Blog Category: Catalyst Connection

Parallel Paths within Catalyst

Anthony Lungaro, Ola Chmiel, and Jim Lizzio – all were once Catalyst Interns. Their transitions from interns to full-time team members granted them common ground and invited conversation for a reflection on personal and career growth and company culture, as well as a look into the future.

Some More Recent than Others

Drawing on a diverse mix of experiences and expertise, these 3 once-interns represent several realms of the Catalyst business. Anthony is 4 years removed from his internship experience, acting as a Salesforce Solution Architect. Also working on the Salesforce side of the Catalyst business, Ola is a Salesforce Business Analyst and is approaching her 1-year anniversary with Catalyst. Meanwhile, Jim spent 3 summers interning and has recently accepted his full-time position as a Software Engineer on the Custom Development Team.

An Integral Introduction

We’ve heard it before – internships are to serve as an informing introduction to the workplace with hands-on, mentored industry experience for students and recent grads who seek exposure outside of the classroom. However, fetching coffee seems to be the image that comes to mind regarding “the intern.” The internship experience at Catalyst is far from days spent fetching coffee and the boss’s dry cleaning.

Anthony recalled having learned most from the variety and diversity of skillsets on the teams he was surrounded by and interacted with in the office.

Being in meetings with a bunch of different people with different experience levels and skill sets helped mold me into a more well-rounded business person.

He explained that this experience has followed him throughout his tenure with Catalyst and is reflective of the benefits of a smaller sized company.

During her internship, Ola was part of our Toronto 311 project, “Toronto At Your Service”, which won the 2022 Salesforce Partner Innovation Award for the Public Sector category. She said joining the efforts on the Toronto project was a “full steam ahead” approach. She returned to school before the project concluded, but she remembers following the outcomes and reflecting on her own contributions.

“Getting to go on their website and seeing our system there was really cool…thinking, I actually tested this, that was awesome!”

Providing the experience that complemented his studies, the internship experience offered Jim real-industry context to the material he was taught in class.

A lot of the topics that we were talking about in class were things that I had either touched or actually interacted with on some projects, which was really cool to see.

The Catalyst Difference

In their decisions to stay with Catalyst, all considered the company culture. Albeit operating in a remote setting, Catalyst offers the opportunity for workplace relationships and growth in its small size. Each former intern noted how they were well supported in their work.

Jim remembers a time that he needed a helping hand on a project’s task, and without a second thought he was met with help from another team member. He says the positive attitudes of everyone he encounters is one of the things he likes most about Catalyst. “Everyone is willing to help, and I absolutely love that. It’s a very nice culture.”

“You can actually establish better relationships rather than just being an employee ID number in the system,” Anthony said in contrast to large firms. He feels that the culture also allows for employees to exercise agency and growth. “You know, if you want to try something else, Catalyst is pretty open to letting you try something new, a different workstream, a different type of project. It’s not a big ask to access different sorts of experiences.”

Ola feels that her experience as an intern allowed her to learn and that the trajectory of her personal and career growth has only shot higher since.

“My first project being a full-time employee at Catalyst was for Chicago Public Schools project, so that was really cool for me, being from the Chicago suburbs and currently living in Chicago.”

She recalled that she had no experience with Salesforce when she first got the internship, but now she is seeing projects through from beginning to the end, the whole progression from a blank Salesforce canvas to a finished solution.

Looking Forward to their Futures

As we are approaching the end of the 2022 year, we asked Anthony, Ola, and Jim to reflect on their goals for the future. They all agreed on, “Growth!”

At Catalyst, we create impactful solutions that the community calls trailblazing, solutions that make a difference for our clients who serve everyday people. With teammates like Anthony, Ola and Jim, we are excited our upcoming year and for their futures with us, as well as the possibilities for future interns!

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.

Request, Respond, Report: How Chicago’s 311 Uses Salesforce Reporting

In December of 2018 our firm, in collaboration with Chicago’s 311 and Department of Innovation and Technology, launched the City’s modernized 311 system CHI311. We’ve talked a lot about how this modernization improved the system overall and brought a multitude of new functions to the residents of Chicago. But how has this new system benefited the city departments that rely on it day in and day out?

Since the launch of CHI311 the overall closure rate service requests has increased from 82% to 94% 1. Overall system improvement has a lot to do with that, but transitioning from a mostly manual, paper-based process to a fully digital system has had long-reaching benefits. We can talk specifics when we look at the Department of Streets and Sanitation. In the old system, scheduling the removal of graffiti took 45 minutes to an hour. With CHI311, it takes just 10 minutes.

It’s clear that moving to the cloud-based Salesforce has improved efficiency, but it’s also given departments more access and control over their data than before. As a user-friendly, accessible and intuitive platform, city users can use Salesforce to easily create, manage and view the reports they need to serve Chicago residents better.

Let’s take a look at how Salesforce reporting has benefitted departments city-wide.

CHI311 hosts a wealth of data that informs important metrics: total open requests, total requests closed yesterday, number of requests coming in from the portal vs. call, etc. The data points are endless. When a user logs into the Salesforce-based system, the first thing they see is their “dashboard” which provides an at-a-glance look at metrics. Users can also subscribe to their dashboard and have it sent to their email on a set frequency, so they can receive data straight to their inbox.

Reports are not a ‘one size fits all.’ Metrics that are important to the Department of Water Management, may not be as helpful to the Department of Transportation. Since Salesforce dashboards can be configured based on the needs of the department, division and even the individual user, we can ensure that each city user has access to the metrics they need to keep tabs on their work and make changes when needed.

Chicago’s 311 Uses Salesforce Reporting

Send Reports
Sending reports on a set frequency ensures department leads always have access to the metrics they need, when they need them. Many city users receive their reports first thing in the morning so they have all the metrics they need to manage and inform their crews for the day. Reports, usually sent daily or weekly, often include metrics such as ‘# of requests opened yesterday’, ‘# of requests completed yesterday’, and ‘# of requests with missed milestones’ to help departments track their closure rates.

This is an improvement from the legacy system, where users were required to log into a separate reporting system to set and view their reports. With all of the reports directly in Salesforce, users can remain in one system as opposed to logging in elsewhere to access what they need. Reports in Salesforce means users can click on a Request Number and navigate straight to that record for further information.

Report Builder
To create and manipulate reports in the legacy system, the user needed to, at the very least, know SQL. This hindered everyday users and required reliance on a small number of users to create reports and manipulate the data. One of the biggest draws to Salesforce is the fact that it’s user-friendly and can be easily adopted by those who are non-technical. With the proper permissions, users within CHI311 can leverage the drag and drop features in Salesforce’s Report Builder to create unique reports that satisfy their individual needs. With the ability to create unique reports, city end-users can view the metrics they need on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis and adjust their operations as needed.

Chicago’s 311 Dashboard

With easier access to system data and an increased ability to create reports, more system users than before can make informed decisions that benefit city department and the city residents they serve. Have you used Salesforce Reporting before? If not, we invite you to join the Ohana, and check it out for yourself!