iCentres network Project (iCentres)

Published on: 13/02/2008
The iCentres project has established a constantly developing network of telecentre facilities in local communities in Bulgaria. Currently, the number of telecenters under this project totals 103. A special so-called telecenter Location Eligibility Calculator has been developed to evaluate the viability of locations for telecenters. It was later used to develop set of metrics to monitor the progress of each individual telecenter as part of a maturity level system of the project. The telecentres network possesses a developed Technology Base, allowing provision of services in every spot of the network. It includes broadband connectivity, modern computer and multimedia equipment in every telecentre, a sophisticated server system, a real-time communication system, as well as a specifically designed mobile telecentre, fully equipped with state-of-the art technology. The telecentres represent a fully operational access point – a link between content providers and their clients in any telecentre location. An iCentres’ E-Learning System has been developed in order to introduce continuous and distance learning and handle the growing training needs. As a result of a successful partnership with Microsoft including financial and technical support, the project technical team has designed, implemented and tested e-Learning technology, allowing for simultaneous training of thousands of trainees and access from every telecentre. Moreover, the iCentres project has developed a team of instructors, including units of professional cadres in all telecentre regions.

Policy Context

The iCentres Project is a national project established in answer to the Lisbon Strategy and the i2010 Strategic Framework on European level for bridging the digital divide and establishment of Information Society in Bulgaria.

Description of target users and groups

Within this project, we believe that every citizen has a constitutional right of access to information and education regardless of gender, wealth, race, age, or physical disadvantages. We cover virtually every citizen: 1. Age user groups comprising kids (including orphans), young people, adults and seniors. 2. Minority user groups including ethnic minority (persons of Roma, Turkish, etc. origin) and disadvantaged (including physically disabled) groups. 3. Activity user groups comprising students, unemployed, employed persons and administrative employees. Since June 2004, the iCentres have served over 1,2 million visitors: for comparison, the Bulgarian population amounts to approx. 7 680 000 Bulgarian citizens.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The tecentres project has a significant effort in developing a comprehensive package of services, customized to the needs of citizens and business at the local level and having different impacts on the development of local communities. These impacts can be classified as social impacts, aiming to contribute to achieving higher living standards through education, motivation, integration and professional realization of citizens, and business impacts, contributing to the economic and cultural development of local communities. The technologic solutions purchased under the project are adequate to run the latest operating systems and applications. For practical and financial feasibility purposes, the equipment is not the cheapest, nor the most expensive one – a good long-term investment. Having the iCentres Association as a legal tool for applying different business model scenarios, the iCentres network can work more progressively and actively on the establishment of CADN practices. Furthermore, the Project Telecentres has a more flexible framework as the option of micro-grants is available. Within the Project Management Unit, project and business subunit has been established in order to popularize the iCentres network in front of potential donors such as different EU run projects; state institutions, non-profit sector.

Technology solution

A typical telecenter is equipped with 10 computers, multifunctional laser printer with copy and scan capabilities, color jet printer and multimedia presentation devices. 7 or 8 of those computers have hardware with a performance of a standard office configuration - Intel Celeron CPU at 2 GHz, 512 MB of RAM, 60 GB hard drive, 17” CRT or TFT monitor. The other 2 or 3 computers have multimedia oriented hardware – Intel Pentium CPU at 3 GHz, 1024 MB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, separate video processor, 17” or 19” TFT monitor. A surround sound system and multimedia projector deliver high level presentation capabilities of the center as well as headphones with microphones and web video cameras installed on every computer. All computers are connected within a local area network through a fast ethernet switch sharing printers and local file resources. Every telecenter has a broadband Internet connection through ADSL modem, cable modem, Ethernet cable or satellite modem. Outbound connection speeds of the telecenters vary from 300 kilobits up to 4 Megabits per second. Technology choice: Standards-based technology

Main results, benefits and impacts

Our impact to date can be measured by the following statistics: - 47,000 civil servants trained in Core ICT Skills for 2006 and 2007 – this is more than 35 % of all Bulgarian administrative employees, or 60 % of all who have access at work to PC. - 1,634 unemployed persons trained in Basic ICT Skills. 563 persons have signed labour contracts. - 480 unemployed teachers trained in Core ICT Skills, English Language and Business Decision Making – representing almost 10 % of the unemployed teachers in Bulgaria. All 480 have found new jobs. - 498 persons with disabilities trained in Basic ICT Skills which equals to approximately 7,5 % of the disabled persons in Bulgaria. 150 of the trainees were further trained in Web Design and upon course completion all 93 immediately found jobs with leading Bulgarian ICT companies. 269 of them have already found better jobs. - 600 persons of Roma origin trained in ICT Skills thus enhancing their employment and social integration, 112 of which are already working. - 277 seniors (aged 55+) trained in MS UP ICT Skills in small-sized and remote locations in Bulgaria. - 198 orphans from various Homes for Children Deprived of Family Care trained in Basic ICT Skills courses. 45 of the children have found jobs upon leaving their recipient institution after turning 18 years of age.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

We shared our case with 3 other projects in Bulgaria with similar goals and objectives - "Job Opportunities through Business Support" (26 centres with computers offering services and ICT training), "Chitalishta" (20 individual Internet clubs in community centres), and "PC3" (10 local public computer and communications centres). The iCentres Project cooperates with them for contributing to the establishment of knowledge-based economy in Bulgaria while at the same time trying to avoid competition and exploring every chance for joint projects. We have so far involved them successfully in the process of training the Bulgarian administrative employess by using their computer halls for the trainings.

Lessons learnt

Lesson 1 - Initially, the iCentres Project began offering basic ICT services such as access to computers and Internet, and to telefax. For many of these small and remote communities the local iCentre was the only provider of such services, as such clearly helping the local progress there. With the business development in the small communities, the project diversified its set of services to include new office ones such as text processing and design, printing, copying, scanning. Development of the Information Society required yet further diversification to offer next generation services including training and e-Government services. The Bulgarian telecentres now offer various courses depending on the specific needs of the local community but mainly ICT Skills and language courses – which have developed from face-to-face to include now on-line and distant learning courses, too. Lesson 2 - Initially, the project was primarily relying on government funding. In the beginning of 2004, the iCentres Project received funding amounting up to 4 million USD. With the maturing of the network and the establishment of the iCentres Association, the project developed partnerships (with the Bulgarian Government and ICT leading companies) resulting in diversified self-funding activities. Additional budgets amounting to more than 3 million USD were attracted for implementation of other projects within the iCentres network adding to the self-sustainability of the network. Lesson 3 - We have established contacts with three other projects with similar goals and objectives – namely “Job Opportunities through Business Support” (26 centers with computers offering services and ICT training), “Chitalishta” (20 individual Internet clubs in community centers), and “PC3” (10 local public computer and communications centers). The iCentres Project cooperates with them for contributing to the establishment of knowledge-based economy in Bulgaria while at the same time trying to avoid competition and exploring every chance for joint projects. Scope: National