From April 18th through the 21st, Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development, and Rachel Wentink, Vice President, Operations, will be in Washington, DC for the 51st American Association of Suicidology (AAS) Conference.
As we shared recently, iCarol is now a part of Harris Computer Systems as the flagship product for not-for-profits falling within the CityView portfolio of solutions. As such, we’re delighted to also welcome Sean Higgins, Executive Vice President of CityView, who will be joining us at AAS from Thursday through Friday of that week. Sean is eager to learn more about the industry iCarol serves and meet our customers, and we’re equally excited for all of you to meet him!
Our team will be at booth #202 in the Ballroom Foyer and you’ll also see us at many of the events and sessions, too. It’s important to us to learn about all the latest research, lived experiences, and the expanding needs of crisis centers as they work to build suicide-safer communities. We are looking forward to hearing about how things have been going for your organization, and the exciting initiatives you’ve had going on. We’d also enjoy the opportunity to answer any questions you may have about iCarol and talk with you about how our solution can support your suicide prevention service.
We’ve long promoted the idea that data sharing can help our clients build coalitions and partnerships, make a greater positive impact in their communities, and create new revenue streams for the organizations. One way we’ve adapted iCarol to make this easier for them is to build support for the Open Referral data standard in iCarol. If you like, before you read about the announcements we’ll go over in this blog, you may wish to get a refresher course on what data standards are, how they make such collaboration possible across different software systems and databases, and why Open Referral in particular has been adopted in iCarol.
Today we’re excited to announce two new and exciting iCarol Resource API enhancements, which now extends support for the Open Referral’s HSDS 1.1 schema and a full list of resources. Both of these new enhancements are designed to help you with your sharing collaborations and to access new funding opportunities.
iCarol is the first major I&R Software vendor to support emitting resource data that is fully compliant with HSDS 1.1 and the HSDA specification. For over a year iCarol subscribers have had access to downloading resource files from iCarol in the HSDS 1.0 schema, but we are pleased to now announce support for an updated HSDS 1.1 schema in the iCarol Resource API! You can read more about this schema here: Human Services Data Specification (HSDS). This schema creates a common language for software applications to share information across platforms.
Our clients in current sharing relationships using our iCarol Resource API have also asked for a way to access a full list of all resources available in their system, or even better, to filter that list by records last updated. We are happy to announce a new Resource API feature allowing a simplified, unpaged list of resources to be returned allowing your data partners to better access and use your resources in external projects.
We know that the ability to share data and to collaborate with your partners both within and outside of iCarol is important to you. Sharing resources can also open up new revenue opportunities in your communities. If you would like more information about how iCarol can help you success with your sharing and collaborative projects, contact us — we are here to help!
Are you concerned that the volume of Chat or Text traffic coming through to your service is lower than you were expecting it would be? Or, are you in the planning stages of adding a Chat or Text service to your center and want to develop a plan for alerting the community to this new way to access your program?
Join us on Monday, April 9 at 2pm EDT for a Q&A webinar with a panel of staff members operating successful Chat and Text programs to hear about how they communicated their service offerings to their communities. Can’t make it? Fear not! We’ll have the recording available to watch at your convenience.
We’re excited to announce that iCarol is now a part of Harris Computer Systems — a software company focused on providing long term software solutions to local government, utilities, school districts, healthcare and other public sector clients. iCarol will be run as its own entity within the CityView portfolio of solutions.
More than 14 years ago, iCarol began with a simple idea that by introducing technology that was designed specifically for the unique needs of a not-for-profit helpline, the managers could improve the service delivery, the quality of the people, and ultimately the lives of help seekers. Founders Neil and Jackie McKechnie combined their mutual experiences in two very different worlds – volunteering at a Distress Centre and careers in the high tech industry – and built a solution that would go on to be used by hundreds of organizations and over 76,000 users worldwide. We’re very proud of our origin story and honored every day to serve the caring and selfless people who work at those organizations.
Just as we aim to empower our clients, joining Harris Computer Systems empowers our team and the iCarol solution to reach new heights. We feel that the deep market knowledge and not-for-profit industry experience at the iCarol level, combined with the infrastructure, guidance and business expertise of Harris, is a winning combination.
The iCarol story only gets more exciting from here, and we’re looking forward to all the new possibilities ahead. Becoming a part of Harris Computer Systems is the latest positive step for the growth of iCarol, and for the benefit of our expanding client base.
As we move further into the new year, we are committed to continuing our focus on expanding and updating our Help Library. With that in mind, we’d like to call out to you for help and ask for your feedback and direct input. We’re asking for this feedback in a variety of ways and we’d love it if you participated in one, or all of them!
