As another year closes and a new one begins, we naturally reflect on the accomplishments, celebrations, and important moments of 2019 while anticipating all that lies ahead. Personally, I consider the past year to be one full of progress, both in the industries we serve and here at iCarol.
All year we engage with our customers at industry conferences, forums, and in other capacities so we can be intimately aware of the topics currently affecting them and others on the horizon. This helps us to respond in kind to meet these needs with new, innovative solutions from iCarol. This year was no exception – we have seen movement across all of the industries we serve that open opportunities for our customers that we are actively exploring ways to support using iCarol software.
In the world of Information and Referral, the topics of Social Determinants of Health, Closed-loop referral, and further encouragement to engage in partnerships and collaboration all show promise for many exciting opportunities for our customers. Those working to address sexual and intimate partner violence continue to advocate for education, awareness, prevention, improved response, and justice for all those who experienced a crime. We’re excited to see their advocacy result in new legislation across several states that extend statutes of limitations for crimes, signaling better recognition of the complexities and time involved for survivors to report, and improved allocation of resources towards testing material from forensic exams, improving the chances that survivors will receive justice. In December, the United States Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to establish a three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the next 18 months. This is long sought after acknowledgement that mental health emergencies deserve the same attention and response as the types of emergencies reported to 9-1-1, something suicide prevention advocates have long been pressing for as a way to prevent suicide. Finally, concerns about consent for contact and data privacy continue to loom large across the world. Previous years have given us CASL in Canada and GDPR in the EU, both sweeping and comprehensive sets of regulations. Now we are beginning to see individual states and provinces taking on the task of writing their own legislation to protect consumers from having their data harvested and sold without their knowledge and consent, most notably in California’s Consumer Protection Act. We are doing all we can, and relying on our resources available through Harris Computer, to make sure that we are in full compliance with such laws, and that our customers are aware of how these laws may impact them directly.
These are just a few examples of developments impacting our customers in the year ahead. Of course we will look for any ways iCarol can support our customers through these changes, and help them carry out their life saving work. Look for more from us on our blog and webinars for updates on how we are addressing these topics.
The industries we serve aren’t the only ones experiencing progress – iCarol, too, went through positive changes in 2019. In December we moved to a new infrastructure on which the iCarol web application runs – Microsoft Azure. The migration to this new platform was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and effort, and was not without its challenges and setbacks, but we are delighted to now be fully operational in the new environment and excited for all it means for our customers. Microsoft Azure will help us provide the most up-to-date, technologically advanced platform available. We can scale and ramp up performance as needed to meet increases in system use, whether it be due to an event, disaster, or the normal periodic demands on the system that occur for monthly exports and reporting. We are delighted not just by the way this move allows us to be more responsive to system demands, but knowing that Azure offers built-in security services that include unparalleled security intelligence. We are very excited to track data over time to show how this new infrastructure improves performance and stability, and supports the future growth in iCarol’s customer base.
I must acknowledge and express deep gratitude for the great support and patience we received from our customers during this transition and in the months prior. Our customers exercised immense trust and patience with us as we developed the plan to make this sweeping change to our infrastructure. Their user testing of the new environment, feedback, and communication with us greatly contributed to the success of this project. I cannot say enough wonderful things about our customers as essential partners with us on this journey.
There is much more to share about what was accomplished in the year behind us, and what’s on our agenda for the year ahead. Later this month we will host a “State of iCarol” webinar for our customers reviewing 2019 progress and our plans for 2020. You can also look to our blogs and email updates, and for customers, our Admin Dashboard, for more exciting information as it develops.
So, as this new year begins, I wish to thank everyone who makes it their life’s work to help others, most especially our customers, on behalf of the entire iCarol Team. Every day we see the positive impact you have on individuals and communities as a whole, and we could not be more honored to play a small part in the amazing work you do. The team at iCarol is excited to see what 2020 holds and hope for continued progress towards a safer, happier, and healthier society thanks to the work you do.
Vice President, Operations
As I reflect back on 2018, there’s no question that this has been a significant year for iCarol. As many of you know, iCarol was acquired by Harris Computer Systems on March 12 of 2018. Harris is part of Constellation Software, Inc., Canada’s largest software company.
The Harris acquisition allowed our co-founders, Neil and Jackie McKechnie, to step away from iCarol knowing that it would be in good hands as part of a company which intended to retain it, invest in it and to help it grow further. While it was bittersweet to lose Neil and Jackie, we realized this move enabled them to pursue new goals in their lives, including spending more time with family and friends. We stay closely in touch with them and wish them the very best in their new endeavors.
