Estonian IT companies banned together to create a unique portal for the European Commission. Though these companies are competitors within the IT field, they joined forces to work toward a common goal: creating a digital environment for managing European Union projects.
The Team Europe Partnerships Portal (TEPP) is a new platform that will support partner countries in finding innovative and effective tools to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, and build inclusive and sustainable societies among all Team Europe actors.
Add together a realized need, a tight time frame, multiple partners, and an international team of four different companies, and you get a challenge that is truly exciting.
In 2020, it became apparent that a gap existed between those in need of assistance and those ready to provide it. Realizing this need, several competing IT companies joined forces to develop and achieve an idea now known as TEPP, the Team Europe Partnerships Portal. It took all hands on deck to make this dream a reality in a considerably short period of time. The Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications (ITL) acted as a project coordinator, Gofore Estonia OÜ, Kodality OÜ, and Trinidad Wiseman OÜ were responsible for designing and testing the new portal, Aktors OÜ took on software development, and project manager Katrin Rohtla brought experts together to ensure the platform’s completion. While the IT companies were fully Estonian, this project involved several international partners from the European Commission, meaning that communication and collaboration were a must.
Kedi Välba, from Aktors OÜ, emphasized the uniqueness of the project, stating that there has never before been a similar successful cooperative project between IT companies in Estonia. In order to fulfill their mission, a coalition was created and led under the banner of ITL. Välba praised, “This is an example of healthy cooperation. Instead of competing, our companies worked together toward a common goal.”
According to Kadi Metsandi, Director of the Development Cooperation Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all parties were flexible: “Everyone was thinking out of the box, so to speak, and as a result, an innovative solution was born. This is a very good reference not only for Estonia as a country, but also for the private sector. The solution is easy to use, and the entire Estonian development team has received the highest praise.”
Bringing Together Providers and Those Seeking Solutions
The original idea was born in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was raging. “In the beginning, the focus was on health care, and, among other things, innovative solutions to mitigate the pandemic,” said Metsandi. “Then, our idea expanded, and we focused more broadly on partner countries and how we could bring together supply and demand.”
On today’s TEPP, partner countries in need can view the solutions offered by member states and choose the one of best fit. In addition to an overview of solutions and services, the portal serves as an information bridge for service and solution providers, financial institutions, representatives of member and partner countries, and EU institutions.
Big Successes from Small Beginnings
TEPP development was behind schedule from the beginning: the first tenders had failed, and time was running out to get anything real off the ground. However, once united, the partnership built a working version of the platform in just four months, a very short time in the realm of IT development. “This project had a very ambitious goal and a limited time frame, so we had to be agile. After five weeks, we had a designed prototype. Three months after starting work, we had already developed an MVP that we could start testing on end users,” said Katrin Rohtla, lead project manager, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lilian Tomingas-Frolov, from Trinidad Wiseman, said that the coalition worked in three different time zones simultaneously: “When we had our morning meetings, the developer living in Armenia had already been working for several hours. To save time, we had to make sure that each night, we communicated what each of us should be doing the next morning.”
Tuuli Pärenson, from Gofore Estonia OÜ, added that due to the short time frame, it was necessary to approach tasks as if poised at the starting line of a race: “The time pressure led to a willingness to try a new approach. It was impossible to spend two months analyzing and leave only two weeks to see what could be developed. We quickly decided to implement a solution that could be used partially if necessary.”
From the start of the project, each partner’s role was defined, communication methods were agreed on, and work routines were set. Completed work was constantly analyzed, leading to informed decisions on how to move forward. In this way, all developers stayed on the same page as the TEPP system was created. “All in all, collaboration turned out to be quite good. The team worked in harmony and there was a united purpose. This is the way that projects with a tight schedule have to be built,” says Maksim Zukov, from Kodality OÜ.
Tomingas-Frolov recalled that, in the beginning, the analysts and the designers looked at the initial review and identified what additional information was needed from the client, while taking into account constraints created by scheduling and finances. “The next step was mapping the requirements and simplifying the functions of the portal to make TEPP as user-friendly as possible. For example, we created a filtering option for users that allows them to search for partners on the portal based on a specific role and project type,” she recalls. “We also adjusted the wording within the portal so that it would be understandable to the average user. Once all of this was in place, we were able to move on to prototype the portal’s appearance.”
Zukov also highlighted issues of scalability and security. “As this was a portal that would be used all over Europe, and the expected user rate was high, it was very important to ensure accessibility in the design. This had to be built into the solution from the start, right along with security,” he says. “You always have to remember that technological decisions must be of high quality – if the foundation is not in order, problems will most definitely arise later.”
According to Kadi Metsandi, feedback for TEPP has been positive: “A seminar was just held where we introduced the portal together with the European Commission. What is important now is to get a lot of users and offers uploaded onto the portal, and work is being done in that regard.”
All in all, TEPP gives Estonia a bigger footprint in the world – after all, this project is the first of its kind. “Truth be told, the European Commission has never implemented a project with a member state in this way before,” Metsandi pointed out.
Director of Sustainable Development Policy and Coordination at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships of the European Commission, Félix Fernandez-Shaw, confirmed, “TEPP is an excellent example of a small member state thinking big and offering innovative solutions for the entirety of the European Union.”
“We can be content. Thanks to a united purpose and excellent attitudes, communication, and flexibility, a portal has been created that suits all parties and benefits many people across the globe,” summed up Lilian Tomingas-Frolov.
“From ITL’s point of view, a fellowship of companies that achieves such a result is a success story,” said Doris Põld, CEO of ITL. “The role of the union was to give momentum to a good idea and support companies that usually act as competitors in working towards a common goal. We also acknowledge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which began a dialogue with the private sector early on through ITL in order to collectively find the best solution.”
- The overall design of the digital environment was built by Gofore Estonia OÜ, who also ensured cooperation and project management so that newcomers could each find an appropriate role in the project and helped keep the project moving forward.
- The portal’s design was also developed by Kodality OÜ, who participated in the kick-off, helped company developers start the process, and consulted on how to solve complex architectural issues.
- Design and testing were done by Trinidad Wiseman OÜ.
- Aktors OÜ took on the responsibility of software development. The majority of their work took place during the first months after project launch. When the project was handed over, they provided support for maintenance work and implemented improvements over the course of six months.
- Project manager Katrin Rohtla ensured the smooth progress of the project between all parties, including the various representatives within the team, the European Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
See more at https://team-europe-partners.network.europa.eu
The prototype for TEPP, the EU’s joint platform for innovative solutions, was created for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by companies from the Estonian ICT cluster.
More information: [email protected]
Estonian Centre for International Development is a government foundation that manages and implements Estonia’s participation in international development cooperation and humanitarian aid projects, with the aim of increasing Estonia’s contribution to global security and sustainable development.