Tuesday, 2nd June 2020

Technology gives a helping hand

Amidst the disruption and heartbreak that the COVID-19 global pandemic has caused, there have been many examples of community spirit and people coming together to support each other. One such example of community togetherness is coming from Desford, England, a small village in the East Midlands where locals have banded together and leveraged technology to support those in need.

Spearheaded by local resident James Holt, a group of over 100 volunteers are carrying out basic services like grocery and medical supply delivery, dog walking and placing friendly phone calls for those who are most impacted by the pandemic. The idea for this support system came after James noticed the disparate levels of aid provided, sometimes from street to street. James stepped up and into action to create an easier and more scalable system where the village’s users could access a centralised portal to get help when needed.

“As government advice changed to recommend self-isolation for anyone feeling unwell, pockets of individuals in the village started to build street-level groups using social media to provide a contact mechanism for anyone currently unable to leave their home” said James Holt. “The problem is that some streets were well coordinated, and other streets were less evolved, with individuals on some streets left completely unsupported, and unsure of what to do in a rapidly changing and somewhat frightening situation.”

Partnering to Find a Solution

As a senior solutions consultant at Descartes System Group, James is familiar with the complexities that can stem from deliveries and online services. The Descartes System Group team uses CRM software provider, Freshworks, to help manage the company’s inbound customer ticketing system. Through James’ experience with the system, and his discussions with other village supporters, they looked to see how similar technology could be used to help bring the village together in a more coordinated effort. They decided to create a website, which provided both relevant information and a link where citizens could request for help.

“We use Freshworks within Descartes, so I was familiar with the ticketing system from an IT support perspective. I thought it made most sense to use something similar so I contacted my Freshworks account manager and they very generously provided us with a free license of their Freshdesk product,” said James.

Making Volunteering Easy

With Freshdesk’s off-the-shelf ‘support ticket’ capability, inbound requests were automatically distributed and assigned to volunteers within the village, with full visibility to ensure that all tickets are handled quickly. Since implementing, over 100 volunteers have each been self trained to operate as a Desford Volunteer ‘agent’, quickly responding to support requests as needed, managing communication with the residents, completing the request, and then closing the ticket.

“Freshworks has assisted us in coordinating our COVID-19 relief efforts via their Freshdesk software. It has enabled our volunteer network to do its job in a more efficient way, which in turn helped to bring our village together. We are now able to easy and quickly support many vulnerable residents within Desford and keep them safe in these times of uncertainty,” said Becky Whitehead, Desford Support Group Volunteer

A Lasting Impact

“What started off as a small community project is snowballing as parish guilds, government health agencies and other organizations are referring locals to the website so they can better connect with support,” continued James. “We’ve tapped into something remarkable — not only are people getting the services they need but they are establishing true connections which is breaking down the barriers created by shelter in place initiatives.”

The program has already delivered some great results within the community. “My mother-in-law suffers from Alzheimers and is finding the present situation very confusing and worrying. Just to know there are friendly faces out there that are also thinking of her at this difficult time is very reassuring and reinforces our view that we are very fortunate to live in such a caring village community,” said one local recipient.

“During these uncertain times, we are committed to helping people in need; It’s wonderful to see initiatives like this take hold,” said Simon Johnson, General Manager UK&I at Freshworks. “We don’t know how long this situation is going to last but Freshworks is proud to support our community in any way we can.”

With all the momentum James sees the start of something much bigger. “What we are seeing is crowd-sourced care giving, the benefits of which extend far beyond the pandemic,” said James.

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