In April, Zaelab announced the launch of C19 Supply Exchange, a peer-to-peer exchange for qualified institutions and suppliers to facilitate the movement of essential medical protective equipment. The product was developed by volunteer Zaelab employees in response to the global shortage of PPE and its devastating impact on the war against COVID-19. Drawing on internal skills and knowledge, Zaelab developed the exchange in 10 days using AWS cloud.
The idea came about when Zaelab CEO Evan Klein noticed several people in his YPO network were communicating about the redistribution of PPE equipment. While certain groups faced significant supply shortages, it seemed like other groups had supply – and lots of it.
The Zaelab team came together to conduct some market research and identify the issue. Data quickly unveiled that this was an allocation and distribution challenge – not a supply shortage. Zaelab, a digital advisory and solutions company, has always been in the business of connecting B2B suppliers with buyers. With the knowledge, skills, and access to technology, the team rallied together to create a solution.
Recognizing the Challenge, Leading with the Experience
The Zaelab team was excited to help. With most employees being nearly 100% utilized on client projects, it became clear that this would be a volunteer project. The idea of working evenings and weekends was no deterrent for Zaelab – 17 team members signed up to help and got started. “I had no doubt that the team could and would deliver,” said Evan. “We structured the C19 Supply Exchange project like we would a client project, using the key roles, communication techniques, and technology required to deliver against requirements.”
Time was of the essence. With the end-users in mind, the team jumped in and started with the customer experience.
The Zaelab Principal Digital Business Consultant conducted interviews with hospitals, doctors, and nurses about what they needed and how they could trust and leverage a digital exchange to close the PPE supply shortage gap. User experience interviews confirmed several important points:
- Most medical practitioners required specific PPE – N95 masks were most commonly requested
- There was concern around supplier and product authenticity and recent fraudulence
Zaelab BA insights from these user interviews ensured that the C19 Supply Exchange MVP would include:
- Product categories must be defined on the exchange, and lead with the most critical PPE
- To combat fraudulence, C19 Supply Exchange would not disclose hospital contact information to suppliers who reached out directly. This gave medical practitioners control over who they communicated with to eliminate fraudulent activities.
Product Development Approach
The delivery of this tool could help save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. The team set an aggressive timeline to launch an MVP in 10 days.
Equipped with user experience research and insights, Ruslan Saliei, Zaelab’s Delivery Director, took the lead on the project. I sat down with Ruslan to understand how he structured the team, created a product both suppliers and medical facilities needed, and ultimately delivered a product in less than two weeks.
SK: What was your role in the project?
RS: I took on several roles with this project. Mainly, I was a PM, facilitating information flow, helping to resolve roadblocks, and updating stakeholders with the most relevant information from different areas of the product development cycle. I also helped with building requirements, testing, and resourcing and managing the tech team.
SK: Who were the critical stakeholders on this project and why?
RS: There were several critical stakeholders on the project. Internally, we made sure to have an executive sponsor as a final decision maker (Evan), a tech team of developers, DevOps, and QA, an individual to craft the requirements and give direction, a PM to ensure all gears were connected into one production engine, and marketing support for post-development and product launch. Externally, our stakeholders were suppliers and medical facilities in need of PPE.
SK: How did you determine the order of priorities and keep the team organized?
RS: We leveraged critical user experience insights that the BA team sourced from the beginning. This included the crucial needs of hospitals, as well as the type of supplies we knew were accessible and could be posted to the exchange. From there, priorities for the development scope came out of the MVP user journey. Afterwards, other priorities were incremental improvement based on data trends and further user interviews and recommendations.
SK: What technology and what development skills were required to create this product?
RS: We used Kubernetes cluster, some Java coding to build APIs to connect FE with DB, DynamoDB to store the data, SOLR for search, and AWS Cognito for user management. From the FE perspective, we used a React-based framework called Material UI.
Product Launch and Beyond
Since launching the solution, C19 Supply Exchange has had dozens of postings for N95 masks, isolation masks, face shields, thermometers, and more from qualified suppliers, and has facilitated transactions between these suppliers and medical facilities in need. The Zaelab team is thrilled to have used its expertise to provide help during this global pandemic.
Beyond C19 Supply Exchange, the Zaelab team learned a lot. I asked Ruslan what some of the biggest takeaways from the project were, and how this applies to future client digital transformation projects.
“Building an in-house product should start with the business case or needs analysis, followed by a development plan and then a marketing strategy. A dedicated team should be assigned to the project and have clear milestones. Using ready-to-go solutions like AWS can significantly decrease the implementation time. Time of the launch matters a lot. Demand can decrease while developing, so being the first on the market can have a massive advantage for the solution. Having an aggressive timeline isn’t unrealistic – you just need to collectively agree on the key priorities and functionalities, launch, and continuously innovate.”