AppExchange Cleans House for Agency

Case Study: The Chicago Housing Authority taps's AppExchange to get a handle on its data.

When the Chicago Housing Authority needed a way to allow case managers and Chicago public services agencies to better assist public housing residents, the agency chose to develop customized online applications using Salesforce.coms AppExchange.

By using AppExchange, a Web business application development platform, the Chicago Housing Authority has been able to increase accountability by creating a central repository of data and improving the accuracy of tracking residents.

The deployment has not only significantly improved the Chicago Housing Authoritys ability to report data on residents, but it also has reduced the time required to input data and transfer caseloads among different public agencies by more than 50 percent, according to Benjamin Todd, senior manager, technical service department, at the Chicago Housing Authority.

"This tool is actually being used to move forward with the Plan for Transformation in Chicago," Todd said. "The goal is to help our residents come back to mixed-income properties. AppExchange has allowed us to meet that goal by making sure our services are provided in a timely manner."

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The Chicago Housing Authority is a government agency responsible for all public housing in the city of Chicago. The agency is currently in the seventh year of its 10-year Plan for Transformation—an initiative designed to rebuild or rehabilitate 25,000 apartments for public housing families and senior citizens.

Before the deployment of AppExchange, Chicago Housing Authority employees used Microsoft Access databases and Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the citys public housing residents. The Chicago Housing Authority shared the databases and spreadsheets with other public services organizations, each using its own different repository, so it was difficult to keep track of its residents.

"We had over 30 different organizations that would have to come together to decipher the numbers," Todd said.

A year and a half ago, Todd and his colleagues decided that the agency needed to have a Web-based tool that would allow different types of stakeholders—including employees, vendors, multiple public service agencies throughout Chicago and contractors—to view and access data on Chicago housing residents and their families.

The tool needed to be online, but it also needed to be secure enough that only the data that an individual user was authorized to view would be shared. Due to limited IT resources, the agency wanted a system that would be easy to customize and develop, as well as be able to integrate data from existing home-grown systems.

The Chicago Housing Authority looked at three different solutions during the procurement process and decided on Salesforce.coms AppExchange. (Representatives declined to name the competing systems.)

"One of the reasons we went with is that [AppExchange] is a product we could use that we didnt have to host in-house," Todd said. "This allowed us to remove a lot of the development costs and time from our IT department."

Earlier this year, with the help of Model Metrics, a integrator, the agency began rolling out customized online applications that track the services the agency was providing to residents. During the deployment, Model Metrics migrated hundreds of Excel spreadsheets into the agencys customized applications so that users could easily pull data from AppExchange.

Currently, the Chicago Housing Authority has more than 100 licenses, with employees using the AppExchange applications—called the System Provider database—to do everything from track the status of individual residents to update and review the goals set up for particular residents.

While has suffered multiple outages this year, Todd said the Chicago Housing Authority has not been affected by any of them.

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While the Chicago Housing Authoritys main mission is housing, it also offers residents access to services such as job training, day care and drug treatment.

Following the success of the System Provider database, Todd is working on using the AppExchange platform for other projects, including a city program that helps public housing residents find employment.

Todd also may roll out this summer a customized online application for a program called Bridges to Careers—an education program operated in conjunction with the City Colleges of Chicago to provide low-income residents with job training.

"What were trying to do now is not just track Chicago Housing Authority services, but get residents and ex-residents career opportunities," Todd said. "We have been able to use a little differently from how most people use it."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at

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