“Because VerticalChange runs on AWS, it can scale automatically over time, so we can grow our volume of childhood development data very quickly. We couldn’t do that using our previous technology platform.”
Pedro Paz Program and Evaluation Manager, First 5 Santa Barbara County

VerticalChange, headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, offers a modern software platform that enables social service and public health organizations to streamline data collection, management, and analysis. The VerticalChange data management tool helps organizations to more effectively perform client management, service tracking and impact reporting. VerticalChange is a partner in the AWS Public Sector Partner Program (PSP). 

Since its founding in 2012, VerticalChange has sought to respond to the data management needs of the social service and public health sectors. The three main challenges VerticalChange set out to address were fragmented and inefficient data collection, lack of collaboration between agencies, and data privacy and security requirements.

The great majority of social service and public health sector agencies such as childcare providers have long relied on data collected by multiple organizations to offer the best care to clients. But because many of these organizations rely on their own systems for data collection and analysis, getting accurate and timely data is a major challenge. “A lot of organizations use siloed systems to track things like early childhood development data, which is very inefficient,” says Jonathan Humfrey, CEO of VerticalChange. “We saw the need for a consolidated solution for data collection and reporting.”

VerticalChange also wanted to enable agencies to collaborate more easily with partners. “We were seeing a big need for interoperability between data systems, and we wanted to find a way to connect them,” says Humfrey. A specific area of need the company identified was the sharing of data with funding agencies, such as county programs and nonprofit providers that collect the service data. Those nonprofits often struggle to provide funding agencies with the data they require.

Also, with collaboration comes concern about securing confidential data, and VerticalChange needed to meet its customers’ requirements to comply with the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and other regulations on data security.

To help agencies solve their data management, interoperability, and compliance challenges, VerticalChange chose to develop a cloud-based data management application based on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud. “Some of us have experience building applications on AWS, and we were very confident in the technology,” says Humfrey. VerticalChange also became a partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN) and participated as a launch partner in the AWS Public Sector Partner Program (PSP). “We joined the APN because we were a startup looking for technical assistance and knowledge that could help us accelerate growth,” says Humfrey. “The AWS PSP program enables us to work with public sector SMEs within AWS, furthering our relationships with our government customers.”

VerticalChange created a data management and tracking solution that gives organizations a central place to collect data from disparate systems and provides the ability to share program-related data with other partner organizations and funding agencies. Because it is based in the cloud, the system gives users access to their data wherever they are. The solution also includes security features such as SSL encryption for communication within the application, in addition to role-based permissions and access logs displaying all user requests for files and data.

The VerticalChange application is based on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, with customer data such as artifacts and images stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) buckets. The organization also uses AWS CloudFormation templates to create, manage, and provision AWS resources. “We use AWS CloudFormation to deploy application updates many times a day,” Humfrey says. This gives VerticalChange the agility to provide continuous application deployments, so the system can grow with its clients and quickly address any new requirements and future challenges.”

VerticalChange can also easily add more application users. “We are a small company, but we get a very robust application platform by running on AWS,” says Victor Christensen, CTO of VerticalChange. “AWS also gives us unlimited scalability, so we can scale our application automatically as we continue to grow and add new customers.”

VerticalChange’s use of AWS enables the company to successfully address the data-resource paradox faced by the social and public sectors: the expectation to show evidence of program value through data collection without sufficient resources to collect data. Now, the problems of poor quality in data collection—barriers to multi-organization collaboration—and inadequate compliance are resolved with an affordable and easy-to-use application.

