At the outset, volunteers were managing the project’s data with Google Sheets, which left too much room for manual error.
Stephanie Alinsung, Communications and Development Coordinator for Rise Up Kingston and key player in Project Resilience, said, “Google Sheets was a great way to get our program up and running. However, as the volume of individuals grew — from roughly 85 individuals to over 1,250 — we found that the spreadsheet was cumbersome, and information was getting lost or changed without any traceability. This resulted in inaccuracies in delivery information, among other challenges.”
On Saturday, March 21st, Ulster County Deputy Director of Innovation Jeff Kalpakis requested Exago’s assistance in improving the system. When it became clear that a ticketing solution was required, Exago reached out to its own helpdesk software provider, Zendesk, on the city’s behalf. Zendesk generously donated various customer support solutions to the cause. Exago likewise donated an instance of their business intelligence application, as well as over 100 development hours, which they spent architecting and configuring the two-part system.
By coupling Zendesk’s customer engagement software with its business analytics solution, Exago developed a platform that enabled the city of Kingston to manage grocery, meal, and pharmaceutical deliveries. The platform was made available to the public through an online portal on Thursday, April 2nd as part of Ulster County’s Project Resilience effort.
The foundation of the platform is a combination of AWS and a small, homespun wrapper application with an embedded instance of Exago. “The process was simple but effective,” said Peter Fernandes, one of the Exago engineers who built the platform. “We wrote two scripts that made up a custom ETL process to get the data from the spreadsheets, clean it up, and move it into Exago BI for easy reporting.”
The volunteers required specific reports, which were built with a combination of custom SQL objects and Exago BI’s report template feature. Report templates organized the recipients’ data into shipping labels that volunteers could easily print out, cut, and place on boxes for delivery.
“Fine-grain control of the data objects through custom SQL was key for user experience,” said Tom Anderson, the Exago BI Consultant responsible for designing the reports. “It allowed us to deliver the exact data objects they needed to use for the reports, and continue to meet those needs as requirements changed.”
Members of Exago’s Technical Support Team also contributed their time by monitoring the meal requests in Zendesk and building a custom Zendesk workflow with special categories geared toward tracking each step in the delivery process.
Volunteers from several local organizations including the YMCA, Rise Up Kingston, People’s Place, and members of the Ulster County Government saved hours of time daily by running reports instead of maintaining spreadsheets.
Before the technology was implemented, volunteers were working 16-20 hour shifts in order to manage the data and the deliveries. Those saved hours were able to be spent delivering meals and groceries instead. At the peak of the project, volunteers were delivering anywhere from 600-1200 prepared meals a week with 2,200 people receiving food in the system altogether.
Alinsug says adopting the Exago-Zendesk system has “allowed the lead organizers to devote more time and capacity to problem solving and innovating solutions for both on-the-ground flow and also high-level organization,” leading to improved overall efficiency.