This new chapter in iCarol’s history has brought a number of benefits, as the iCarol team has been able to rely on guidance from Harris’ accomplished compliance and legal teams, and to utilize ongoing assistance from corporate Finance and IT departments. This freed up team members to focus on other needs of the organization, which we could not do as easily before we had the resources of Harris behind us.
In addition, as part of Harris there is an ongoing opportunity to learn and grow from a team of thousands of software professionals in a variety of roles, allowing us to network with sister business units in sectors such as healthcare, emergency management, law enforcement, government, public schools, and more. There’s a lot to learn as we bring back ideas to improve iCarol, in how we serve and support our customers, and how we design our software to provide more value to its users.
We look forward to continued growth and investment in iCarol in 2019, as we focus on five primary initiatives throughout the year:
- Increased Scalability
- Improved Data Privacy and Security
- More Powerful Resource Management
- Greater Flexibility in Reporting
- Collaborative Data Sharing
In the interests of keeping this blog brief, we’ll expand on improvements made to iCarol in 2018, and each of these initiatives in the early part of 2019, through blog articles and webinars. Stay tuned for more details on these!
While it’s been a momentous year for iCarol, change has also affected our customers, as we’ve seen trends in nonprofit funding and donations shift, and in some cases decline precipitously. A number of our customers provide some type of assistance during and after disasters, and there have been many heartbreaking examples this year. Throughout it all our customers have stood strong and assisted as many as they possibly could, which continues to inspire us here at iCarol. As a matter of fact, the Harris team has commented on the tremendous commitment displayed by the iCarol team, which comes directly from working with our customers, and witnessing their determination in the face of such difficult odds.
On the positive side, in 2018 we have seen some strides forward in government recognition of the importance of suicide prevention, which heartens us all. It gives us hope that 2019 will see improvements in the funding and support all our customers rely on to perform their mission.
In this holiday season we salute you, our customers, and the tremendous work that you do. We wish everyone a safe, secure and happy holiday season. We remain honored to serve you and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2019 and beyond.
Warm wishes to you all,
Vice President, Operations
You may have heard of something called the GDPR, which comes into force May, 2018, and might be wondering what it stands for, and what it means. While my personal favorite for the acronym is Grateful Dead Public Radio, an Internet station located in Baltimore, Maryland, in this context, GDPR actually stands for General Data Protection Regulation.
What is the GDPR? A regulation which will be enforced in the European Union (EU) starting on May 25, 2018. It will broaden the definition of personally identifiable data and will strengthen enforcement for its handling. It also gives individuals (called “clients” in this blog, in GDPR documentation referred to as “data subjects”) the power to request copies of any personally identifiable data you track about them, and the power to ask that it be removed from your system.
Before I move to specific details about the GDPR, let me cite a best practice, true for any country on the planet. If your organization doesn’t need your clients’ personally identifiable data for your business processes, don’t ask it and don’t log it even if it is offered. Use shredding (described later in the blog) to remove personally identifiable data after a set period if this practice aligns with your business process. (See the Data Minimisation section below).
iCarol customers own their data 100%. We, at iCarol feel very strongly that any organization should have the right to access their own data. We, as your data stewards, bear some responsibility in ensuring we process only the data to which your clients give permission, and that we both need to put processes in place to keep it secure. At all times, you have the ability to export your data and can delete or modify the personally identifiable data about your clients.
Locations affected: Some have asked us if they are affected by the GDPR even if they are not in the EU. If you work with clients in the EU, then yes, you must adhere, even if your organization is located in North America, or any other location outside the EU.
Location for data storage: Does the GDPR require personal data from clients in the EU to stay in the EU? No it does not. There are no new restrictions on the transfer of personal data outside of the EU. However, there should be more central coordination in place to oversee data activities, and there are rules regarding the following areas:
Consent: You must explicitly, in a very clear manner, ask for consent to track any data about the client. You’ll need to explain what you’d use the data for. We strongly recommend you add a question to your contact forms, also referred to as call report forms, if you don’t today indicating the client has given consent. Since you can add guiding language to a contact form, you might consider wording the question as your legal team specifically suggests, and make sure your volunteers and staff ask it exactly as worded. If you use chat or text, use the pre-chat or pre-text survey to explicitly ask the question.
Data Minimisation: Organizations can collect only the personal data that is adequate and relevant to the intended purpose. As we stressed above, if you do not need personally identifiable data from your client for your process, do not ask it or log it. For instance, if you do not need a social number or other uniquely identifiable data, don’t ask it and log it thinking you might need it later.
