OMS) which will replace the old Intranet. Fabrizio Bellicano is our Member of the Month for February and in this article he explained to us how the Online Membership works and how it can change AEGEE in the long term. So this is how we got to know him better, through his continuous work for the new Intranet and his perspective as an IT person both in AEGEE and outside of it.
The AEGEEan: To begin with, tell us three words that best describe you and why.
Fabrizio: Stoic, stubborn and.. uh, sexy, yeah, so we have three S.
How did the concept of OMS (Online Membership System) come to life?
Oh, there’s so much to say, I’ll try to be short and simplifying stuff..
AEGEE (i.e. the Comité Directeur) used to have a product called “Lotus”, back in the times when the computer applications weren’t networked: they received paper documents, and recreated the information inside Lotus to be handled by the CD.
In order to expand the functionality, a new system with online capabilities was designed: the Online Membership System. Due to the usual problem that we are also facing now (i.e. lack of HR) it was outsourced (allegedly to a company “friend” of the President at the time…). Specifications, however, were bad; in other words, we asked for a product in a generic way, and we got a product that generally works. Some parts are worse, some parts are ok. Clearly suboptimal, especially if you think that a loooot of money were spent to get that. Anyhow, that’s the current intranet.
What I am doing is a total revamp of the intranet, borrowing some parts from the concept of “OMS”, yet what I am doing is definitely not “the OMS” – the first code name for my project was “Calaf” (his name, and he ends up by singing “I will win”) except only me and Paul Smits keep calling it like this. The most important part of the revamp was the use of “marketable skills”, in other words, the technologies I am using for this project have been picked with two criteria in mind: 1) they are modern and easy to pick (a new person is able to get started soon); 2) they are in high demand in the job market. I hoped that this would foster IT students of AEGEE to jump in and help out, but I was too optimistic. I guess we’re not so full of volunteers after all… As it always happens, the more people take part in something, the less it’s being done (everybody thinking “somebody else will take care of it”.. simple social science).
What is the purpose of the OMS and how can AEGEE benefit from it?
Since the network is only one, it is stupid to make every local reinventing the wheel to make a system that works. The first purpose of the new system is to relieve IT resources on the local: think about shared website space managed by AEGEE-Europe, instead of paying hosting space, domain name, and perhaps mail server or other additional services.
How AEGEE can benefit is simple: the second problem the system wants to tackle is information management. Currently we have no clear way to obtain information about.. well, anything. Just as an example, I got asked once by the board of AEGEE-Amsterdam how to know where their members applied/to which events they participated (they have something like prizes for the most traveller or something similar). The point is clear: how is it possible that I have no data telling me what is going on in my own antenna?
The third benefit is, once all data is harmonised and we have a strategy on how/what/where to store data, it comes naturally that the interchange of such info is eased. Think you don’t need to submit members list anymore – a snapshot from the database of your members (hosted on AEGEE-Europe’s servers, as mentioned) will suffice.
What would you say is the biggest problem in AEGEE at the moment and how do you think it can be solved?
The biggest problem in AEGEE is that we’re not self-sustainable. We have such big ideas about saving refugees or opening locals in some places, that we are not realising this is blinding us. We are constantly spamming the word AWESOME, yet locals are closing slowly one by one. Why? It’s simple: intranet. Wow, you’ve spent two days in trying to bring your friend in AEGEE, you told her/him about SU, about NWM, about Agora, s/he gives in and joins AEGEE! S/he goes on intranet.aegee.org and registers. First impression: we are still in the ‘90s with that look & feel – user experience anyone? Second impression: wow, I registered, now I didn’t receive any email. Yet I can’t retry because it says that my email is already registered. Ok, we’re done here, goodbye and see you never.
AEGEE-Kyïv told me they lost a handful of members because of that – their problem is even worse, the page they received on registration is completely blank (the server errors). AEGEE-Siena is losing members in this period of SU applications. Many others are facing the same problem, yet just imagine closing those two antennae. And another one. And another one. We are slowly decaying – do you think we are still 13,000?
Oh, now that I mention numbers, last fun fact about intranet members: there are 60,000 (sixty thousands) members in the database, because when people forget their passwords they simply re-register….
ITC (Information Technology Committee) is right now very silent. Do you have any idea as how it can be brought to life again?
ITC is a body like any other, it needs HR, PR, FR. Some IT skills would be favourable, yet not necessary. I was very happy when this year (actually last year) the candidates were not just “nerds”. I don’t know what happened to them though.
How do you see AEGEE in five years’ time?
It just depends on the next two years, if we are placing our bets on internal development or not – and this involves IT, as I said, but also literally developing our members. The academy, LTCs – whatever it is, we have to instruct our members of what AEGEE can offer. Also, we should start thinking of more flexibility so that we can respond in time to events, instead of waiting six months every time just to change the CIA… we’re getting too much bureaucracy.
What do you plan to do next in AEGEE?
I just look forward to the Agora, and then I applied to the SU “Nordic smile” by AEGEE-Riga, AEGEE-Tallinn and AEGEE-Helsinki.
More on the long term, I plan to chill and have fun, contributing slowly but steady, and not rushing anymore (risking a burnout).
Written by Gabriela Geană, AEGEE-București