Blog Category: Press

Catalyst Consulting Group Wins 2023 Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for Education

The Catalyst team is honored to announce we have been awarded this year’s Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for the “Education (Consulting)” category. Our team is being recognized for its research-driven implementation of Salesforce Marketing Cloud for the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). The award will be presented at Dreamforce in San Francisco, California on September 11, 2023.

This marks Catalyst’s fourth Partner Innovation Award win, previously taking home honors in the Public Sector category in 2019 and 2022, and Transportation in 2020.

This award-winning engagement exemplifies Catalyst and Salesforce’s shared commitment to driving innovation in education. Focused on Arkansas’ statewide Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (R.I.S.E.) campaign, Catalyst leveraged Marketing Cloud to deploy customized emails and text messages to nearly 170,000 Arkansas families. This mass outreach aimed to direct parents and caregivers to the R.I.S.E. website for early literacy resources.

In partnership with the ADE and academic researchers, Catalyst systematically tested how different communication strategies influenced family engagement with the R.I.S.E. website. Key findings showed adding text messaging, beyond just email outreach, increased click rates to the website by over 6 percentage points. The research also revealed gaps in digital access correlated to economic disadvantages, underscoring the importance of accessible means of communication, like texting.

“Government technology takes many shape, and our various Partner Innovation Award wins over the years reflect such possibilities.” said Arvin Talwar, Founder and CEO of Catalyst. “It’s an honor to contribute to an initiative centered around something as critical as early literacy and sparking a love for reading.”

We thank the ADE for the opportunity to work together, and we send our gratitude to Salesforce for the recognition. This win speaks to the nimbleness and innovation we as a small business bring to the Salesforce Partner ecosystem!

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.

Catalyst Is a Three-Time Salesforce Partner Innovation Award Winner

Catalyst Consulting, a proud Salesforce Partner, has been awarded this year’s Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector category. The team has been recognized for the implementation of the City of Toronto’s non-emergency service center, “Toronto At Your Service,” built on Salesforce. The award will be presented at Dreamforce on September 19-21, 2022, in San Francisco, California.

The Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector recognizes Catalyst and the City’s innovative use of the Salesforce Ecosystem and dedication to enhancing the constituent service experience.

As part of this “Toronto At Your Service” modernization, constituents can now access Toronto 311’s nearly 600 service offerings through various convenient channels online. The deployment of Salesforce’s Social Studio tool will also enable the City to meet constituents where they are at – on Twitter – and enhance its ability to deliver customer service via social channels. As a result of our collaboration and revamp, there is now truly “no wrong door” through which constituents can receive service, and they can reliably expect a response from the City each time, regardless of how they initially reach out. In the name of transparency, constituents can track the status of requests from start to finish and receive regular updates on the request’s progress via email and text. Constituents and staff alike will benefit from a Knowledge Base for easier access to City information, while more advanced reporting will support data-driven decision making that boosts staff productivity and constituent satisfaction.

Catalyst Consulting has been empowering governments by providing elegant solutions and implementations to complex issues since 1990. This marks the team’s third win, also taking the Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector in 2019 and Transportation in 2020.

Reflecting on what contributed to the award win, Catalyst’s Founder and CEO Arvin Talwar noted, “We strive to treat every client like they are our only client.” The Salesforce Partner Innovation award highlights this approach and drive for elegant solutions within the Salesforce ecosystem.

Catalyst is both humbled and honored to win the Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector, and the team thanks the innovative leaders at the City of Toronto for their partnership.

Chatbots Are Quelling Constituent Concerns in Crisis

Chatbots. Maybe you’ve used them to quickly report an issue with a food delivery or easily check the status of a package.

The private sector leverages chatbots so consumers can find solutions to their problems immediately, 24/7, in a user-friendly application. How can we in the public sector learn from this?

It’s timely to ask this question as emergencies – like the COVID-19 pandemic – illuminate the value chatbots bring to government agencies.

In emergencies, constituents expect answers from their government fast.

Chatbots can be especially useful in these times as call center phones are flooded with questions and concerns from constituents. Chatbots enable government agencies to alleviate the influx of calls by answering frequently asked questions and allow agents to focus on more complex calls and situations.

In COVID times, Catalyst has collaborated with Cobb County, Georgia and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports to build chatbots that alleviate pandemic concerns round the clock.

Our COVID-19 Chatbot in Cobb County, Georgia

While the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine brought some relief, naturally constituents had inquiries. To answer constituent questions, the Catalyst team not only stood up a cloud-based call center powered by Salesforce Service Cloud Voice, but also deployed a Salesforce Einstein chatbot to allow for self-service.

Our Cobb County chatbot enables residents to receive information about 83 matters related to the vaccine – such as its safety and availability – instantly, 24/7. Importantly, the chatbot saves constituents’ time. They spend about 84% less time interacting with the chatbot compared to how long they spent on the phone. This is by design.

Should the constituent still have questions after interacting with the Cobb chatbot, the individual can connect with a live agent. However, our bot boasts a 38% deflection rate, which gives agents at Cobb County the bandwidth to address more complex issues.

These metrics underscore that self-service options like a chatbot allow for more strategic communication and use of time for governmental staff and constituents alike.

Our COVID-19 Chatbot for Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports

As our Salesforce team got to work in Georgia, our software engineers 700 miles to the north in Chicago were hard at work building COVID-19 support chatbots for our long-time client, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), which oversees O’Hare and Midway Airports. These chatbots allow passengers to ask questions from a variety of categories, such as flight information, international travel, and TSA screening, among many others.

With travel being uncertain, influenced by constantly changing safety protocols, travelers have many questions about how Chicago’s airports will carefully get them to-and-from their destinations.

This chatbot allows the CDA to provide the most up-to-date COVID travel information instantly. Since deployment in Spring 2021, 32,350 flyers have turned to O’Hare’s chatbot for help, while 6,450 flyers have engaged with Midway’s chatbot. These numbers indicate that people have questions 24 hours a day, and solutions like chatbots can easily provide this information and quell concerns – all without live agents.

How Do We Do It? What Comes Next?

The conversation tracks facilitated by chatbots are a result of training it with several hundred “utterances,” or phrases “absorbed” by machine learning, that ties a constituent’s intent with the way they articulate a request. In turn, the bot can hold fluid and dynamic conversations.

In Cobb County and Chicago, our bots are currently running in English and pertain strictly to COVID-19. However, chatbots can certainly be multi-lingual, so governmental tools and information can be as accessible as possible. Plus, these bots are scalable as they can learn to consume and deliver new information quickly as governmental needs evolve.

If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to discuss how your team can benefit from a chatbot.

Catalyst Dispels Myths about Low-Code Development

“Low-code development” is a phrase subject to several myths and misconceptions.

One of these myths? The notion that solutions built via low-code development simply don’t have the chops to be complex. But we disagree!

Our COO and Managing Principal, Tim Smith, spoke with Joe Stangarone of mrc to dispel the myth that low-code solutions are inherently simplistic.

Applications built with low-code have the potential to be elegantly complex, as Tim noted. Check out the full article on Joe’s “Cup of Joe” blog.