Open source helps keep vulnerable people connected

6 Jun 2008

Four IBM workers in Dublin are to be awarded for their contribution to the development of a community project that uses open source software to ensure older people and vulnerable members of the public in 20 counties across Ireland receive a good neighbour service.

Later today, the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan TD, will make a presentation on behalf of IBM employees Alex Markelov, Mark Gargan and Guillermo Ordonez and Deirdre Kennedy for their work in the Friendly Call Service.

The service, which is currently available in 20 counties across Ireland, is a free and confidential telephone alert/good neighbour service for older people and those who feel vulnerable in society.

This project which began in Dublin is now in operation nationwide and plays a major role in policy and service development in the challenge of dealing with an ageing population.

Built using open source software, once a person agrees to register and avail of the service, all the information is logged into a database.

This information would include information on name and address of next of kin/friend, medical information such as type and time for taking medication, pension or allowance collection place and day, house or personal alarm, religious contacts (if any), doctor name and address and any other information a person may decide to offer.

The individual will receive a daily telephone call, at an agreed time, on initially five days of the week. It is envisaged that the service would expand quickly to a seven-day service. The purpose of the call is to check on the person’s well being and remind them of medication and any pre-arranged appointments for that day.

In addition, the call will inform and encourage inclusion and participation in community activities, and link to other service providers, such as social services, housing and advice services.

“When we began our relationship with IBM, we were a small local project, serving 20 clients in Blanchardstown,” explained Danny Bell, coordinator, Friendly Call Service, North Dublin. “Today the North Dublin service is contacting 610 clients each day. Our sister services are providing support in Kerry, Cork, Clare, Tipperary, Laois/Offaly, Westmeath, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and west Belfast.”

Deirdre Kennedy, IBM’s corporate citizenship and corporate affairs manager, said the company’s involvement in the project began in 2005 when Alex Markelov brought his open source software skills to bear and worked to expand on the system with Mark Gargan and Guillermo Ordonez.

The team worked to adapt, upgrade and customise the call centre service software, plus prepare manuals and administration support documents for the call service team.

The team customised the initial open source software to ease the use and scalability of the software for the needs of the Blanchardstown community. It also developed the software to reduce the time required to install and set-up the software at a new site – allowing other nationwide sites to reuse the software and quickly get their support services up and running.

Kennedy said the Friendly Call service needed to adapt its technology and the team were able to avail of grants under the IBM Volunteering Programme to buy hardware to support the upgrade.

“If an employee of the company has done a certain number of hours’ worth of volunteering work then they can apply for a grant. In the time the team worked on the project they were able to win two grants to the value of US$10,000 ,which was used to purchase hardware for the project.

Across Europe, Kennedy said, IBM workers have logged over one million hours of volunteer work, equal to 500 years of volunteering since 2003.

“Volunteering shows people’s involvement in their community and people are more than willing to do this,” Kennedy said. “But what we’re learning is that skilled volunteering where people can put their knowledge to use is achieving a massive impact in the community.”

By John Kennedy