Blog Category: Catalyst Connection

Setting a New Standard — the Future of Constituent Experience

Learn how Catalyst, equipped with Salesforce technology, is helping local governments modernize their public services and deliver better experiences for their constituents.

Imagine there are two tasks you need to accomplish in one day, and a good friend offers to take care of whichever you think is harder. The first task is to return a pair of shoes you bought from an online retailer. The second is to notify your local government of a pothole on a major road that has doubled in size in the last two months.

Which task would you give to your friend?

The standard for customer experience has risen rapidly in recent years. Both B2C and B2B customers expect seamless, personalized experiences from businesses that treat them like real people. Notably, digitally-facilitated customer service is increasingly the norm with technology serving us across many – almost every – use case that is modern, connected life. This has contributed to and has driven the high expectations for digital customer experiences. Public sector and local governments aren’t granted exceptions to these customer service expectations and standards. Yet, in many cases, there’s a significant gap between the experiences customers have versus the ones they have as citizens or constituents of their local governments.

At Catalyst, we’re committed to closing that gap.

We are the 3-time winning Salesforce Partner Innovation Award recipient. Of those three awards, two were awarded in the Government & Public Sector category with one in Transportation & Travel. Our implementations for the City of Toronto, Toronto 311 (2022), Port of Seattle (2020), and the City of Chicago, CHI311 (2019) earned this accolade three out of four consecutive years. Each project drove revolutionary transformation in how these organization serve and build trust with their publics. The work in each project impacted numerous departments and touched several technology solutions, with Salesforce serving as a “glue” or common source of truth. In this article we’ve chosen key details that demonstrate and provide models for constituent-centered government technology. Read on for a closer look at how modernizing technology can improve constituent experiences.

Toronto

In the winter of 2020 alone, the 311 (non-emergency) team for the City of Toronto received more than 10,000 phone calls related to winter weather concerns.

Before modernizing their systems with Salesforce, the processes for receiving, tracking, and resolving service request cases like these weather concerns were very manual and disconnected. Lack of integration between their systems and piecemeal workflows for different kinds of service requests made it slow and expensive to resolve cases, with limited ways to collaborate across departments.

We sent our team of government technologists to overhaul the underlying technology with a revamped CRM built on Service Cloud, equipped with a custom-built public-facing mobile app and web portal. Both the app and the web portal make things simple, easy, and clear for Torontonians with a single intake form that dynamically responds to the scope and variety of the public’s needs with nearly 600 different service request offerings. Requesting city services to address potholes, graffiti, or a traffic light malfunction, is unprecedentedly easy with a variety of channels to best appeal to constituents’ preferences for their 311 experiences. Whether it’s via email, social media, the web portal, the mobile app, or with the assistance of Salesforce Live Agent on the web and mobile platforms, there is no wrong door to access Toronto’s government services.

Constituents can now receive convenient email, SMS, and push notifications with real-time updates on their service requests, which improves transparency and trust in the city government’s abilities to serve its stakeholders. With “Explore”

functionality built into the mobile app and the web portal, existing service request cases surrounding a given address are suggested to be viewed when a constituent types in that given location. This enables stakeholders to opt in for updating notifications, even though they may not have been the individual who originally reported the concern.

And with boosted constituent satisfaction and unprecedentedly easy ways to get in touch with local government, Toronto 311 is on track to receive twice as many cases per year — from about two million to 4.6 million.

Port of Seattle

With more than 50 million flyers traveling through SEA-TAC airport every year, it’s easy to imagine how the slightest inefficiencies in digital operations can have an immense impact on constituent experiences. Before working with Catalyst, the Port of Seattle (which oversees the airport and other critical infrastructure) had a disconnected digital ecosystem spread between siloed platforms, which was impeding on their abilities to offer efficient customer service experience. Across the Port’s domains for Airport Customer Experience (ACE), Commission Services (CS), and External Relations (ER), processing and responding to constituents communications was subject to inefficient technical operations.

Our Catalyst team unified all of the Port’s disconnected systems under the Salesforce Customer-360 umbrella, bringing communications, marketing, event management, and other functions together into a centralized platform. This enables constituents with the ability to contact ACE with questions, complaints, concerns, compliments, and comments about their experience at SEA-TAC through social media, email, text (SMS/MMS), and web form. AI-powered tagging features categorize constituents’ communications, which allows the organization to automatically vet, triage, and assign cases for the fastest follow-up and resolve. With decreased resolution times for airport travelers by more than 16%, constituents get faster, clearer communication.

