Part one: The Challenge
On Tuesday, March 24th a request came from the U.K. Government through a website called TechForce19. The request on the site was a simple call to action for the tech sector:
“The challenge: Supporting the elderly, vulnerable and self-isolating”
This high-level goal was given light guidelines to help inspire & guide participants’ efforts. The solution needed to solve one or more of the following issues and had three key focus areas:
- Managing/delivering remote social care
- Optimising staffing in care and volunteering sectors
- Mental health well being
At makepositive we had already been discussing how we could best help customers, businesses and potentially the public with a solution that could assist in solving some of the numerous problems caused by Covid-19. This virus had been virtually unknown in the U.K. at the start of the year but within the space of a matter of weeks it had changed much of the world.
Being part of the tech and innovation sector and working with a platform as all-encompassing as Salesforce we knew we could help, we just hadn’t known where best to focus our efforts. Now we had a goal and a target; to design and develop a solution to at least one of the Techforce19 challenges. We now needed to deliver a proof of concept (POC) and we’d need to do it quickly as all submissions had to be made by that Friday. This would all need to be completed in just four days!
As a consultancy we are used to tight deadlines, moving goalposts and changing client wish lists but this was something else entirely. We knew that we could help design, develop and deliver something that could potentially save lives or support the most vulnerable in society and we knew these goals were essential in the current global climate.
The nature of our jobs means we are highly experienced and extremely comfortable working remotely across different time zones to deliver difficult goals within tight timeframes. We’re also very well versed in the use of numerous collaborative tools like Slack (a business communication platform like Skype), Google Hangouts for video calls, Salesforce as a singular development environment, and Jira (a project management platform which allows for task creation, assignment and resolution tracking) just to name a few.
Our CEO Mark Richards announced the Techforce19 call to action to our entire company with an all channel announcement on Slack. Within minutes of his announcement we had created a Techforce19 project group on Slack where everyone that had volunteered to collaborate on the project could congregate and share ideas. We arranged a video call over Hangouts and got together for an initial brainstorming session of ideas and possible solutions.
The contributors started with around 15 people but by the end of the project it had grown to over 36! A challenge we had almost instantly confronting us was the fact that many of the volunteers were also additionally resourced on client projects and so had to work around those important commitments. This meant there would be a lot of early mornings, late nights, and lunch breaks that would now be our project working hours for the Techforce19 solution.
The team came up with many great ideas ranging from concepts that could deliver teaching solutions to children, fitness guidance and videos for furloughed workers, and even utilise a track and trace app to enable virus tracking. These were all great ideas but we also knew that the NHS had just launched its volunteer app asking for 250,000 volunteers from the British public to help support vulnerable self isolating members of society. The response they received was an amazing but overwhelming 750,000 volunteers, (including numerous members of our own staff) hundreds of thousands more than had been asked for or expected!
The issue the NHS had with this amazing response was how to best utilise and get those volunteers to where they are needed most… and this was a problem we knew we could help solve. As many of us had used the NHS volunteer sign up app, we knew how clean and efficient the process needed to be for both the volunteers and the vulnerable people who needed their services and assistance. We would need to work with the assumption that many people who would need to use this solution might not have access to the internet, a smartphone or a computer and may not be very tech savvy either way.
Over the course of our team call we decided we would create a website or portal that would allow users to register themselves as vulnerable individuals who needed assistance across a variety of areas including but not limited to: medication collection, shopping, or just needing to talk with someone. We would also need this same portal to allow NHS volunteers to register their availability and get assigned work through a back end system. That system would enable the volunteers to accept and follow these jobs as they were assigned them. Creating such a solution in just four days would be no small task, but we knew all of this could be accomplished on one single platform: Salesforce.
In the next post I will discuss how we built the proposed solution. Thank you for reading!