Archives: Blog

This is the custom post type for catconsult blog

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.

Catalyst Launches the City of Toronto’s Salesforce 311

After 18 months of development, the Catalyst team is humbled and honored to announce our latest addition to our Salesforce 311 portfolio – the City of Toronto.

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.

The excitement will continue through the remainder of 2021, as our custom-developed 311 mobile app will launch in the near future to enable constituents to reach their local government with a few swipes and taps on their smartphone.

In celebration of the launch, Catalyst Founder and CEO Arvin Talwar noted, “Being able to provide Canada with a Catalyst 311 solution is incredible, not only because we get to show our commitment to our northern neighbors, but also because Toronto will see a great rise in their internal efficiencies and stronger relationships with constituents. Thank you to the Catalyst team for creating such an amazing solution for Toronto. We are grateful for the Toronto team’s partnership and look forward to nurturing the future of constituent engagement with them.”

In developing 311 solutions, the Catalyst team can fully demonstrate our passion for deploying transformative solutions that fully encompass how great public sector technology can, and should, operate for internal and external users.

We express our deepest thanks to the City of Toronto and Salesforce for their partnership.

For more about Catalyst’s approach to 311s, check out our “Tale of Two Cities” 311 webinar and our case study for our implementation of the City of Chicago’s 311.

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.

The Next Gen of Government Technologists

We offer a full-time summer intern program for college students to loop young people into the government technology space as budding software engineers, digital media strategists, and business analysts. Real-world, professional experience is critical for students to succeed outside of college. Here at Catalyst, we recognize our duty for the next generation of government technologists and hope to provide them with this experience. Below, our interns – Katherine Buddenhagen, Ola Chmiel, Patricija Miskinyte, Jim Lizzio, and David Ostman – reflect on their summer internship and lessons learned from working in the government technology space.

Katherine worked on our Salesforce implementation for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. She remarked on the sheer impact of government technology, having worked first-hand with this agency holding the awesome responsibility of delivering clean water to a population of almost 2 million people.

The activities of our daily lives are increasingly based on technology-driven processes, and the activities of local, state, and federal government entities are no exception. The implementation of technology assets at any government level can help to increase public service efficiency, provide data-driven insights to inform process improvement, improve communication with the public, and more.

The result? Better quality governmental service and in turn, citizen welfare.

After developing a complete understanding of a client’s processes and pain points through conversation and observation, CCG teams prescribe and execute actionable solutions driven by innovative technology solutions to fit a client’s needs. By observing and participating in these processes, I have learned that, for technology solutions to realize their potential positive impact, the implementation must be purposeful, well-executed, and above all, client-driven.”

Katherine Buddenhagen

Ola, our Salesforce Business Analyst Intern working on the Toronto 311 project, echoes Katherine’s sentiment on the power government technology has. Through her work with Toronto 311, Ola has seen first-hand not only the extraordinary amount of people government technology can reach, but also the importance of a good public sector technologist.

Attributes that make someone a good public sector technologist are those that make up any reliable job candidate. The technologist must be creative and flexible, adapting to changes wherever necessary and coming up with ideas outside of the norm. Deadlines are also important, so it is imperative that the technologist is efficient with their time management and can make secure decisions under stress. They must be able to work well with others, communicate their needs, and show a certain level of leadership among the myriad of people they will be working with. Most importantly the employee needs to be driven. Technologists must have enthusiasm for the sector in which they are working, in this case, an obvious interest in government, politics, or current affairs. Throughout my internship with Catalyst Consulting Group, I have seen these attributes and more put to the test, positively impacting all of CCG’s many projects.”

Ola Chmiel

As many of our interns are new to the government technology space, Catalyst often offers a new perspective on government agencies and ways technology can improve them. Patricija, our Digital Marketing intern, reflected on her broadened view of social media, government, and technology.

As a communication and political science major, I am minimally exposed to technology for anything more than writing or research. My responsibilities this summer were geared toward social media and marketing, which I learned are important for not just us here in the private sector, but governments too for tasks such as constituent engagement or distributing information. My time here has increased my understanding of the capabilities of technological tools and the way governments can utilize them.

Catalyst Consulting Group has exposed me to the complexities of government agencies and the technologies needed to serve them. Both entities house much more information than I could have imagined. I am grateful this position has given me a glimpse of tools like chatbots, low code development, and other aspects that go into creating any modern, seamless system.”

Patricija Miskinyte

As the internship program comes to an end, not all our interns will continue to work in the government technology space, but the impact of our work will inspire many to return. Jim, a software engineer intern, observed the difference his work can make for improving people’s lives and changing the future.

