Every year the system for servicing financing streams supports the transfer of over PLN 3 million to Polish researchers and entrepreneurs. An interview with Przemysław Zydroń, the Head of the Laboratory of Business Systems, National Information Processing Institute, conducted by Jędrzej Kołtunowicz.
Przemysław Zydroń graduated from the Pedagogical University of Kraków and completed his post-graduate studies in Database Systems at AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków. He is a long-term employee of the National Information Processing Institute. He is the head in the Laboratory of Business Systems, which is responsible for maintenance and development of the system for servicing financing streams (OSF).
He has many years’ experience in conducting information projects for public administration. He also has expertise in commercial projects. He is particularly interested in the software development methodologies certified by Scrum Masters and Scrum Product Owners.
Jędrzej Kołtunowicz: What does the Laboratory of Business Systems do?
Przemysław Zydroń: Compared to other laboratories in the National Information Processing Institute, we are a large entity employing 44 people. But in fact, despite being so large, we have a single task: to maintain and develop the system for servicing financing streams, also known as OSF. Within the OSF system we develop software for three institutions: the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the National Science Centre, and the National Centre for Research and Development.
Such a big team for one project?
As of today, OSF is probably the oldest maintained and developed system in the National Information Processing Institute. Work on the system started in 2005. From the very beginning, the project has been managed by Andrzej Oborzyński.
It’s been 15 years.
Yes. The first code commit took place on 29 June 2005. It was done by Jarosław Protasiewicz, who is now the director of the National Information Processing Institute. He was the very first developer involved in this project.
What is OSF used for?
OSF is a system for facilitating the process of awarding grants by the three institutions we have already mentioned: the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the National Science Centre, and the National Centre for Research and Development. It allows scientists and institutions to apply for subsidies for their research and implementation projects. Users can create an account on the website, select a competition they would like to participate in and submit required documents.
What competitions can be applied for?
It all depends on the institution. The ministry organises competitions for universities or units of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Usually everything revolves around the applications to subsidise such institutions’ investments. That isn’t all though. For example, there is the National Programme for the Development of Humanities, which is designed for scientists specialising in the humanities. We also have the Bonus on the Horizon programme; we manage young scientists’ scholarships which are applied for by outstanding students, doctoral students and academic teachers.
The National Science Centre offers grants solely to projects conducted by specific scientists, e.g. Miniature, which is a competition for early-stage scientists who do not have PhDs yet, but who are, for instance, 5th year students. We also handle large programmes for entire research teams. In that case, the minimum requirement for participants is, for example, 7 years from their doctoral thesis and 5 years’ experience in carrying out projects.
What about the National Centre for Research and Development?
The beneficiaries of the grants awarded by the National Centre for Research and Development include mainly entrepreneurs. While the money in National Science Centre is earmarked strictly for scientific research, i.e. research whose results are not necessarily applied in the industry, the National Centre for Research and Development puts the emphasis on implementation projects. The research must result in a product that is later manufactured by industry.
What is the role of OSF in the process of awarding grants?Is it limited to handling applications?
No, that’s just the beginning. Institutions ask us to prepare and publish their applications on the OSF website. Application forms are very complicated and we have to develop software for them. Everyone who wants to participate in the competition fills in the forms and sends them to the system.
OSF makes it possible for the institution to handle the applications. The applications are first subject to formal evaluation. If any error is found, the system allows the application to be returned to and corrected by the applicant. The next step is substantive evaluation. This is a process that can differ from one case to another.
Sometimes it is limited to one evaluation sheet – a single person has to confirm if the application meets the substantive criteria. Sometimes it is a three-stage evaluation process, each stage involving three to four evaluators. Each evaluation stage is additionally reviewed by the entire team. All that is happening within OSF.
What is next?
The substantive evaluation is followed by decisions. The evaluators decide which applicants will receive funding. Then agreements are concluded. The next step includes reports and settlements. Every year annual reports are submitted and final reports are presented after the projects are finished. All these stages are handled by our system.
That sounds complicated.
Yes. And each of those processes is slightly different. Currently, there are 42 different types of procedure in our system. Over the 15 years of its existence, the system has processed several hundred procedures.
Who is responsible for seamless operation of the system?
Let me start with the analysis and project team, of which I am the leader. In my team there are system analysts and people responsible for creating documentation.
The results of our analyses are transferred to 3 development teams. Each of the 3 institutions we provide services for has its own dedicated team. Software developed by the teams is then made available to the testing team.
We also have an administration unit responsible for the architecture and maintenance of servers, database applications, etc. The unit consists not only of administrators, but also software architects.
We also closely collaborate with the helpdesk team, which provides support to our customers and is managed by the Laboratory for Support and Service of Information Systems. Our system is also integrated with the POL-ON system (Integrated System of Information on Science and Higher Education) managed by the Laboratory of Intelligent Information Systems.
What technologies do you use?
Java. We use Java EE and JavaServerFaces. We utilise the PrimeFaces framework and Oracle databases. We are now planning how to modernise the architecture and technology. We want to shift from the monolith to microservices in order to replace one gigantic application with three or four that may work as independent modules. We are thinking about partially resigning from the relational data structure and moving towards textual solutions based on JSON.
How does your work in the laboratory look?
It is not a typical software house. Our working conditions may not be as congenial as in a big corporation, but the atmosphere is very friendly. Due to the fact that we are mainly focused on programming and that we use pure Java, we value sound expertise in programming. We do not deal too much with configuring. We use the so-called agile methodologies; we work in Agile. We are experienced in pure Scrum, but we do not use it on a daily basis. Our teams are cross-functional, which means that analysts, programmers and testers work together.
What can you learn from working in the Laboratory of Business Systems?
You can learn how to work in an agile team and how to create high-quality code consistent with best practices. We support the self-development of our employees by allowing them to experiment.
Are you looking for staff at the moment?
Certainly. We are looking for good Java developers. We are looking for people who are not lured by the slogan, ‘young dynamic team’, but who value expertise and specific skills. Such people are always welcome here.