First, we’re calling out for your custom iCarol Training Materials that have been created at your organization! We’re looking for any type of training manuals that have been created for iCarol, for example to teach your users how to document interactions in iCarol, or to teach your resource editors how to maintain resources in your database. The information you send us will be kept confidential, and will only be used for planning purposes. If you’d like to share any iCarol training materials with us, and provide any feedback about existing training materials, please have a designated Support Contact submit a case with your manual(s) included as an attachment.
Second, we made this survey about your custom iCarol training materials and the existing training available in iCarol. This survey is meant to be filled out by any iCarol user and should only take about 5 minutes to complete. We’d love if you could take a few minutes to fill out the survey and tell us what you think!
Third, we have launched a “Help Panel Pilot” in the iCarol Ideas Portal as a possible new way of making training materials available to you.
Notice the ‘PAGE HELP’ button that appears along the right side of the iCarol Ideas Portal page.
When you click the button, a pop-out appears explaining ‘What is the iCarol Ideas Portal?’ which includes links to additional training materials about the feature.
Within this Help Panel there is another survey for you to give us your feedback specifically about the pilot project and let us know what you think! This pilot and survey are also meant to be used by any iCarol user so please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts! Please note this pilot is currently only available to iCarol systems on NA0, our default iCarol servers; you can identify if your system is on NA0 because the URLS for all pages in iCarol will begin with “webapp”.
All of this information will be used to help us prioritize what training tasks should be prioritized this year, based on what you think will make the biggest impact. Your thoughts and opinions about this matter since you are the ones who use the materials the most, so thank you in advance for anything you can add to help us with this goal of continuing to make our iCarol training materials even better!
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.
Today marks the beginning of Bullying Awareness Week throughout much of Canada. The Kids Help Phone website is currently highlighting bullying resources and information to help educate people on the topic of bullying.
You can also join Kids Help Phone for a live webinar on Facebook this Thursday at 4pm EST.
In honour of #BAW2017, Kids Help Phone will be hosting a bullying information session and Q&A on Facebook Live with counselling manager Rebecca. Join us on Facebook next Thursday, November 23 at 4 p.m. EST! pic.twitter.com/haPGcBwxMm
Microsoft products play a large role in what we do and the innovative service offerings we’re able to pass along to our clients. So, we were delighted to have the recent opportunity for Jackie and Neil to sit down with Andy Pitman, Director of Health and Human Services Solutions at Microsoft, to talk a bit about iCarol and the incredible work of our clients as life-saving social safety nets of their communities. You can check out that interview here. We’ve very excited to announce some additional initiatives between ourselves and Microsoft soon – stay tuned to the blog and your iCarol Dashboard for more information.
At the 2017 Startup in Residence Demo Day held this past month in San Francisco, participating groups were given 5 minutes to present their collaboration’s technological solutions to identified problems. iCarol and skyClutch were delighted to work together with the Our Children Our Families Council (OCOF) as one of the participating groups. skyClutch is an independent company which aims to help their clients with better resource delivery through user-friendly website integration. San Francisco’s Our Children Our Families Council works to make sure the resources of the city of San Francisco are directed toward helping children and families thrive.
The identified problem? Many of our youth and their families have the burden of searching multiple directories and portals for information but none of them are comprehensive. Most online directories provide basic health and human service listings, but do not include out-of-school activities, in-school services, child care openings, affordable housing listings, or information on medical support groups. The Our Children Our Families Council, a collaborative effort with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Unified School District, seeks to create a comprehensive digital service directory, which would include all publicly-funded and publicly-administered services for children, youth, and their families including San Francisco Recreation and Parks, Department of Children Youth and their Families (DCYF), public safety resources, childcare, housing, health care, legal aid, and more. Currently, service data is decentralized and often inaccessible to the populations most in need. Much of the current service data is locked in proprietary silos maintained by individual organizations in different formats and is inaccessible to other departments, agencies, and stakeholders.
The proposed solution: A digital directory that connects disparate data sets into one holistic portal to increase accessibility and uptake of services to help San Francisco families thrive. Intended users are students, parents, teachers, counselors, youth, community based organizations, and city departments. The site would have front-end (e.g., homepage) that links to multiple search portals, which are unique to a particular data structure, user segment or issue such as transitional aged youth (TAY), child care, or housing. The goal is for the front-end to be user-friendly, translated into multiple languages, and mobile friendly. Users can search the service inventory via text field, location search, category search and bookmark, print, save, and share the resources they’ve identified and plan to access.
Moving forward: The Our Children Our Families Council is focused and committed on building, in partnership with iCarol and skyClutch, a centralized database of all San Francisco’s publicly-funded and publicly-administered services for children, youth, and their families. Through the use of the iCarol Resource API, skyClutch and the operational support from the Mayor’s Office of San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District, children and families awareness and ability to access needed resources will increase. The centralized database system will also allow the city to be more cost effective in how it can make residents aware of services and address resident needs. Behind the scenes, it also assists the city in knowing what types of services residents need most and what gaps there may be, ultimately helping the city strategize and improve response. And finally, it reduces frustration and builds trust between residents in need and their local government offices.