With our implementation, the airport is also equipped to send SMS alerts to notify travelers of happenings within the airport. Constituents are immediately in-the-know with real-time updates on everything from construction update to airport concessions.

Travelers are also now empowered with self-service options in a mobile-responsive web form, hosted on SEA-TAC’s website, where inquiries are met with informational knowledge articles. This cuts the volume of instances in which an individual would have to contact airport departments.

And the momentum continues, as we’ve just started an additional project with the Port of Seattle to enhance their call center operations!

Chicago

It’s easy to forget that the original digital transformation movement started by turning analog, paper-based systems into digital processes. Before partnering with our Catalyst team, if Chicagoans reached out to the 311 department about a pothole, snow removal, graffiti blasts, streetlight repair, or other non-emergency requests, the 311 employee had to search through physical binders with hundreds of pages to find the information they needed. Callers often had extensive waits on hold, even for simple, purely informational requests like an updated ETA for fixing their pothole.

With a vision for transparency, efficiency, and constituent satisfaction, the City of Chicago partnered with us to usher their 311 department into the 21st century with the build of a public-facing web portal, a best-in-class, modern website, and their first-ever public-facing app. Fitting of modernized government service delivery, Chicagoans can self-serve and access city information, as well as request services via multiple channels outside of calling 311.

Now, a comprehensive — yet concise — digital library of over 500 knowledge articles on the website and mobile app provide constituents the information they need to answer their own questions. In situations requiring service request, individuals can remain updated from submission to completion with real-time updates presented in the portal, as well as via push notifications from the mobile app.

With “Explore” capabilities enabling visibility on Chicago’s processing of requests in any given neighborhood, constituents are granted transparency and the means for accountability of their city. This improves trust and rapport between the public and the government entities that serve them through a constituent-first lens. Through

efficient technology, the City of Chicago is now providing greater transparency, faster services, and improved communication with its residents.

In pursuit of better government services

The future of constituent experiences will be shaped by forward-thinking, innovative leaders who prioritize seamless technology operations and a constituent-first approach. Our team of government technologists here at Catalyst are up for the challenge, and as a minority-owned business, we take the responsibility of building technology that works for EVERYONE very seriously.

Our implementations with the City of Toronto, Seattle, and Chicago demonstrate what the future of connected government and public sector organizations can and will offer to their constituents with investment in world-class technology – improved efficiency, no-wrong-door approach with multiple communication and engagement channels, enriched trust, transparency, and equity.

If you’d like to learn more about our public sector technology capabilities, or have any questions for our team, please reach out — we’d love to hear from you.

The Southwest Airlines Meltdown –The Government Technologist’s Perspective On Continual Investment and Attention to an Organization’s Technology Infrastructure

Mistakes cost us money.

It can be argued that a lot of mistakes we make are preventable with proper planning. Perhaps, we speed because we are running late; we forget to cancel the subscription because we don’t set a reminder; we don’t plan a recipe to use the fresh produce. Locking your keys in the car? Well, maybe that one needs a bit more consideration.

Imagine you fail to plan, fail to realize the gravity of a potential mistake, overlook a paramount investment, and it costs you an estimated $825 million. This is what Southwest Airlines is facing in the falling out of their mass holiday flight cancellations. It is being coined a meltdown and a crisis, specifically one of outdated technology, by major media outlets including the New York Times, NBCNews, Dallas News, and many more.

Customer Service Origins and the December 2022 Southwest Crisis

One of the most beloved brands, birthed in Dallas, TX in 1971, Southwest Airlines revolutionized the accessibility of flying with its affordable price point. It’s “Servant’s Heart”, recognizable heart logo and its “LUV” ticker symbol on the stock exchange are symbols of a high regard for customer service and experience. Their employee-first commitment is what they credit for their Southwest difference. It is important to note that SW operates on a point-to-point model, where flights are direct and avoid connection service through the central hub cities airports. This contributes greatly to its appeal of frequent and low-fare trips. However, simultaneously, this plays into the complexity of their scheduling and routing, as well as to their crew staffing. With winter storm Elliott, at the peak holiday travel season in late December, 2022, Southwest was forced to cancel 16,000 flights, drastically outnumbering cancellations from other major airlines. Was Elliott to blame? Not quite.

It has been reported that their internally built and maintained, airline optimization software, SkySolver, is greatly outdated with no front-end technology to input a flight crew’s status to aid in the assigning and crew scheduling. This system depends on a mathematical formula for the computation of the number of routes needed to cover a given number of destinations. So, the perfect storm scattered Southwest crews and pilots across the country, and their only means to report their whereabouts to support the possibility of rescheduled flights? Sit on hold on the crew scheduling phone line, for several hours or more. Imagine the difference digital scheduling options with automation could have made.

