Improvements to vTools Make Volunteers’ Tasks Even Easier

Two recommendations from Sections Congress 2014 to improve the suite of programs see progress

8 October 2015

Two of the top five recommendations for improving IEEE operations suggested at the IEEE Sections Congress held in Amsterdam in August 2014 have made significant headway. Both have to do with improvements to IEEE’s volunteer tools (better known as vTools), some of which were developed more than 15 years ago.

The IEEE vTools are a suite of software programs that help geographic unit leaders do such things as keep track of meetings, host websites, hold officer elections, implement Web conferencing, and conduct surveys. Some were developed by IEEE, while others were off-the-shelf.

VTool users at the 2014 congress felt the tools needed updating—that they had not kept up with volunteers’ changing needs in look, feel, or functionality. And, new volunteers were often unaware of the toolkit or had not been trained to use it.

One recommendation at the congress asked for a tool that would help broadcast meetings over the Internet, as well as promote, record, and keep track of the meetings. The second asked that all six of the IEEE-developed vTools be made easier to use and that the current training program be improved.

TASK FORCE

IEEE’s Member and Geographic Activities Board (MGAB) is responsible for addressing the recommendations made at sections congresses. It assigned these two recommendations to the MGA Information Technology and Coordination Oversight Committee (ITCO), chaired by Francisco Martinez, a senior member from the IEEE Guadalajara Section, in Mexico. Martinez formed a task force to deal with the broadcast and tracking of events. After surveying the needs of all 10 IEEE regions the task force decided that a one-size-fits-all tool for all operating units was not the answer. Instead, it’s investigating many options.

“We want local sections to pick the tool best suited for their unique needs and geographic location,” says Martinez. “With the right tools at their disposal they’ll be able to offer access to technical events to a much wider audience.”

Accordingly, the task force is evaluating several Web conferencing programs already used around IEEE, such as Google Hangouts and WebEx. It is also reviewing various open-source programs that record audio, video, and slide show presentations without an Internet connection. And the task force will determine if any regions have limitations set by their Internet access, bandwidth, or geography.

The task force is also considering how to make recorded events available to members, as well as how best to organize multiple events for easy access, according to Vera Sharoff. Sharoff is director of MGA’s information management group, which is charged with implementing new vTool programs.

“The idea would be to develop a database of meeting recordings searchable by, for example, subject, title, date, and speaker,” she explains.

The task force expects to have its work on this recommendation completed in this quarter.

A BETTER USER EXPERIENCE

Two other teams were also formed, chaired by Senior Member Wole Akpose. These teams include volunteers experienced in using the tools who will try to make vTools easier to use and strengthen the training and awareness program for them.

Making the tools more user-friendly is being considered on many fronts. For example, volunteers must often complete different forms. To that end, the redesign team is reviewing every field on every form to make sure that the names of the fields are understandable to volunteers from any country, that instructions are clear, that the process is intuitive, and that the user experience is appealing.

The redesign team is also giving the vTools website a makeover. While the underlying systems that run the applications are constantly upgraded, the user-interface screens have not been changed in a number of years.

Better integration of the programs is also being addressed. For example, vTools Meetings relies on three different programs for holding a meeting: one to schedule, another to announce the meeting, and a third to report to IEEE that the meeting was held. Details such as a meeting’s time, date, and location must be entered separately in all three. The goal is for that information to be entered only once.

“We’re not only looking at usability and user-friendliness but also at getting the tools to talk to each other,” Sharoff says.

Many improvements are expected to be released by year’s end. Work on other aspects of vTools will be completed in phases. “The plan is to go tool by tool, redesign each one, make them all more user-friendly, integrate where possible, and provide documentation and training,” she adds.

TRAINING AND AWARENESS

Although training materials such as videos, tutorials, and FAQs already exist, they are being reviewed and updated by the training team. How-to infographics and YouTube videos are being developed.

A tutorial on how to schedule a meeting using vTools.

Training sessions are already being given during the monthly IEEE Membership Development webcast. During this webcast section and society membership-development volunteers from around the world review their member statistics, discuss which recruiting methods are working, and go over plans to boost member participation in the month to follow. The MGA news page, which is updated monthly and distributed to section, area, and council chairs and treasurers, now includes a regular column describing vTool features.

“By the end of the year, the vTools application for sending meeting announcements will be self-service, eliminating staff intervention and delays in distribution,” adds Sharoff. “And by early 2016, vTools Meetings will have a whole new look and feel.”

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