Bookmark and Share

Flood relief group uses SugarCRM to link volunteers with victims
This case study describes how a flood relief group of volunteers used SugarCRM to assist in mobilizing and managing volunteers following Calgary's record-setting flood disaster
On the evening of June 20th, 2013, as a record-setting flood edged closer to Western Canada’s largest city, over 100,000 Calgary residents were ordered to evacuate the downtown core. Like many Calgarians, data scientist and strategist Brian F. Singh saw that the impending disaster would require far more support than the city’s emergency resources (and indeed the province of Alberta’s) would be able to provide. Just after midnight on Friday the 21st, Singh created a simple Facebook page (called Calgary Clean Up) to see who might be ready, willing and able to sign on as volunteers. The response, like the flood itself, would soon prove to be overwhelming.

[For detailed insights, click on the image to view Brian F. Singh's slide presentation]

The problem: Too much of a good thing?

By Friday afternoon, over 1,000 people had registered. By the end of the day, the volunteer roster exceeded 4,000. The Facebook page garnered over 10,000 “likes” that day. And over the weekend’s 72-hour period, the traffic generated by the Facebook page, a dedicated Twitter account, and then by a makeshift website (with what became the project’s new name, YYCHelps), had exceeded the platforms’ bandwidth limits/capacity.

The human dimensions of this story were inspiring: Thousands of people were in dire need of assistance: food and water, shelter, clothing, medical attention and more – and thousands of people stepped in immediately, to offer their time, labour, food, supplies, equipment, and money. (For more insight on this aspect, see Brian Singh’s article for the Globe and Mail.)

Viewing the disaster from a purely logistical perspective, the challenge for YYCHelps came down to three key issues:
  • Volume of traffic: Registering volunteers and their available services and supplies, and matching them to the needs of organizations, families and individuals;
  • Scale: In addition to covering multiple types of information, the system also had to accommodate the data’s growth, which initially was doubling and tripling by the hour;
  • Team organization and operation: Processes, scheduling and various other activities needed to be coordinated as efficiently as possible.
The solution: Redefine CRM, turning a “customer relationship” data management system into a “community response” management system

"Rapid prototyping" - mapping out the CRM configuration Up and running - a registration form capturing all the essential informatoin was online within one day

Viewing the challengesof the disaster as something like a nail, Brian Singh saw that he might just have the perfect hammer: His data sciences agency, zinc tank, had recently partnered with another Calgary firm, Eligeo, western Canada’s largest SugarCRM provider, to develop a CRM lead-in planning solution. Brian was certain that the SugarCRM platform could be configured to accommodate most, if not all, of the volunteer group’s logistical and administrative requirements.

Together with Eligeo’s president Derek Major, Brian and two other team members (fellow entrepreneurs Wendy Peters and Craig Dunn) spent their Sunday afternoon mapping out the details. This was the first of several key points at which the SugarCRM platform showed its worth; key capabilities included:
  • Straightforward platform and programming environment: The core elements of the YYCHelps solution were created and implemented within one day;
  • Continuous improvement: As the project evolved, the team was able to fix their mistakes and adjust on the fly – to fast-changing matching routines, reporting and monitoring needs, and many other unexpected challenges;
  • Accelerated innovation: New ideas could be tested in hours instead of days, using a “rapid prototyping” style;
  • “Prospecting”: The platform enabled extensive automation of processes for matching people and projects and for identifying the best potential candidates from a list of thousands.
By Monday, June 24th, the flood had subsided and the full extent of the cleanup effort could be seen. That morning, thousands of Calgarians gathered together to show their support – notably there was a massive turnout at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium but other smaller groups came together in communities throughout the city.

At this point, less than a day after its launch, the CRM’s speed of deployment proved to be a major contribution, enabling the YYCHelps team to have their system up and running precisely when it was going to be most needed. Over the coming days and weeks, served as a key resource for the disaster relief effort; as of July 24th, some of the key metrics included:
  • 13,700 volunteers registered on the volunteer database;
  • 3,657 volunteers participated in specific projects;
  • 105 volunteer projects were supported; projects were defined as those involving 10 or more people; this number excludes dozens of smaller, one-off projects that were not registered as such in the system.
YYCHelps continues to collaborate with public and private organizations on a range of projects. In addition to supporting the needs of Calgary citizens, the SugarCRM solution that was designed for Calgary’s unique needs is now also being developed by the YYCHelps team to serve as a crowdsourcing/crowdfunding model. It will be designed not only to support similar aid-related programs but also to accommodate a whole range of projects for non-profit and community-based organizations.