Speaking with Catalyst’s Aviation Experts, Mohammed Khan

This fiasco led to reflection and conversation with Mohammed Khan, “Mo”, Managing Director, who oversees all our work with the Chicago Department of Aviation. We discussed the importance of operational technology for large organizations, especially for that of a highly logistical-dependent industry like aviation. This also sparked consideration of in-house solutions, the importance of technology leadership, and how technology infrastructure is a forward investment supporting an employee-first culture.

You might have the software, but you have to think about risk assessment to see: What is the risk?

Mo provided,

“In leveraging the latest and greatest technology, make sure that you have high availability of any infrastructure in redundancy and also contingency. If something happens, how would you move forward? Even with the automation process, what would be the next step?”

“You might have the software, but you have to think about risk assessment to see: What is the risk? What are the risk factors if something happens? Then, what can be done? I think preparing your business with redundancy, risk assessment, and contingency will be helpful to eliminate these types of issues.”

The in-house, homegrown applications are very specific and very directive to the business requirements and might not give the luxury of making modifications on the fly.

As Mo mentioned, embracing the latest-and-greatest alone isn’t enough. Risk assessment is paramount. The media has dated Southwest’s SkySolver, scheduling and routing software, back to the 90’s. Not exactly the latest and greatest, the system was neglected.

“If the application is homegrown or house-built, then there has to be constant changes made to it. There are so many changes that you need to adapt and make happen, so you need to have a continuous process to improve that. The in-house, homegrown applications are very specific and very directive to the business requirements and might not give the luxury of making modifications on the fly.” Mo remarked. Leading up to this holiday cancellation crisis, there were warnings from pilots and crew employees, as well as warnings in previous cancellation episodes. In a public filing published by Southwest in 2022, they addressed their technology initiatives and noted a significant number of technology projects were deferred during the pandemic. Employee-first companies cultivate healthy tech ecosystems, and that is something that SW seemingly recognizes and has marketed.

“The Company continues to focus of the prioritization and execution of its technology investments and is in the process of continually executing an evolving multi-year plan for technology, with the goal of developing a stronger, more adaptable, and more efficient and reliable technology foundation to support the Company’s strategic priorities,” the filing read.

Southwest did undertake technology transformation in a few areas in the last two years, including consolidating all of its aircraft into a single system for aircraft maintenance and record-keeping, implementing Salesforce’s Service Cloud for human resource technology and customer service capacities. These technology efforts and successes are deserving to be recognized for ensuing digital transformation. Unfortunately, the neglect of major operational technology ensued a crisis. Smaller enhancement projects, like that of the Service Cloud implementation, get overshined when there’s such outdated technology enterprise-wide. A holistic approach and commitment to digital transformation on all needed fronts is a survival guide for organizations with stakes as high as a crisis to this magnitude.

Parallel Paths within Catalyst

Anthony Lungaro, Ola Chmiel, and Jim Lizzio – all were once Catalyst Interns. Their transitions from interns to full-time team members granted them common ground and invited conversation for a reflection on personal and career growth and company culture, as well as a look into the future.

Some More Recent than Others

Drawing on a diverse mix of experiences and expertise, these 3 once-interns represent several realms of the Catalyst business. Anthony is 4 years removed from his internship experience, acting as a Salesforce Solution Architect. Also working on the Salesforce side of the Catalyst business, Ola is a Salesforce Business Analyst and is approaching her 1-year anniversary with Catalyst. Meanwhile, Jim spent 3 summers interning and has recently accepted his full-time position as a Software Engineer on the Custom Development Team.

An Integral Introduction

We’ve heard it before – internships are to serve as an informing introduction to the workplace with hands-on, mentored industry experience for students and recent grads who seek exposure outside of the classroom. However, fetching coffee seems to be the image that comes to mind regarding “the intern.” The internship experience at Catalyst is far from days spent fetching coffee and the boss’s dry cleaning.

Anthony recalled having learned most from the variety and diversity of skillsets on the teams he was surrounded by and interacted with in the office.

Being in meetings with a bunch of different people with different experience levels and skill sets helped mold me into a more well-rounded business person.

He explained that this experience has followed him throughout his tenure with Catalyst and is reflective of the benefits of a smaller sized company.

