Employee experience technology helps ex-cons track jobs

Employee experience app helps national nonprofit track work performance of ex-cons whom the group helps get jobs. App also lets employers and former prisoners record job results.

Looking to pursue a digital strategy, a national nonprofit group put employee experience technology at the core of its mission to help ex-prisoners find and keep jobs.

The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) replaced a paper-based system for tracking work assignments of former prisoners with an app created with the help of two app development companies.

That employee experience technology was delivered from the cloud and based on a Salesforce customer relationship management platform. But it was plagued by technical problems, according to Sam Schaeffer, the group's chief executive officer and executive director.

Sam SchaefferSam Schaeffer, Center for
Employment Opportunities

The biggest problem with CEO's first foray into employee experience technology was that the company had been interfacing its Salesforce database of former prisoner-workers through Amazon Web Services (AWS). "It wasn't efficient, and it was taking a lot of time for the interface to happen," Schaeffer said.

New app streamlines data transfer

So, CEO started working with Appirio, a Salesforce partner and a global IT consulting firm for cloud-based technologies for employee and user experience, to move the app to the Heroku platform as a service; Heroku is owned by Salesforce and is part of the Salesforce ecosystem. In doing so, the nonprofit was able to streamline the transfer of data from the app to its Salesforce instance.

We think we're going to get more engagement through the technology.
Sam SchaefferCenter for Employment Opportunities

"Now, we were getting real-time data on attendance on our work crews and attendance of participants, which allowed us to provide a better service to our participants and it made their experience a lot easier working with us," Schaeffer said.

Before CEO developed its first participant app, the 300 or so ex-prisoners CEO works with at any given time (about 5,000 a year) carried around paper booklets called their passport to success. Each page recorded a day of work and their ability to show up on time, give good effort, relate to coworkers and present themselves well on the job.

The workers would bring the passports back to the office to show their job developers how they'd been doing, graded then on a one-to-five scale.

Passports didn't allow analysis

"It was actually not a bad use of paper. It worked fine, but books were getting lost, sometimes books weren't filled out and, even bigger than that, we had no way to aggregate the scores," Schaeffer said. "There was no visualization or analysis you could do on it" -- beyond just "eyeballing" the data, he said.

Now, the data flows into Salesforce, and job developers can see workplace behavior scores (now on a one-to-three scale) over time.

Rick ArnettRick Arnett, Appirio

Addressing the kind of technical challenges that CEO faced is the main focus of Appirio's business, said Rick Arnett, technical architect at the Indianapolis-based firm. Appirio's parent is the Indian IT services company Wipro Limited. Appirio offers consulting services and technology to help organizations improve the employee experience, a strategy that borrows from design thinking and customer experience management to make workplaces more enticing and engaging to employees. The idea is that motivated, productive employees are more likely to remain in their jobs and be more effective at serving customers.

The main glitch was that business logic for scheduling work at different sites was in Salesforce, but the pre-Appirio mobile app was running separately on AWS. For every data component that CEO wanted to transfer, it had to build a separate API.

"It wasn't working," Arnett said. "It was very brittle."

'Easy button' approach removes complexity

As it turns out, the move to Heroku wasn't a complete exit from AWS, which lies underneath and powers Heroku, an approach that Arnett described as like the "easy button" for AWS.

What Appirio did essentially was move data from AWS to Postgres, an open source relational database, and then sync it up with the Salesforce employee data repository.

"It removed a lot of the complexity from the brittle code they were adding," Arnett said.

At CEO, the digitization of the passport also enabled the nonprofit to automate its somewhat unusual daily payroll system. The employee experience technology has also been upgraded to enable participants to give feedback to their bosses, not only the other way around.

"We think we're going to get more engagement through the technology," Schaeffer said.

Next Steps

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