From Research4Life user to co-Chair of Research4Life Technology team
Lega Martin is a Library and Information Specialist at WHO and works as Systems Administrator. He oversees technology systems and services of the Research4Life Partnership and World Health Organization (WHO) Library – working closely with technology partners and the WHO Information Management and Technology (IMT) department.
He serves as the co-Chair of Research4Life’s Technology team, which manages the evolution and ensures the longevity of core Research4Life systems.
Why are we fundraising for Research4Life?
While we have accomplished a tremendous amount through volunteer efforts and in-kind contributions, scaling-up remains challenging.
Can you talk about what Research4Life’s technology infrastructure looks like?
There are different systems in place that need to be supported, and they have evolved with Research4Life. The tool users interact with directly is the Content Portal, but behind there are many others!
A transformative one has been the adoption of a reliable authentication solution using the Total Access Control, which ensures that eligible users can gain the right access to the content. And that is our major responsibility, because we do that on behalf of publishers partners.
We have very complex and robust firewalls and IP systems: they make sure that both federated and proxy authentication provide a good user experience and seamless access to resources. And then there are different supporting technologies – like the Customer Relations Management that Research4life staff use to process and manage registered institutions, and a custom Help Desk application to provide user support.
Given the limited IT budget, some new user needs have not been met timely enough: this is a key area we’ll prioritize as we build technology infrastructure to support Research4Life’s strategic objectives to 2030.
How do you work with Research4Life technology partners?
Research4life Technology partners like Portsys, Ingenta, Proge and Aptivate among others play a key role in the delivery of our Information Technology Services. We engage them in the design, development, deployment and continual improvement of our services. Some of them also offer support services and we can escalate incidents or make service requests. But there are a few systems where we don’t have any technical support, except for our volunteers, and we had to learn quite a lot to be able to help our users!
We also get a lot of assistance from WHO IMT, where most of our systems are hosted. We also use WHO internet bandwidth, where most of our traffic is proxied through, and this is donated in-kind by WHO – which is huge for us as we operate with a very small budget.
Can you tell me something about one project that you’re very proud of?
When I joined in 2019, IT costs were huge, and it was clear that I had to do something to reduce them: I was able to bring them down by almost two thirds. I’m also working on automating processes, so that we we don’t spend unnecessary time and resources. That way we can reduce the technology costs even more, and hopefully have resources to address areas of stability, risk management, disaster recovery and operational efficiency that have not been given as much attention.
The first months of the Covid pandemic must have been intense. How did your team support users?
When Covid hit, many started working from home. Access was difficult for most who usually use a password or IP recognition functionality to login, which only works when they’re on campus. But from their homes, they needed to use proxies or VPN. So we made extensions to our authentication system and implemented Persistent Login”, a solution which helps recognize users for a longer period.
The authentication question is key to achieve a good user experience. Many students, once they’ve logged into their university environment, want those credentials to carry over to Research4Life. It’s something we are starting to work with the UbuntuNet Alliance on a pilot project.
The challenge of last mile connection remains another barrier to access, many eligible users do not have internet or power. We hope to have the opportunity to work with partners to address some of these barriers to access, services we do not have the capacity to provide ourselves. A lot has already been done, so we’re hopeful that with the right partners, we can improve even more.
What makes you excited about Research4Life?
I used to be a user myself! I knew about Research4Life at Makerere University, where I did my bachelors in library and information science. Research4Life: that was the place where we would go to get reference resources, books and journals catalogues. And then I worked in a University Library supporting users: and I could attest firsthand to the value of Research4Life for institutions working with small budgets, that have all these resources they couldn’t otherwise afford. Afterwards I joined the UN Peace Keeping Mission in South Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supporting information management services. And then I applied to the WHO Library in Geneva in January 2019, where I am now.
What excites me is the opportunity to serve a wide range of users, contributing and adding value to the overall delivery of Research4life’s mission to the user community. This could be through addressing a user request, resolving an incident, or proactively improving systems to meeting changing user needs among others. For me, the overall goal is to achieve a balance between ensuring our platforms are relevant for users, and that staff have the necessary tools to accomplish their tasks and responsibilities.
And how about your life outside Research4Life?
I like comedy, especially when it relates to funny situations from where I grew up, or when it’s educative and passes messages in a very entertaining way. I watch Comedy Shows like the Fun Factory, Comedy store and Church Hill among others. One of my favorite comedians is Uncle Mo, and I also love Trevor Noah – you can find them both on YouTube.