What’s Next for Work.com? How COVID-Response Apps Were Launched with Lightning Speed

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Work.com is a Salesforce offering that enables businesses to reopen safely. Comprising of applications, resources and content, this range of solutions were brought together with tremendous speed and agility by the Salesforce product development teams.

Work.com is a Salesforce product with a previous life, ‘social performance management platform’, aimed at HR managers to drive motivation and performance, that faded into the shadows around 2015, three years after its initial launch (replaced by Thanks and Badges in Lightning Experience). Salesforce still owned that powerful website domain name – then, the opportunity to put it to use presented itself.

“Spanning”

The rebirth of Work.com as COVID-response apps makes a bold statement to the world: that apps can be developed with lightning speed on the robust Salesforce App Cloud. The first reiteration of Work.com was turned around in 6 weeks. Salesforce became one of its own model customer stories – bringing to market, in 2020 alone, Workplace Command Center, Contact Tracing, Shift Scheduling, Work.com for Schools, Work.com for Vaccines, Work.com for Employees, and Work.com for Customers.

What’s the story behind Work.com’s pivot, and how did Salesforce development teams build with lightning fast speed? Where is Work.com headed, and which challenges are left unsolved?

Work.com in 2020 – Overview

In light of unprecedented pressures COVID-19 placed on businesses globally, Salesforce considered it the opportune time to launch a suite of products that would address the challenges appearing in sectors impacted.

With a new data model and a fresh purpose – here’s what we’ve seen in 2020 with Work.com’s comeback:

May: Workplace Command Center, Contact Tracing, Shift Scheduling, Tableau Data Hub.

August: Work.com for Schools

September: Work.com for Vaccines

October: Work.com for Employees (Employee Workspace, Employee Helpdesk), Work.com for Customers (Queue Management, Broadcast Messaging, Digital Trust Cards).

Why, when, and how Work.com was ‘reborn’

If you happened to read Ian Gott’s article on the Work.com architecture (he was proud to be one of the first to report back to us on the data model), you get a sense of the development effort that would have been involved. If COVID-19 was only named a public health emergency on January 31, 2020 in the US, and not declared a crisis until mid-March in Europe and the US, how did Salesforce manage to coordinate their crisis response?

I wanted to know about the moment ‘Work.com’ was given a name and the true turnaround time from conception to reality. I just had to find the right person with the answers.

Fortunately, I had the chance to speak with Genevieve Weber, SVP & COO, Platform, Trailhead, & Developers at Salesforce.

With a bold job title, I was curious about the role she energizes at Salesforce. Energize – a good choice of vocabulary – as Genevieve is focused on a broad remit that ranges from big questions like “how do we make ‘platform’ a $X billion business, alone, in the next 5 years?”, trickling down to support for Trailhead account login.

So, how did the story go?

“I returned to work at Salesforce after 4 months of maternity leave, and in my first meeting the work.com logo appeared on a slide. I had no idea what that meant, so I frantically started searching through my emails for background. It had only been a month since Covid-19 hit the United States, so I was amazed we were about to launch a solution to help our customers survive the impact of the pandemic. I was impressed by the speed and customer focus. Now I’m proud of how work.com has allowed our customers to go from survive to thrive.”


– Genevieve Weber, SVP & COO, Platform, Trailhead, & Developers at Salesforce

How was the Work.com Roadmap Formed?

Work.com has grown with consistent releases throughout 2020. Each release addresses a different vertical (schools, public sector, retail) or demographic (employees, the general public).

The Work.com roadmap was driven by what organizations both in the private and public sector needed. Salesforce, practicing what they preach, reached out to their customers and listened.

The Story of Contract Tracing

Contact Tracing tracks “interactions across employees, customers, meetings, and locations to identify possible points of transmission”. It makes sense – Salesforce stores people records, and data on what those people are doing (workplaces, or work orders in Salesforce Field Service).

The story behind the Contact Tracing solution is fascinating – one that has surprising origins in a small state with big ambitions:

“Governor Raimondo recognized that speed was key to containing the pandemic in her state – and that meant using technology instead of paper for contact tracing. The initial contact tracing process in Rhode Island involved taking garbage bags full of paper with test results to the Dept. of Heath for analysis! After calling Marc Benioff late on a Friday night and asking for help, he immediately prioritized developing a solution to automate the contact tracing process on the Salesforce platform. I’m glad that she turned to Salesforce to help keep the citizens of Rhode Island safe.”


