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How SmartLogic is supporting resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic — in Baltimore and beyond

The software development consultancy provides a look at technologists communicating critical info in a health crisis, and shifting project timelines in 2020.

As in nature, tech teams must show resilience amid changing conditions. Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

This guest post is a part of Software Development Month of's editorial calendar.

As we find ourselves heading into the final quarter of 2020, the year almost certainly has had a different shape for everyone than anticipated. At SmartLogic, we’ve recently been reflecting on how the pandemic both has and has not changed our business, and in particular how our agile approach to planning and execution has helped us to support our clients’ resilience as they’ve adapted and responded to the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Organizations had to make changes as they responded on the frontlines, modifying their plans to adjust to restrictions. As a consultancy, we had to change right along with them. In our work with clients in Baltimore and beyond, across a range of industries, we’ve seen a few common ways that we’ve been able to help our clients respond to these challenging times by shifting plans for the present, and preparing for the future. Here are a couple of those themes and how they’ve played out for our customers.

Communicating Critical Information

One of the main themes we saw early on was a need for new ways to communicate critical information.

Health Information for Vulnerable Populations

We’ve been working with the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) on the CharmCare project since late 2019, when we took over from Fearless after Letitia Dzirasa became Baltimore City’s health commissioner. CharmCare is a free, online resource guide designed for Baltimore’s vulnerable populations. The web based application is an interactive directory that includes information on resources like food, housing, transportation and medical care. The directory includes filters for parameters including location, insurances accepted, walk-in hours, and languages spoken, to help constituents find the most relevant resources.

As the reality of the pandemic set in early this spring, the team at BCHD quickly realized that they needed a new category for resources targeting COVID-19 as well as a way to make those resources very visible. At that point, our team was in the middle of rebuilding their search backend; after discussion with the BCHD team, we started surfacing COVID-related resources in the directory via a new featured resource space placed prominently on the CharmCare home page. We also added a COVID-19 resource index to the app, and prioritized coronavirus resources in the search results.

“The partnership with SmartLogic allowed BCHD to continue building software that aligns with our core principles: that technology should bring people closer to the services they need,” said Mike Fried, chief information officer at the Baltimore City Health Department. “SmartLogic has been a great partner, and yet another example of Baltimore’s incredible technological capacity.”

Helping School Leaders Communicate with their Teams

Folio  Collaborative is another of our clients who needed new ways for their users to communicate when the pandemic forced schools to work remotely. The Baltimore-based company created myFolio, an online platform that encourages teacher and staff professional growth in schools, built with Ruby on Rails and the Javascript framework React. The platform originally grew out of a professional growth initiative at McDonogh, a local independent school. The platform has evolved over time and is now in use at over 150 schools around the world.  SmartLogic has been developing and maintaining myFolio since 2011, and recent feature launches have included more flexible options for peer-group feedback and goal setting, as well as social resource sharing.

This spring, as schools around the world were challenged to deal with a variety of extraordinary circumstances, we built some new communication features to help school leaders keep in touch with their teams.  We gave school administrators the ability to post directly to the myFolio homepage, making it easier for them to share announcements with the faculty and staff while working remotely.  We also built a tool for daily educator well-being check-ins.  The Mindful Minute was specifically designed to help school leaders gain insight into their faculty morale when that was no longer possible in person.

Shifting Timelines

For a handful of our clients, product launch timelines were substantially affected by the coronavirus. Faced with changing economic circumstances and limitations on in-person gatherings, these clients made quick adjustments to product development and launch timelines. 

Development Pause

Some clients needed to hit pause on a project while underway as the pandemic hit. As a consultancy, we were able to move staff around and be flexible with pacing on those projects in order to accommodate our clients’ shifting budget priorities. In some cases, we just slowed the pace of development for a month or two while the uncertainty was at the highest, and in others we paused completely for a several months. Flexibility and agility are core to successful modern software development, and COVID-19 has really stressed how external factors can be the driving factor for much needed flexibility.

Testing at Scale

We began work in March on a new feature for the Baltimore tech startup Volo City,a social sports company that runs adult and youth sports leagues in eight cities around the country. Although development on the new feature built with Elixir Phoenix is complete, we won’t be able to test the new work at scale until likely spring 2021 due to social distancing restrictions. In the meantime, Volo is conducting internal and small-scale testing, and we will work with them in the spring to ensure that the new system handles scale well; we simply can’t test at scale while in-person events are not happening.

Live Sports Launch

Simplebet is another client of ours whose launch timeline was impacted by COVID. The New York City-based firm is a sports gaming entertainment company working to make every moment of a sports game a bettable opportunity. Dave Lucia, Simplebet’s VP of Engineering,  reached out to our team in early 2019 after listening to an episode of our podcast, Elixir Wizards. He was looking to hire a Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team but was having trouble hiring quickly enough.

Simplebet partnered with SmartLogic in late summer 2019 to move their infrastructure to the cloud so that it could scale up for a targeted March product launch in concert with the beginning of the Major League Baseball season. SmartLogic worked together with Simplebet’s new SRE team as they were hired and onboarded, and were able to collaboratively develop the cloud systems Simplebet needed. The start of baseball season did not go off as planned, but the Kubernetes and DevOps infrastructure that SmartLogic helped to establish continues to support their product development and deployment. Simplebet recently launched its  first product, a free-to-play app that lets users predict play outcomes during NFL games.

Supporting Resilience

SmartLogic is no startup — we’re a services company and we’ve been around since 2005 — but we share a lot of philosophical and organizational principles with agile organizations. We think it makes us uniquely suited to respond to changing circumstances. While we always do our research and propose thorough plans for execution, our implementation process is predicated on frequent communication, testing, feedback, and iteration. This collaborative process keeps us closely integrated with our clients, and gives us the advantage in helping our customers respond to emerging priorities.

In the end, no one can predict the future. We do our best to make educated, thoughtful plans, and use what resources we can to adapt to the world as it evolves. Opportunity, change and struggle often go hand in hand, though their distribution is not equal. We hope that through supporting our clients as they adjust to the changing world and contributing back to our community, we can help to support resilience in both of those spaces.

And as always, if you have a need for custom web or mobile software development, or even just have questions about how we work or whether we’d be a good fit, reach out; we’re always happy to talk and help you find the best partner for your project, whether that’s us or another team.



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