Ottawa IT firm assists Kosovo in rebuilding effort

OTTAWA — When the war-torn nation of Kosovo began rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, it has taken a Canadian software company to help rebuild the economy.

Ottawa-based FreeBalance creates software that assists governments

in the management of their budgets, particularly the handling of money flowed from donor nations that flows following a period of strife. In many cases, the projects are funded by aid agencies such as the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA), World Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The FreeBalance project management team has implemented an IT system for the central treasury in Kosovo, and is now looking to roll it out to municipalities.

“”Kosovo was in need of help and Canada was in a position to offer it. Not only through active military presence, because stopping the fighting isn’t the start of recovery,”” said Bruce Lazenby, CEO of FreeBalance.

The $3.6 million dollar project for the Central Fiscal Authority in Kosovo was funded in part by SIDA and with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through CIDA.

Among the many challenges, FreeBalance faced political instability, cultural differences, language and ethnic barriers. As Major-General Michel Maisonneuve describes it, Kosovo is a place “”where the police drive the getaway car, where governance of all kinds exist and no one is elected.

“”The problems in Kosovo included tension based on ethnicity, security on the ground and infrastructure destruction,”” he said.

FreeBalance had to deal with a lack of technical infrastructure from the beginning. Power was often on for three hours, then off again for three hours and Internet downtime was also a problem.

In many instances, FreeBalance will pre-configure a system in Canada before heading to the customer country where technical problems can slow a project’s progress. To date, FreeBalance has introduced public sector treasury, financial and material management systems in Kosovo.

While FreeBalance is small in comparison to software giants such as SAP, Lazenby says often providing the ability to start small and scale gradually is what countries such as Kosovo need.

“”What we build is uniquely for government. SAP can’t but on a laptop what we did,”” he said. “”We produced the first financial statement for Kosovo on a laptop because that’s all there was,”” said Lazenby.

“”When you walk down the streets of Pristina, you don’t have EDS on one side and IBM on the other,”” saying certain high-tech skills are in short supply. “”Many of the talented people left when the shooting started.””

The FreeBalance project management team has implemented the system for the central treasury in Kosovo, and is now looking to roll it out to municipalities.

FreeBalance claims 100 installations worldwide and has also been involved in a project to provide financial management software in East Timor, funded by the United Nations. The project was up and running in 60 days.

FreeBalance discusses its next international project in the November issue of Technology in Government.

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