A Software Entrepreneur’s Contributions to Volunteer Management and Social Change Innovation

Omar Uddin, Founder and CEO of UVision Consulting, a business technology consultancy, was a part of the team that was honored by President Bush in 2008 for Public Service Awareness Campaign, ThankYouOcean.org in partnership with NOAA, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the State of California.

A pioneer for developing and implementing web and software products, such as Music.com and VolunteerACT.com, Omar Uddin has recently launched DecisionMatrix.co that can reduce time and hefty cost that corporations spend annually to make vital group decisions and BrandVizor.com to allow businesses to grow their talent through private 360 peer feedback automation.

Here are some questions that I posed to Omar and his answers:

Question 1. Why is it important to build virtual volunteer organizations in communities with respect to disaster reduction and recovery as well as of other volunteer activities locally and globally, such as biodiversity awareness and preservation of the environment?

Answer:  Governments are slashing budgets across many different agencies, departments, programs and so forth. Citizens who are self activated and self-motivated are picking up the slack to help where they can. A more coordinated effort of coordinator leaders, volunteers and organizational execution is almost always a better result and can build buy-in, support, sponsorship (investment, fundraising, grants), and community engagement.

Question 2. Tell us the reasons for developing NOAA’s volunteer web based tool, its name, and how NOAA uses it. Provide useful links for readers.

Answer: In 2004, NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSF) was overseeing separate volunteer programs set up to aid causes of National Marine Sanctuaries Program. However, NOAA was considering consolidation of the programs because of:

• Too many isolated sanctuary volunteer programs

• No global or regional reports

• Each sanctuary having different volunteer databases

• No National Volunteer recognition programs

• No way to reuse volunteer resources across sites

NOAA recognized that UVision’s solution was a perfect fit for their requirements. Along with privacy and security measures to protect volunteer data, UVision designed the VolunteerNET application for NOAA to be deployed at NOAA IT data centers.  UVision’s service and provided solutions included:

• Customized VolunteerNet by assessing all distinct databases and programs in addition to NMS

• Enabled performance tracking of volunteer activity across all sites

• Created a robust nation-wide volunteer management program

• Incorporated the ability to find and allocate volunteer resources to respond to initiatives championed by NOAA and related organizations

• Rapid selection of exceptional volunteers at various levels with reporting tools

The primary goal was to consolidate various separate volunteer time and data tracking methods being used across the National Marine Sanctuaries. Volunteer coordinators at 24 sites had previously been using spreadsheets, paper, MS Access databases and so forth — none of which were web based. We had to comply with NOAA’s strict privacy and security policies and helped them deploy the solution in-house. The data that NOAA was looking to aggregate and report on was volunteer time across various dimensions such as region, activity, location to help with volunteer recognition as well as. The resulting output of this solution has yielded over 100,000 hours of time being contributed by NOAA citizen volunteers across the nation which NOAA and the Department of Commerce submit to Congress annually as part of budget appropriation decision making.

Question 3. Are you providing more web based tools so that people can help in and volunteer in their free time without being bound to contact during normal work hours?

Answer: There are different flavors of solutions we have built and are continuing to build for different organizations as some of them need specific customizations or integrations with their existing IT enterprise systems.

VolunteerACT.com is a social media brand-ambassador and recruitment hub for causes to publish events without the need for their own website and get social media based followers to motivate others into volunteers which we launched at SXSW 2010.

Also check out this youtube video interview by Alan Weinkrantz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRLqLc7ECZE

We are also building a solution for Alice Ferguson Foundation in partnership with National Geographic FieldScope along with many organizations in the Washington, DC Metro area to foster many types of volunteer activities starting with major clean up events around the area. Using GIS mapping tools we will also visualize all the data being collected at these events aside from time records such as how many McDonalds wrappers were picked up to aid in sponsorship from brands like McDonalds!

Question 4. How about reaching out to consumers through mobile apps?

Answer:  There are existing solutions that do this but on a limited number of use cases such as ‘tagging’ photos for a museum such as http://www.sparked.com/ which is a concept built by the Extraordinaires a micro-volunteering startup from San Francisco, CA.

Question 5. What are your other contributions to technology that you would like to share?

Answer:

I’ve built several solutions in the tech space, been apart of 10 startups and led engineering in 4 startups to successful exits.

  • 2008 – US Presidential Coastal America Award for technology support of online ocean conservation campaigns for the State of California and NOAA – ThankYouOcean.org.
  • 2006 – Developed enterprise web application for 4Front Security, a security compliance and assessment startup leading to a $9 million acquisition by Symantec Corporation in 2007.
  • 2006 – Developed grid computing web applications for Ignited Discovery, resulting in exponential increase in e-discovery throughput, helping client earn 2009 Inc500 award and acquired by Navigant Consulting in 2011.
  • 2005 – Developed applications still in use by NOAA & Department of Commerce for building loyal volunteer workforces and tracking nationwide average of 100,000 hours of volunteer contributions per year to Congress to aid in budget approvals.
  • 2003 – Architected and managed DevOps for global hotel booking engine platform for HotelsCentral.com which was later acquired by Booking.com, Priceline.com.

