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Posts Tagged ‘Open Referral’

iCarol announces support for exporting data to Open Referral’s Human Services Data Specification 1.0


For many years, leaders in the Information & Referral (I&R) industry have sought to improve the reliability of exchanging the data they curate about social and human service providers in their community, with partners. In any given region or metropolitan region, it is important for these providers to know about other providers so they can provide referrals to their clients for more specialized services. However, with each provider tracking and managing their own such referral database, it adds up to a significant amount of duplicated effort and large discontinuities in data quality amongst the providers.

But what if the providers could agree upon pooling their efforts and sharing the data amongst themselves, either as a loose federation, or with one obvious centralized provider who is willing to share the data with partners? And what if, on a larger scale, they desired a similar type of pooling across their state/province or even country?

Accomplishing this with all providers using the same software system like iCarol can be done fairly expeditiously and we have many such successful examples in our client base today. But in reality, these service providers have quite different operational needs for tracking and serving their clients and hence have a heterogeneous collection of different software systems they use for their daily work.

That’s where an agreed-upon data standard can facilitate the sharing of resource databases amongst partners using different software systems. There are several such standards that are either completed or in development in the industry and iCarol continues to play an active role in their definition and adoption.

Greg Bloom Open Referral iCarol

One of those emerging standards we’re hearing a lot of active support for in our client base is the Open Referral initiative. Since we want iCarol to continue to be the most innovative provider of I&R software, we are building support for Open Referral’s Human Services Data Specification (HSDS) version 1.0 directly into iCarol. Administrators and Resource Editors can export their referral database to HSDS 1.0’s “comma separated value” format (CSV), as a free add-on to all iCarol systems. This capability is in our upcoming release, scheduled for the week of May 16th, 2016.

This is the first of a number of steps leveraging HSDS with iCarol, and will allow our clients experimenting with the standard in data sharing partnerships, to quickly generate a dataset for distribution as they see fit to trusted third parties.

Later, we expect to provide our clients with a real-time Application Programming Interface (API) supporting an enhanced version of HSDS, so that they can share their resource data with trusted third parties without the need for exporting and transferring files. We will continue to support our existing iCarol API for the future as well.

According to Greg Bloom, the Chief Organizing Officer of the Open Referral initiative, “iCarol is the market leader for call-center software, with clients all around the country and even the world. That’s why this announcement marks a major step toward a future in which all resource information systems can speak a common language.”

Neil McKechnie, the Director of Services for iCarol, adds “We’re excited about the possibilities of sharing data in a standard way amongst our clients and their trusted partners. As an ‘agnostic’ technology platform, we’re enthusiastic about supporting whatever data standards are well-suited for the information our clients are stewarding in iCarol. We’ve been hearing a lot of support for HSDS in recent months from our most innovative clients and are happy to give them this option. And since we have been active contributors to the HSDS’s definition from its earliest days, we started the effort with a high degree of familiarity.”

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Resource sharing initiatives on the horizon

One of the major challenges that the Information and Referral industry is facing, is finding a way to reliably share currently isolated databases with partners in real-time. Often times in the same metropolitan area, you will have numerous human services agencies managing their own listing of community service providers to whom they may refer their clients for specialized services.

Just assembling such a database initially is a rather large undertaking, no matter how many such service providers you might be trying to track. But then keeping those records accurate and up-to-date is an ongoing, labor intensive endeavor.

Now imagine that effort being duplicated by 5, 10 or even 50 agencies, each of whom has an internal need to have such a referral database. The amount of time and resources that are being duplicated is significant.

So the I&R industry is responding with two different initiatives, both of which aim to make it easier for agencies to share their referral databases with each other, electronically and in real-time, without the need for everyone to be running the same software platform. In each case, the vision is that the agency modifies the software they are running to manage their referral database (which of course iCarol does quite well) to accommodate the developing standards. Once done, the software should be able to both make its own referral database available to partners and third parties, as well as receive such information from those entities.

From then on, an agency could reduce or eliminate the need for themselves to curate a referral database and instead could rely solely on their partners to provide such data. This gets even more interesting when you contemplate incorporating specialized referral databases by entities that target specific populations, like cancer patients, suicide prevention and so on. One could assemble, through these electronic partnerships, a network of very rich referral databases all curated by subject matter experts.

Both initiatives are at about the same early stage in their development, where needs are being collected and the specifications are in draft form. Code For America is sponsoring the Open Referral initiative, and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) is sponsoring what they are initially calling “Linked Data”. It is still unclear exactly how they will be different, but based on the stated goals of each project, a good guess is that Open Referral will be targeting a lightweight, easy to understand and use specification that can be quickly adopted by software developers. The AIRS “Linked Data” project, on the other hand, will likely be a more complex and powerful specification that would meet the needs of their membership organizations, that follow a highly evolved and detailed set of standards.

Indeed, the prospect for the industry is thrilling, and iCarol is at the forefront of these efforts. We have senior representatives actively engaged in conferences, discussions and specification development. We’ll continue updating you on these efforts here on this blog, stay tuned for what promises to be an exciting ride.

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