Working in this space allows you to deploy larger public-facing projects that affect more people on a wider scale than creating internal private solutions. Some of the work that I have done has already affected thousands of people and grows every day. The government technology space allows me to help change society for the better and can be a great place for me to work with as I continue my career.”

Jim Lizzio

And as our intern class takes the next steps in their careers, the biggest takeaways are the lessons learned from the mentors at Catalyst, as David emphasized:

My favorite part is meeting up with and talking to my mentor Alec. He has shown me how to do my job, and he has helped me whenever I needed it.”

David Ostman

As technology grows in each sector of our lives, we must mentor the next generation of technologists that could change the lives of thousands of people all over the world. Thank you to our interns for a great summer at Catalyst! Our intern program could not exist without motivated, bright young students like you.

Catalyst Targets Middle Eastern, North African, and Southeast Asian Markets

Catalyst Consulting Group is pleased to announce our partnership with Manhattan-based investment bank Jahani and Associates as we bring our technology development and consulting services to the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Guided by regional connections held by the Jahani team, Catalyst is exploring opportunities with stakeholders in utility, transportation, and tourism verticals in several target countries.

This exciting new reach comes on the heels of our expansion into Canada and formation of our Canadian subsidiary.

“We are thrilled to work with Jahani and Associates to continue our international growth that started with Canada two years ago,” remarked Arvin Talwar, Catalyst’s Founder and CEO, “This partnership will allow Catalyst to leverage this momentum and penetrate new markets. Stellar customer service and improved efficiencies are universally valued.” Speaking on the partnership, Talwar continued, “We are grateful for the Jahani team’s guidance and look forward to the future.”

Joshua Jahani, Managing Director of Jahani and Associates explained, “We are seeing significant investments in technology, infrastructure, and growth in these regions. Catalyst is uniquely positioned to enter these markets to provide our clients with the most innovative and valuable strategic advice possible.” Jahani concluded, “We are looking forward to collaborating with Catalyst while deepening our existing relationships and fostering new ones with important stakeholders.”

For more information about Jahani and Associates, visit their website at https://jahaniandassociates.com/. You can learn more about Catalyst solutions deployed in North America at https://catconsult.com/portfolio/.

Catalyst Recognized by Salesforce for Excellence in Transportation

In late 2020, Catalyst was honored and humbled to receive a Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for our work with the Port of Seattle! We took home the prize in the “Travel, Transportation, and Hospitality” category. The Port of Seattle oversees Seattle’s seaport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and we had the pleasure of delivering a core Salesforce CRM and Marketing Cloud implementation for their team.

To celebrate, the Catalyst and Salesforce teams chatted about our work with the Port, as well as diversity in technology and innovation at Catalyst. Tune into the video interview with our Director of Solution Engineering, Alissa Ahn, right here, and be sure to read the blog post about our win published in honor of Asian American Heritage Month.

We send our deepest thanks to the Port of Seattle for their partnership since 2019. We also thank Salesforce for their work fostering this creative community, and we congratulate our fellow award recipients on their success.

Tune into our 311 Day Webinar

cross section of Toronto and Chicago discussing how the two cities provide 311 services

Check out our “Tale of Two Cities” webinar, in which we sat down with our partners at the City of Chicago and City of Toronto. We discussed how we leveraged the flexibility of the Salesforce platform to deliver two unique 311 systems tailored to each city’s respective needs.

The Art and Science Behind a Robust, Scalable Salesforce Case Categorization Model

This blog post was written by Luke Kotowski, Senior Salesforce Solution Architect here at Catalyst. Luke discusses how to implement an impactful case categorization model that accurately describes records housed within a Salesforce CRM. He underscores the importance of such a model as it can heighten employee morale, minimize manual labor, improve data quality, and lead to time savings that translate into higher quality customer service.

Any Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application worth having should illuminate trends in your data that inform how to improve your business processes. After all, why collect reams of data in a CRM if not to help your organization do better work? The categorization model used to describe your data is paramount–it must equip end users with digestible, clear verbiage that describe their day-to-day responsibilities accurately.

Designing a categorization model requires deliberate and careful thought— you need to make sure the available options are varied enough that they can describe all possible scenarios, but not so many that the model becomes challenging to use. Identifying this point of diminishing returns is key to striking the correct balance.

Below, we detail how Catalyst navigated these considerations with Salesforce Service Cloud as we stood up a categorization model for a customer service organization within a major international airport in the Pacific Northwest.