We are proud to be the chosen technology platform for OCOF’s service inventory and are very excited for the positive impact this project will have on children and families in San Francisco.
What is the STIR Program?
Local governments are under increasing pressure to meet constituent needs and engage with the public in innovative and cost effective ways. But, spending time and money on innovation is not always easy for city governments already stretched thin and busy with the day-to-day work operations. The Startup in Residence (STIR) initiative began in San Francisco in 2014, with the goal of solving civic challenges and addressing residents’ needs by pairing up government agencies and startups.
The partnered startup and governmental department work together over the course of 16 weeks to address a specific challenge using a co-developed technological solution. While the STIR program originated in San Francisco, it has since expanded to the nearby cities of Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento, with plans to go nationwide in 2018. You can learn more about STIR’s origin and history by watching this brief video.
At iCarol we believe that our customers are also some of our best innovators. From the very start, helpline volunteers created iCarol and we’ve continued that tradition of users driving product development as the years go by. Many of the features you use in iCarol every day grew from a “light bulb moment” had by one of your peers. This community development approach drives our future product development. After all, no one knows your business or what type of tool or enhancement could improve your work like you do.
iCarol Usergroup Summit at the AIRS Conference
Our conference appearances throughout the year provide opportunities for iCarol usergroup sessions where iCarol users can discuss our software, provide feedback, and hear about our development plans, often referred to as our “Product Roadmap.” Prior to the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) conference in May we hold an iCarol Usergroup Summit where we offer trainings by AIRS Certified iCarol staff, as well as a traditional usergroup meeting.
This past spring, we asked for the AIRS Usergroup Summit attendees’ help on voting and prioritizing identified enhancements that should be first in line for development. Attendees received a firsthand look at how hard it is for us to decide where to focus our efforts. They took their task seriously, and graciously provided valuable feedback. You’ll be seeing the results of their efforts soon as these new developments start to be released in your iCarol system. As always, watch the iCarol blog and the Dashboard in your iCarol system for details.
Following the Summit one attendee described iCarol as, “Not just a vendor but a partner” in their organization’s mission. This is absolutely our goal as we work with all of our clients as we believe deeply in helping you to affect positive change in your communities. We’re happy to share that 100% of Summit attendees described themselves as Satisfied or Very Satisfied overall with the material presented at AIRS iCarol Usergroup Summit, and 100% of the group found the individual session content relevant to their everyday work. We think it’s a great event that you should attend next year, but you don’t have to take our word for it – 91% of attendees said they are likely to recommend attendance to others. We’ll be announcing future AIRS iCarol Usergroup Summit plans in 2018 so stay tuned!
Advisory Boards and Focus Groups
In an effort to keep client discussions going not just when we see you at conferences but throughout the year, we’ve recently kicked off a new and exciting venture — creating two separate iCarol Advisory boards, one to represent Crisis Centers/Helplines, and one to represent Information and Referral organizations. Each iCarol Advisory Board will ensure representation of industry voices in our development process through virtual meetings year round. Goals include providing iCarol with guidance on their industry’s evolving needs, providing feedback on existing and future software development, and validating that iCarol’s strategy and development plans meet the needs of the industry being served.
In addition to the iCarol Customer Advisory Boards, we are also hosting more focus groups than ever before. Focus groups are made up of individuals to discuss a particular challenge or development approach we are considering. Focus groups give the iCarol Product Development team the opportunity to discuss challenges our clients experience and potential solutions.
Want to get involved in an iCarol Advisory Board or Focus Groups? Participants are identified and invited through their participation on the iCarol Ideas Portal, from the cases they submit, feedback from surveys or ways in which their iCarol systems are configured.
Annual Customer Survey
It’s important to provide organization leaders and management staff across our client pool with the opportunity to share feedback covering all areas of iCarol, from our customer service to the use of the product itself, and to that end we just wrapped our annual Customer Survey a few weeks ago. We’re busy compiling and analyzing those results now so we can internally discuss how this feedback will drive us in the months ahead. We truly value the time you took to complete this survey and we will share results and action plans coming from that survey in the months ahead.
iCarol Ideas Portal
And finally, we just celebrated about 7 months of having the iCarol Ideas Portal available. This has proven to be an effective way of both receiving and prioritizing client ideas, and communicating about these ideas and their progress towards implementation. You may have caught our recent blog sharing some notable stats on the portal’s usage and just how much this method of client involvement has impacted your iCarol system already. If you haven’t, you can check that out here.
We hope, with these various methods through which we receive feedback and ideas, that you feel like a part of our iCarol Community where your voices are heard and opinions are acknowledged. Your role in our product development is an integral part of what we do and we look forward to continuing that tradition in both familiar and new and exciting ways.