Salesforce Partner Bluewolf: Transforming The People Through Cloud

On Thursday, Bluewolf launched a new program called AppealsTrak that was born from the insight and experience gained from a New Jersey project. AppealsTrak, certified by Salesforce, packages an end-to-end solution that can be presented to labor offices faced with similar challenges around the country.

Almost two years ago, when the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development was drowning in a backlog of unemployment appeals, the state agency turned to the cloud.

More specifically, New Jersey chose as a solution to streamline its appeals process as the Great Recession swelled the number of unemployment benefits cases handled by the office.

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At the time, superior case management software was desperately needed. The average time for processing an appeal had shot up to 189 days, and New Jersey was in jeopardy of losing federal funding because the U.S. Department of Labor imposes time-lapse regulations when doling out money to states for unemployment programs.

The New Jersey Labor Department's Chief of Staff Frederick Zavagli had come from the private sector and was familiar with Salesforce. He believed the CRM vendor, better known for managing commercial sales and marketing efforts, offered the right solution.

"He understood, at the core, Salesforce is a platform that can be configured to meet a variety of processes, and very quickly," Dan Osborne, public sector process director at Bluewolf, a solution provider based in San Francisco, told CRN.

Bluewolf responded to an RFP and won the contract to modernize New Jersey's unemployment appeals process.

In New Jersey, the Salesforce-based appeals system took 16 weeks to implement. It automated every step of the appeals process, from intake to case preparation to appearance scheduling, tracking decisions and reporting.

That's a time span that has amazed some government bureaucrats, Osborne told CRN. One Wisconsin official told him she hardly could believe it was possible to craft and implement a solution for an agency of that size in only four months.

What Bluewolf found inside the New Jersey Department of Labor is typical of many state agencies: ballooning rolls, antiquated systems and a massive backlog.

Osborne said he was walking through call centers in New Jersey "looking at black screens with green fonts." The average age of our nation's unemployment compensation systems is 23 years old, he said.

That level of outdated technology suggests tremendous opportunities for solution providers like Bluewolf. What's more, the U.S. Labor Department recently appropriated $5 billion to the states to modernize unemployment processes as they pertain to taxes, benefits and appeals.

Now, more than a year out from Bluewolf's engagement, the New Jersey unemployment office has eliminated its user backlog. The average time lapse in the appeals process has fallen to 30 days, and federal funding is safe.

NEXT: Public Sector Can't Ignore Cloud Any More

Bluewolf completed the project without writing any custom code. Instead, the Salesforce platform was used to implement processes and relationships around the objects traditionally handled by such agencies, such as accounts and cases.

"It really is Lego-like," Osborne told CRN. "It's all at the configuration level for Salesforce -- configuring standard Salesforce functionality to meet with those needs."

An integration with CongaMerge, which offers a document creation application for Salesforce, provided the final pieces of the puzzle, adding functionality to the system, such as automated mailing, to enable direct interaction with petitioners.

While Salesforce is mostly thought of as a commercial solution, it has been focusing much effort of late on winning public-sector accounts. The CRM vendor has been earning government certifications, and developing guidelines for connecting government agencies with citizens and employees.

"The application of Salesforce on the public sector is relatively new, and they're gaining a lot of momentum," Osborne said, describing Salesforce as "essentially a case-management solution."

With AppealsTrak, Bluewolf expects more opportunities to implement those public-sector solutions. The company is already working with New Jersey's Department of Human Services in an engagement related to Medicare entitlements.

"These agencies can't ignore cloud anymore," Osborne said.

What surprises public-sector clients most is the speed at which cloud-based solutions can be implemented, Osborne told CRN.

"It's just way faster than what agencies have experienced in the past," he said.

The other eye-opener is how a tool like Salesforce brings together the IT and business centers to collectively make the best decisions for the public department as a whole, according to Osborne.

Typically, it's "the Great Wall of China between what the chief of staff wants and what the IT director wants," he said.

That melding of the functional groups is fostering a new type of governance around applications.

"It's amazing how once the implementation is done, how quickly you can make changes. You don't have to wait six weeks for a field change. With the right governance in place, those changes and enhancements can happen really quickly," Osborne told CRN.

When Bluewolf first toured New Jersey's unemployment office, the employees were in "pure survival mode," Osborne said. Now, their whole demeanor has changed.

"There's been a transformation of the people. That's my favorite part. Seeing how the technology enables the people and employees to think creatively, enjoy what they're doing, and feel some success," Osborne told CRN.