The VerticalChange data management application has transformed the way its customers collect and analyze data. For example, First 5 Santa Barbara County, which supports the health, early learning, and well-being of children and their families, is now able to easily access childhood development and health data being collected through VerticalChange at more than 20 nonprofits and government agencies across the county. Organizations that take advantage of the system to share data with First 5 can also use it to collect data for all their other programs and services, and they can be confident that only the data relevant to their First 5 contract will be shared. This removes the need for multiple data collection processes, which often lead to user error and inaccurate data. “We can pull in more data from different sources into a single application, so we no longer need to rely on spreadsheets. Also, because we eliminate the possibility of human error from manual processes, we know the data is more accurate and up to date,” says Mari Ortega-Garcia, a program officer for First 5 Santa Barbara County.

Using the VerticalChange application, First 5 Santa Barbara County can also scale its data to support an increasing number of partner organizations. “Because VerticalChange runs on AWS, it can scale automatically over time, so we can grow our volume of childhood development data very quickly,” says Pedro Paz, program and evaluation manager for the organization. “We couldn’t do that using our previous technology platform.”

“Our applications contain a lot of sensitive data, whether it’s health or education information. Using VerticalChange, knowing that it’s based on AWS, we can confidently say our data is highly protected, and we can achieve FERPA compliance.” 
Josh Matacotta Research Manager, Child Care Resource Center

The Child Care Resource Center (CCRC) is another organization benefiting from the use of the VerticalChange application. CCRC offers a range of early-care and education programs and services to more than 50,000 children, parents, childcare providers, and Head Start teachers every month. Program staff use VerticalChange to gather data, while program evaluators analyze the data to better assess the quality and efficacy of childhood development work conducted throughout California. CCRC can now input data from statewide Head Start and Early Head Start programs, integrate it with school and childcare center data, and share the information with other agencies.

“We used to have a very siloed system in place, and sharing data with other counties was difficult,” says Josh Matacotta, research manager for CCRC. “Now, we can integrate data across different counties and childcare centers. We can also integrate our case management system with VerticalChange. That’s been huge for us, because our researchers and childcare providers can access all that data on one system.”

CCRC has greatly reduced its reliance on manual processes by using VerticalChange. “Now, instead of spending time doing data entry, our researchers can look at the quality of the data instead,” says Matacotta. CCRC is also greatly reducing costs by relying on a cloud-based application. “We save 65 to 70 percent in our budget each year by opting for the VerticalChange cloud solution,” he says. “Our estimate includes savings from backup costs; upgrading hard drives; warranty, maintenance, and support costs associated with a server; and the cost of electricity and an HVAC system to run the servers.”

In addition, CCRC can maintain compliance with data privacy regulations. “Our applications contain a lot of sensitive data, whether it’s health or education information,” says Matacotta. “Using VerticalChange, knowing that it’s based on AWS, we can confidently say our data is highly protected, and we can achieve FERPA compliance.” 

VerticalChange has benefited significantly from its participation in the AWS Partner Network. “In our early days as a startup, being in the APN really helped us,” says Humfrey. “Being able to say to potential clients that we were an AWS partner, and we were running our application on AWS instilled a lot of confidence.” Additionally, VerticalChange has expanded its business by becoming an AWS Public Sector Partner. “Our participation in the AWS Public Sector Partner Program has led to very significant business for us, including our work with First 5 Santa Barbara County and CCRC,” Humfrey says. “Also, having access to AWS engineers and solution architects has really helped us a lot in accelerating the development of our application.”

The transformation taking place at First 5 Santa Barbara County and CCRC is confirming VerticalChange’s vision of making social change through software, and it is helping the company expand the solution to other organizations. Humfrey says, “We are very impressed with the scalability and flexibility of AWS, and we look forward to advancing our application.” As VerticalChange continues to grow and meet the challenges of the social and public sectors, the company hopes to unite people through software to make a significant positive impact on communities in need around the world. 

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VerticalChange, headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, offers a modern software platform that enables social service and public health organizations to streamline data collection, management, and analysis. The VerticalChange data management tool helps organizations to more effectively perform client management, service tracking and impact reporting. VerticalChange is a partner in the AWS Public Sector Partner Program (PSP).

Learn more about AWS Public Sector Partner Program