During her internship, Ola was part of our Toronto 311 project, “Toronto At Your Service”, which won the 2022 Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector category. She said joining the efforts on the Toronto project was a “full steam ahead” approach. She returned to school before the project concluded, but she remembers following the outcomes and reflecting on her own contributions.

“Getting to go on their website and seeing our system there was really cool…thinking, I actually tested this, that was awesome!”

Providing the experience that complemented his studies, the internship experience offered Jim real-industry context to the material he was taught in class.

A lot of the topics that we were talking about in class were things that I had either touched or actually interacted with on some projects, which was really cool to see.

The Catalyst Difference

In their decisions to stay with Catalyst, all considered the company culture. Albeit operating in a remote setting, Catalyst offers the opportunity for workplace relationships and growth in its small size. Each former intern noted how they were well supported in their work.

Jim remembers a time that he needed a helping hand on a project’s task, and without a second thought he was met with help from another team member. He says the positive attitudes of everyone he encounters is one of the things he likes most about Catalyst. “Everyone is willing to help, and I absolutely love that. It’s a very nice culture.”

“You can actually establish better relationships rather than just being an employee ID number in the system,” Anthony said in contrast to large firms. He feels that the culture also allows for employees to exercise agency and growth. “You know, if you want to try something else, Catalyst is pretty open to letting you try something new, a different workstream, a different type of project. It’s not a big ask to access different sorts of experiences.”

Ola feels that her experience as an intern allowed her to learn and that the trajectory of her personal and career growth has only shot higher since.

“My first project being a full-time employee at Catalyst was for Chicago Public Schools project, so that was really cool for me, being from the Chicago suburbs and currently living in Chicago.”

She recalled that she had no experience with Salesforce when she first got the internship, but now she is seeing projects through from beginning to the end, the whole progression from a blank Salesforce canvas to a finished solution.

Looking Forward to their Futures

As we are approaching the end of the 2022 year, we asked Anthony, Ola, and Jim to reflect on their goals for the future. They all agreed on, “Growth!”

At Catalyst, we create impactful solutions that the community calls trailblazing, solutions that make a difference for our clients who serve everyday people. With teammates like Anthony, Ola and Jim, we are excited our upcoming year and for their futures with us, as well as the possibilities for future interns!

In Celebration of Black History Month

In honor of National Black History Month this February, we sat down with longtime friend of Catalyst, Ellen Turner, Founder, President and CEO of the William Everett Group (TWEG) with over 20 years’ experience in IT and the public sector. TWEG is a Black-owned, women-owned consulting firm based in Chicago and has been a close collaborator of Catalyst for several years.

Conversations like these help us gain perspective on the challenges, advantages, and importance of minority-owned businesses working in the government technology space.

Here’s what Ellen remarked in our interview.

What path led you to founding TWEG?

After spending many years working and starting other firms, I decided that I wanted to create a women and Black-owned management and technology firm. Over the years, it was clear to me that there was a market for such a firm. I had worked hard to ensure the success of others and thought perhaps I could do this for myself.

I also had some very specific goals and purposes for my firm: I wanted to focus on offering careers in consulting to folks in brown and Black communities. In all my years working with and for consulting firms, I still believed there were not enough opportunities being afforded to people in those communities.

I also wanted to engage in work that fulfilled my need to be in the public sector and a quasi-public servant, as well as working on projects that helped improve the lives of people in our communities.

It was wonderful to find a group of highly qualified team members that shared my aspirations.

When your team is working with a public sector client, how do you keep accessibility and inclusion front of mind? How do you make sure your solutions work for all constituents?

The beauty of having a diverse consulting firm is that we don’t have to work hard to achieve this goal. We think very strategically and intently about where and who we place on our consulting engagements. Sometimes it can be intentionally in an environment that isn’t particularly diverse. We believe that most people are caring and appreciate the opportunity to learn and engage with others and to understand the experiences of people who may have different life experiences.

We find that this helps everyone grow and become better leaders and colleagues.

What public figure, living or deceased, do you look up to most and why?

Of course, the main person was my grandfather, William Everett Rozelle. He was most admired for his love for his family, his dedication to our community, and his influence on my dreams. The person I also admired the most is President Barack Obama. His presidency, which I thought I’d never live to see, gave me so much hope for my children and grandchildren. My grandchildren grew up only knowing at first that there was a Black president, and it seemed very normal to them. I was elated and so encouraged for the future.

In your opinion, what unique perspective do minority-owned businesses bring when deploying public sector technology?

Most minority-owned firms have worked extremely hard to start and maintain a business. They have had to make investments of their hard-earned dollars and have such a deep desire to showcase the fact that we perform as well as Tier One firms (sometimes because our teams come from those firms).

