January 14, 2021

How We Leveraged Existing Salesforce Technology for an Emergency Response during COVID-19

Answering the Call During COVID-19

As we’ve echoed in many posts and throughout our website, Shift3 is about humans. Yes, we build crazy-complicated software systems every day, but we’re always humans first. Our goal has always been to uplift our communities through technology—building it to create a positive impact in the world while hiring faces of the community to join us in this mission. 

That said, when COVID-19 hit our community at the beginning of 2020, we witnessed a heavy need to contribute in any way we could as a technology leader. Very quickly (and with support from Governor Gavin Newsom and partners) we rallied to develop the OnwardCA platform—combining both a web application and Salesforce CRM technology—to give Californians an online resource to access job opportunities and essential life resources. 

When this community crisis appeared, we answered the call with the tools we had—existing technology we use every day, such as Salesforce. Driven purely by our desire to help, we planned and developed this platform in ten days, which was an extraordinary feat. Here’s how we did it.

The Crisis at Hand

As the pandemic progressed, we began to see the impact beyond the virus. Businesses were forced to close for public safety, and the number of people left unemployed or furloughed kept growing. Without a source of income, people in our community had no way to pay for life’s basic needs. The outdated systems that were supposed to provide relief and connect people to services were not equipped to handle the surge of requests and many vulnerable people were left with little assistance through the crisis.

In fact, the nation’s unemployment benefits websites could not meet traffic demands and crashed as displaced workers scrambled to find online resources for help. And sadly, unemployment benefits are just one piece of the puzzle. People needed to find immediate access to food, toiletries, childcare, medicine and more. Families who never thought they would find themselves in a situation where they required assistance were now attempting to navigate a maze of disconnected, siloed, archaic systems just to survive. 

The strain on public resources was clear and the private sector had a unique opportunity to provide relief. The tech industry was best suited to lead this charge, as innovating to create efficiencies and streamline processes is one of the reasons that software like Salesforce was created.

Leveraging Technology

Similar to many companies moving into the digital era, the government systems were often silo-based on the department. For example, if a user qualified for a rent subsidy, but the website they applied for assistance through didn’t also alert them to the fact they qualified for help with groceries, the user would never apply for all the assistance they were eligible for, or needed. 

We were then tasked to bring together all potential resources for essential needs (the needs that many Californians now had due to the impact of COVID-19) into one digital clearinghouse. We leveraged the power of Salesforce with a WordPress frontend user interface to quickly stand up OnwardCA.org. 

By utilizing Salesforce technology with a user-friendly web application, the platform was able to aggregate all available resources into one place. By creating an intake of sorts, those same individuals who accessed the platform were matched with a full list of relevant resources. This allowed people to expedite their search so they could easily find and apply for the help they needed.

OnwardCA and OnwardUS Were Born

Through this experience, we established that technology normally used for business operations can be repurposed to help the general public. The successful launch of OnwardCA led to the deployment of the OnwardUS platform designed to connect the one-third of Americans that were now out of work to resources in their respective states. 

This new nationwide resource used the same Salesforce CRM capabilities leveraged by sales and marketing teams everyday—this time for emergency response. The system included functionality for tracking user interactions, giving administrators the ability to tell if the solution is delivering on its intended purpose. For the Salesforce familiar, these features are nothing new, but it was a creative application of this technology and the number of people served (more than 500K Americans!) that made this project noteworthy. 

It can be easy to look at familiar business tools and only see their intended applications, but in these unconventional times, some of these common platforms might be worth a second look. All the things that make Salesforce valuable in a corporate setting, are the same elements that make it ideal for creating software to respond to dynamic emergency situations. It can create platforms that can automate processes, adapt and scale quickly and better serve communities. Being inventive to serve people during the pandemic means looking at existing tools in new ways and repurposing them to serve the need at hand.

How Can We Help You Leverage Your Salesforce Org?

At Shift3 Technologies, we use a consultative approach to help you determine the best strategy to identify your challenges, implement appropriate solutions and enhance your systems. Interested in more cool content? Check out our latest 3-part Series on Experience Cloud! For a free consultation, click here.

This post was written by Celeste A. Barron, Content Development Manager for Shift3 Technologies. You can find her typing this with one hand, as she’s cradling a spoiled kitten with the other.