BrandVizor.com is an idea that has stemmed from big corporations who are looking for every advantage or change possible to improve their bottom line. To grow the corporate brand a business should focus on all the individual brands of employees, to make their workforce stronger and happier which can have a tremendous effect on how a company is perceived in the market and most importantly with their customers. BrandVizor.com is an innovation in peer review and intelligence research on business employee and individual personal brands. By understanding how people you know perceive you in an anonymous, private way, people can better learn to self improve or self actualize their own value outward to their clients, their employer and really to the entire world.

DecisionMatrix.co is a tool I built as a minimum viable product to address a problem I’ve noticed in my consulting work as well as in large corporations during stakeholder meetings or committee meetings to review business alternatives in a complex decision. By using a decision matrix, one or a group of people can rank every ‘option’ or ‘alternative’ against a group of criteria or ‘objectives’ weighted by % or importance score. The trouble with spreadsheet use is that they are usually done by a business analyst who interviews everyone with the goal of streamlining and aggregating the stakeholder input. Also information is lost during this interview process that the business analyst may never record or present — since the final deliverable to the decision makers is a spreadsheet table.  By building a flexible, simple, collaborative web application that eliminates the need for a spreadsheet, DecisionMatrix.co allows for collaborative decision making in a transparent way that a spreadsheet doesn’t do well.

So far I’ve released this as a free open tool and if people would like access to a more premium version to include historical decisions, templates, collaborative invitations and new visualizations over time, they can sign up for the beta.

Question 6. What do you see your role and place in IT and web community five years from now?

Answer: In the past I’ve wanted to build products both as part of my own learning of business world but now to really solve problems that make a difference in both business and personal world.  I’ve tracked my career since my first startup in 1999 with both successes every 3-4 years and a couple of failures in between but most of all my consulting firm helps hundreds of companies and aspiring business people achieve their vision. I now see myself more as a startup innovator and visionary in addition to an advisor to many organizations and individuals to help them with their business or social change ideas and problems. Doing both is what gets me up in the day and keeps me working hard — regardless of the challenge or problems I’m trying to solve.  Lastly, I hope to be able to become an investor in even more people with ideas who also create jobs and help more people through thought leadership, incubation of great entrepreneurs, teams, products and innovations. I will also like to spend more time helping with social innovation through philanthropy and volunteerism.

End of Interview.

Dr. Uddin: I can see potential benefits of using your volunteer management web technology on all levels for biodiversity awareness and disaster preparedness campaigns.
Thanks very much for your answers and insights in the field of internet and software technology world. I wish you all the best in your current activities and future ventures.

 

3 thoughts on “A Software Entrepreneur’s Contributions to Volunteer Management and Social Change Innovation”

  1. Very interesting interview. I visited the decisionmatrix.co website and it is fascinating. I am a visual person, and to see possible outcomes of decision options visualized was very informative.

    Are there many coporate users of this tool?

    keep up the great work!

  2. Hi Bill,

    I appreciate your feedback and comment.

    I think images speak louder than words for everyone — being visual is natural to all of us I think. I’ve built many tools like this that uses visualization — my earliest jobs when I was a teenager was in high end visualization interfaces for research and engineering projects including grayscale mobile PDAs back in the 90’s.

    I designed this tool as a response to many small and large company committee decision making activities who were spending an enormous or not enough time for major decisions such as hiring, procurement, management, risk throughout business, government and not to mention that people do this daily in their personal life.

    We all know that time = money. Hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars are being wasted by government and business sectors in talking and evaluating options on a decision when they can increase transparency, reduce group think and democratize group decision making in a more holistic way that’s trackable and reusable using a tool like DecisionMatrix.co.

    The current free tool is limited to a few alternatives and no saving/collaboration. The goal was to eliminate spreadsheets and the process of isolated interviewing and make things more realtime as well as collaborative so that the rankings of people’s inputs are explained which you can’t really do in a spreadsheet with more than 1 person adding their inputs.

    I’d love to learn more about your specific business needs to see if they are in alignment with what we are providing to other companies in private. I can also tell you more about the feature set that’s coming up and see if that is something you or your company would benefit from. I built tools to help people and companies — sometimes they aren’t that useful sometimes they are wildly useful — sometimes I build them to scratch my own itch as they say.

    I’ll try contacting you via LinkedIn to find a time to chat.

    Thanks.
    Omar

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