We’ve found success by infusing new life into traditional picklists by soliciting end user feedback on the values available in reference records, as well as tapping into artificial intelligence to make the categorization process easier.

Picklists Need a Pick-Me-Up

Yikes, look at all these picklists.

The standard CRM categorization system is the picklist — a drop-down list of pre-selected values that allow users to assign data to a defined category. Picklists are helpful because they standardize data entry and improve data quality while supplying guardrails against inconsistent formatting.

While picklists are integral to data collection, the experience of using them is decidedly uninspiring.

Nothing makes an end user decide to take an early lunch like seeing a wall of required drop-down fields staring back at them from their screen. It’s time-consuming and feels antiquated, not to mention that the process of filling out a series of picklists, arranged in a pre-determined order, does not accommodate how people naturally want to discuss the phenomena around them.

Think about it. If you were to sit two people down and ask them to describe a customer interaction, the first might begin by discussing the overarching theme of the interaction, while the second might remark on the location the customer visited to prompt the outreach.

If we can create a model that allows our users to describe their work on their own terms, then we can create an intuitive user experience that does not compromise the value or accuracy of categorization.

While we want to make sure to offer users the necessary latitude to categorize their work accurately and efficiently, it’s equally important to make sure that the organization uses a consistent language that scales with the enterprise. For our client in the Pacific Northwest, the answer to creating this shared language lay in using reference data.

A Data Model by the People, for the People

We are reference data evangelists here at Catalyst. Correctly implemented, reference data has a broad range of uses that can be used to control many different types of system behavior without actually changing any Salesforce configuration. For example, reference data records might inform the physical locations in an airport that a representative can associate with a Case, as they do for our client in the PNW.

We always advise that a select group of business superusers – not an administrator – create and maintain reference data records. That way, the solution empowers users to create the language they themselves use to describe their work, while also lessening the burden of maintenance on the administrator.

We also recommend that there be a proposal process for new reference data values. Even though most users should not be able to insert reference records on their own, it’s imperative to keep the entire user base engaged in the work of designing the model. Allowing them to propose new reference records can help ensure that their ideas are heard while ensuring that they are properly vetted out.

We saw this democratic method at play with our client as we implemented their solution; their team brainstormed values to describe cases related to COVID-19 and selected the options viewed most favorably by most stakeholders. As we move into 2021, we’re confident their users will be able to leverage the reference data framework we created to accommodate the ever-broadening topics of conversation that customers reach out about.

Easy as AI

Let’s say our picklists – and the values available within them – are agreed upon. There’s one more step to take before we can get to work serving customers: machine learning.

Applying standards consistently across cases can be difficult, and the variance in data quality will scale with the size of a service organization, as enforcing categorization standards becomes difficult due to the subjectivity that each newly onboarded resource introduces.

To minimize the possibility of human error as part of our implementation, we used Salesforce’s Einstein Case Classification (ECC) product. ECC uses the power of Salesforce’s artificial intelligence technology to predict case field values based on historical data.

By comparing the subject and description values of past cases against their user-selected field values, Einstein develops a sense of the commonalities between cases with the same values. ECC then uses this information to make predictions as to what field values should be on incoming cases without introducing any additional subjectivity into the equation, saving users time and allowing for a consistent application of your categorization model.

Setting up an ECC model is straightforward—there’s no need for code.

ECC is a relatively new product, having first arrived as part of Salesforce’s Winter ’20 Release.

Standing up an ECC prediction model is simple and accomplishable entirely through configuration. But given its position towards the left of the maturity curve, we set the expectation with our client that ECC is intended to augment the human aspect of the categorization process rather than replace it entirely.

We see ECC-recommended values as suggestions—they provide a solid starting point for the categorization process rather than acting as its be-all and end-all. As the Einstein suite of products matures, it may become possible to defer to ECC more definitively. But especially for now, we knew it was important to offer a flexible user interface so that users can focus on the work of accurate categorization.

We at Catalyst have built out a custom categorization interface using Salesforce’s Lightning Web Component framework. The component is broken out into two parts: Selected Categories and Potential Categories. As the names suggest, the Selected Categories section holds values that the user (or Einstein) has selected, while the Potential Categories section holds search results returned by a text search.

Take a look at the seamless value search and selection process made possible with a custom interface. Much better than a wall of picklists!

What Comes Next

Stay tuned for more material about reference data models from us.

And in the meantime, if you like what you see here, let us know! We’d be happy to sit down and unpack how Catalyst can help make your organization more efficient with a powerful CRM.