– As told by Genevieve Weber.

How Rapid Product Development Was Made Possible

The first release of Work.com reimagined landed in May following a 6-8 week turn around. For Salesforce, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the true power of the Salesforce platform for rapid application development – the proof is in the pudding, as we say.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, our customers were looking to us for help create a pathway back to the office. And this wasn’t easy, because we weren’t in the office either!” (source)

The challenge was set, the goal was highly ambitious. What exactly makes incredible, lightning-fast development possible? We can find answers from Assaf Ben-Gur, VP of Product Management at Salesforce.

“The platform is effectively a set of building blocks that allow organizations to take pieces, combine them, and stack them together to build solutions and apps that best fit their unique business needs.”

(source)

The following was leveraged to build, test and deliver Work.com in 8 weeks:

  • Development environments like Scratch Orgs – a disposable deployment of Salesforce code – were spun up for every developer across the development teams.
  • A branching process that allowed them to build much faster,
  • Continuous integration and delivery to ensure any development was vetted for quality at every step.
  • Using the Salesforce Platform’s built in capabilities for automation, privacy, security, mobile, AI and more.
  • The Salesforce Platform is defined by an open, standards-based developer experience that empowered the teams to work at speed.

These reasons demonstrate how Salesforce were able to move fast by leveraging their own platform. They suddenly became their own customer success story, to add to their growing portfolio.

Read the full Q&A with Assaf Ben-Gur.

Overcoming Product Development Challenges

Despite having one of the leading Enterprise Low-code Application Platforms at their disposal, there were other hurdles to jump over.

For one, the longer-term scope of Work.com was not complete. The number and type of organizations (and in turn, the individuals) Work.com would need to service was expanding as Salesforce heard of emerging use cases from their customers.

“[We] aligned on packaging as the best way to do this at scale. Thanks to our packaging capabilities, we were able to assemble apps for various return to work functions, such as shift management and wellness checks.”
(source)

Technology is only one aspect. The project was a test of how robust Salesforce’s people (team structure) and process were. Any seasoned professional in the product development/professional services space will know that if any of the three factors are absent, your project is at risk of imploding. Luckily, Salesforce’s story has a happy ending:

“This work took place across many different teams, and while the technology is critical, it wouldn’t have been feasible to move this quickly if the people and processes weren’t firmly in place.”
(source)

Is Work.com a product that will continue to evolve? Which challenges are left unsolved?

We see each part of the Work.com collection addresses different verticals or demographics.
I asked ‘Is there a play for every industry?’, perhaps this is how Work.com will expand and evolve.

Genevieve said that, yes, Work.com will continue to evolve in 2021, and beyond:

“I can’t predict the future, but what I do know is that in this all-digital work-from-anywhere world, work.com is helping companies better prepare for the future. There’s so much opportunity in this digital world – teams that used to be in one location are now distributed. This all-digital world is here to stay and will help us unlock innovation and productivity that was previously five years down the road. Work.com will become a powerful tool to manage future crises, but more importantly it will continue to help companies treat their employees like customers and help them thrive.”

The need for Work.com’s solutions won’t go away after COVID-19 is over. There will still be a future need for them for natural disasters and other pandemics, an unfortunate reality that we have to face – and arm ourselves with the technologies to respond and mitigate their effects.

Final Thought

The rebirth of Work.com as COVID-response apps has two main takeaways for the world:

  1. That apps can be developed with lightning speed on the robust Salesforce App Cloud. (the first reiteration of Work.com was turned around in 6 weeks).
  2. Work.com is a huge differentiator for Salesforce that will continue to service the needs of organisations to, of course, keep them ahead of competitors, but first and foremost keep close to the ethos of bettering the world.

We will see this strengthened commitment to the Public Sector continue through 2021, with Salesforce Industries soon to be bolstered with expertise from the Acumen acquisition.

One can hope that as the world continues to be in a state of flux, Salesforce will continue to ‘show up’ and innovate.

My thanks goes to Ashley Eliasoph and Genevieve Weber for their insight which made delivering this story possible.

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