Accuracy: The data about a client must be accurate, which means it must be kept up to date if it is retained. Your client has the right to ask for changes if they feel data is inaccurate. Rights to edit submitted contact forms, also known as contact records, can be granted to iCarol volunteers and staff, or your iCarol Administrator(s) can edit the record. Administrators also have the right to edit client profiles, as can volunteers and staff if you grant them the rights.
Retention of data: Personal data must be kept only for as long as it is needed to fulfill the original purpose of its collection. Since iCarol provides a “shredding” feature to remove personally identifiable data within your logged records, we strongly suggest considering deploying that feature. If you’re unfamiliar with the feature, please see the section below on it.
Security of the data: There are a variety of ways to secure the data. iCarol takes the security of your clients’ data very seriously. While the GDPR does not require encryption, personally identifiable data is encrypted within iCarol “in transit” (when it is traveling from a volunteer or staff member’s device to our servers in the data centre), and “at rest”, when it is saved in the database. A number of other security provisions are also in place to protect the data. Should you need more information on this area, please contact me at to schedule a conference call.
Data Access: As noted above, your clients have the right to ask for transcripts of any of their personally identifiable data which is logged in iCarol. You may print out logged records and print them to PDF. We strongly suggest sending them in an encrypted email, or storing them on a secure FTP site for your client to log into to retrieve them. Later this year, iCarol will release the ability to password protect the PDF. You’ll also want to share with them any profile data you may have stored about them, which is accessible by exporting client profiles, which is available to any Administrator of your iCarol system.
Right to Erasure: Your client has the power to request erasure of their data in your system. It’s important for you to devise a business process on how to handle an erasure request from a client. Using iCarol’s shredding feature can assist in ensuring that very little personally identifiable data exists in your system, and using the search feature for contact forms and profiles can enable you to find it very quickly. iCarol Administrators have the right to delete submitted forms and client profiles.
What is Shredding? Shredding is a feature within iCarol which removes personally identifiable data within contact records. Phone numbers, addresses, names, and any data in a text field is removed from the database when it is shredded. An example of what appears in place of the data is shown below:
iCarol Administrators can turn the feature on in the Admin Tools/Calls tab of iCarol, which schedules the automatic shredding. We already have a range of timeframes you can select in order to shred the data, based upon the age of the contact record. Shredding allows you to maintain the data in dropdown and checkbox questions in your submitted contact forms for reporting purposes, while protecting data privacy for your clients.
As mentioned above, we at iCarol take the security of your data very seriously, as we know many of you work with subject matter that is highly sensitive and which must remain private. We provide the tools you’ll need to protect that data for your clients, to give both you and them peace of mind.
The end of a year is typically a time for introspection as we look back on what we’ve accomplished and begin to plan for the future. This past year has certainly been challenging for a variety of reasons, but you, our clients, have been a consistent source of inspiration throughout it all. You have repeatedly stepped in to assist the most vulnerable in their time of greatest need. Whether it was responding to those at risk during and after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, helping survivors in the aftermath of a violent attack and addressing the surge in awareness and discussion around those topics, assisting those struggling in their day-to-day environment, or handling countless other problems and requests, you have stepped up to make a positive difference in the world.
They say there’s strength in numbers, and you demonstrated it this year with creative partnerships to aid each other in your respective missions. In the interest of brevity, I’ll cite just two examples: first, a California 211 who on very short notice agreed to back up a Florida crisis center as Irma grew close, utilizing iCarol’s ability to share contact forms and resource data. The plan ensured help seekers would still have someone to assist them even as the Florida center lost its power and telephone service. The California 211 logged over 1,100 call reports during that crisis.
In another powerful example of strength in numbers, a group of crisis centers across Canada banded together to form the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), agreeing on a common process and technology standard in order to provide a seamless network of assistance to those in crisis. The vision of a unified national service was first championed by Karen Letofsky, and began providing service in late November of this year. CSPS uses iCarol for logging contacts, chat and texting. Their very first interaction, a chat, resulted in an active rescue of a teenager. Countless other stories could be told of the valuable services you’ve all performed throughout this year, and of the powerful network you’ve built to assist each other in times of need.
At iCarol we have always strived to provide the best possible software and service we could to empower you further. After listening closely to your feedback last year, in 2017 we focused most strongly on overall service stability, product quality and in the addition of critical functionality to iCarol. We also wanted to ensure we built in additional feedback loops from you to help us continue to improve. So, you might ask, how have we done?