We don’t take the opportunities that we win, whether as a prime or subcontractor, for granted and we truly have the desire to succeed. When we do, our clients also win.

We have a deep understanding of their challenges and look at them as partners that we advise in a way that will help them shine. We genuinely care and want to prove that they can get great value and performance from our companies.

What advice and/or resources would you recommend for underrepresented youth who are looking to work in the government technology space?

Part of our company’s corporate giving and culture is preparing the next generation of youth in at-risk communities for working in consulting and particularly government technology. We connect with students from the Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges, Chicago State, and the Austin community to offer them an opportunity to shadow our teams. They learn the discipline of working on projects that require a great deal of listening, patience, and high standards. We showcase the projects we have worked on that relate to their lives directly, so they understand how this work improves the lives of others and those that live right in their homes and neighborhoods. It is extremely rewarding.

As technologists in the public sector, we must always strive for inclusivity, accessibility, and transparency in our solutions, which includes learning more about underrepresented communities and constituents alike. Thank you, Ellen, for taking the time to chat!

This blog is a continuation of our reflections on the importance of minority-owned businesses in the government technology industry. Check out our celebration of Asian American History Month from May 2021 here.

Request, Respond, Report: How Chicago’s 311 Uses Salesforce Reporting

In December of 2018 our firm, in collaboration with Chicago’s 311 and Department of Innovation and Technology, launched the City’s modernized 311 system CHI311. We’ve talked a lot about how this modernization improved the system overall and brought a multitude of new functions to the residents of Chicago. But how has this new system benefited the city departments that rely on it day in and day out?

Since the launch of CHI311 the overall closure rate service requests has increased from 82% to 94% 1. Overall system improvement has a lot to do with that, but transitioning from a mostly manual, paper-based process to a fully digital system has had long-reaching benefits. We can talk specifics when we look at the Department of Streets and Sanitation. In the old system, scheduling the removal of graffiti took 45 minutes to an hour. With CHI311, it takes just 10 minutes.

It’s clear that moving to the cloud-based Salesforce has improved efficiency, but it’s also given departments more access and control over their data than before. As a user-friendly, accessible and intuitive platform, city users can use Salesforce to easily create, manage and view the reports they need to serve Chicago residents better.

Let’s take a look at how Salesforce reporting has benefitted departments city-wide.


Dashboards
CHI311 hosts a wealth of data that informs important metrics: total open requests, total requests closed yesterday, number of requests coming in from the portal vs. call, etc. The data points are endless. When a user logs into the Salesforce-based system, the first thing they see is their “dashboard” which provides an at-a-glance look at metrics. Users can also subscribe to their dashboard and have it sent to their email on a set frequency, so they can receive data straight to their inbox.

Reports are not a ‘one size fits all.’ Metrics that are important to the Department of Water Management, may not be as helpful to the Department of Transportation. Since Salesforce dashboards can be configured based on the needs of the department, division and even the individual user, we can ensure that each city user has access to the metrics they need to keep tabs on their work and make changes when needed.

Chicago’s 311 Uses Salesforce Reporting


Send Reports
Sending reports on a set frequency ensures department leads always have access to the metrics they need, when they need them. Many city users receive their reports first thing in the morning so they have all the metrics they need to manage and inform their crews for the day. Reports, usually sent daily or weekly, often include metrics such as ‘# of requests opened yesterday’, ‘# of requests completed yesterday’, and ‘# of requests with missed milestones’ to help departments track their closure rates.

This is an improvement from the legacy system, where users were required to log into a separate reporting system to set and view their reports. With all of the reports directly in Salesforce, users can remain in one system as opposed to logging in elsewhere to access what they need. Reports in Salesforce means users can click on a Request Number and navigate straight to that record for further information.


Report Builder
To create and manipulate reports in the legacy system, the user needed to, at the very least, know SQL. This hindered everyday users and required reliance on a small number of users to create reports and manipulate the data. One of the biggest draws to Salesforce is the fact that it’s user-friendly and can be easily adopted by those who are non-technical. With the proper permissions, users within CHI311 can leverage the drag and drop features in Salesforce’s Report Builder to create unique reports that satisfy their individual needs. With the ability to create unique reports, city end-users can view the metrics they need on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis and adjust their operations as needed.

Chicago’s 311 Dashboard

With easier access to system data and an increased ability to create reports, more system users than before can make informed decisions that benefit city department and the city residents they serve. Have you used Salesforce Reporting before? If not, we invite you to join the Ohana, and check it out for yourself!