I’m pleased to say that for 2017 thus far, we’ve achieved our best “up time” in the past 10 years, exceeding 99.972% system availability, per our third-party monitoring service. To put 99.972% in context, it averages out to only 24.2 seconds of down time per day, or a total of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 15.9 seconds for the entire year. We’re feeling especially good about the percentage given that this year our customers logged over 10 million contact forms in iCarol, doubling the number of forms entered just 3 years ago. Your need for access to iCarol stretches ‘round the clock, and our relatively small company has delivered this year with up times comparable to industry giants like Salesforce and Amazon, ensuring you have access to your systems as you provide vital services.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve product quality. iCarol contains almost 300,000 lines of code, which implies a significant amount of work to continually test its feature functionality. In late 2016 and throughout 2017, we’ve been investing in automated testing as a way to ensure more ongoing, consistent testing. To date we’ve created 220 automated test cases, which will be kicked off nightly as the codebase is updated with new bug fixes or features. Our plan is to grow the number of automated cases to cover more and more of iCarol, thereby relying a little less on manual testing, which can be subject to human error. The more product defects we can capture before a release, the better iCarol will perform for you. This will also help us to speed up our release cycle in 2018, releasing an update on average every two weeks throughout the year, delivering feature functionality to you more quickly. As always, check the iCarol Dashboard for news on upcoming releases and any features it may contain.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was launched this February as a more formal feedback loop for you to suggest improvements, and to vote on Ideas of fellow customers. It also enables the ability for Q&A, allowing our Product Management team to gather more detailed information about selected Ideas. We’re thrilled that you’ve jumped in and begun logging your Ideas, enabling us to see trends in your voting. We’ve implemented multiple Ideas this year, and plan to add more in 2018.
In 2017, 2,769 code changes were made to iCarol, which translates into over 790 features and bug fixes added throughout the year, as we strove to improve iCarol per your feedback. Some of the most notable enhancements this year included a new release of Messaging, which incorporated the text or chat conversation into the call report form, the massive Field Visibility enhancement for resource database managers, and an updated Public Resource Directory 2.0, with its configurable Guided Search, among other features.
Smaller enhancements can also provide a lot of value for our clients, as you reminded us through your suggestions on the Ideas Portal. These included enabling a custom date range for the Summary Report, receiving an email notification when a resource is flagged for review, requesting email outcomes from an Automated Verification campaign, receiving notifications for bounced email from an Automate Verification campaign, and initiating an Automated Verification request when editing a resource record.
Finally, we’ve also begun formalizing focus groups on particular areas of functionality we’d like to improve. If you are a “Power User” of a particular area of iCarol, meaning you use it heavily, and have strong opinions on how it could be improved, we’d love to hear from you so that we can add you into a focus group. Each group will be small, but will hone in on specialized functionality so that we can obtain very detailed feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and the special requirements and limitations you run into in your environment. As I hope I’ve conveyed throughout this note, your voice and expertise is a valued part of our business, especially as part of our product management process.
All in all, it’s been quite a year. We hope you’ve weathered the storm well in both your personal and professional life, and we wish everyone a safe, secure and happy new year. Everyone at iCarol continuously marvels at the fine work you do and your life-changing and life-saving contributions to our world, and we’re excited to see your continued positive influence in the new year. We remain honored to serve you, our clients, and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2018 and beyond.
As we’ve discussed in our recent webinar and white paper, an important aspect of staying compliant when texting is to ask permission of the help seeker, and to put in a STOP message to enable texters to opt-out of text conversations. As a result, all U.S.-based organizations should have their first, outbound text message configured similar to the one below:
“[Name and location of organization] Welcome! Do you give your consent to text you? Reply yes to continue, STOP to cancel. Message & data rates may apply.”
We’ve made it easy for you to set it up in iCarol. Here’s how:
1. Select ‘Messaging’ on the Left Hand Menu
2. Click on the SMS/Texting link on the upper right hand side of the screen
3. Look for “Settings for SMS”. There will be a new pull-down menu for your portals. It will automatically be set for “default”. Select the portal for which you wish to configure the message. If you only have one, there should only be one named choice in the pull-down list.
4. Your first, automated message to the texter can be configured in a new field, labeled “SMS Initial Message.”
5. Once you’ve configured the message, click the Save Settings button at the bottom of the screen.
Don’t forget that SMS messages have a maximum of 140 characters in the U.S.! Many organizations use abbreviations for some of the wording. You may have to play with your initial message configuration to get it under the character limit.
Note that future updates to the iCarol system will include making the Initial message field a required one for U.S.-based organizations. This will help ensure you don’t forget to configure the message.
For any questions on the configuration options, please contact Support via the Help Page within iCarol.