We’ve long promoted the 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.
Learn More and Register
On Sunday, June 3 in Dallas, Texas, members of our team will hold our annual iCarol User Group Summit. This Summit happens each year the day before the AIRS Conference sessions begin, and throughout the day we hold trainings on iCarol functionality of particular interest to the Information and Referral industry. We end our day with a traditional User Group session to discuss the latest enhancements to the software and the planned developments ahead. We also welcome your input and suggestions during this user group session, so that we can continue to evaluate and prioritize the enhancements currently on our development schedule.
If you’ll be at the AIRS conference this year, we hope you’ll join us on Sunday for this free event. Click the button below to learn more about the User Group Summit and register to be there!
Have you been considering adding on popular and in-demand communication channels like Live Chat or Texting to your organization’s services? Are you curious to see how these channels are handled in iCarol, and how they fit seamlessly into the rest of the functions of the software? I hope you’ll join my teammate Mary and I for a live demo on Thursday at 2pm EDT so we can show you!
To find out more about this webinar and what we’ll cover, visit our registration page.
Learn More and Register
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 district, 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!
Happy Pi Day! What’s that exactly? Remember geometry and learning about finding the area and perimeter (aka circumference) of circles? To get your calculation correct, you need Pi in your equation. You might also see pi as the Greek letter “π”. It’s the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is always approximately 3.14159… (it’s actually been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond the decimal point!).
In the US and some other countries we write our dates in a MM/DD/YY format so today, March 14th, is 3/14 — Pi Day! And even though most other countries write their dates in a DD/MM format, today is generally accepted as Pi Day worldwide since there are only 12 months. If you’re nerdy like me, you can read more about Pi Day here. Yes, it’s a real thing. Yes, it has its own website.
In honor of Pi Day, here are 3 interesting uses of pie charts in iCarol.
1. A Bird’s Eye View
Use Pie Charts to give you a sort of broad overview of how the numbers or percentages are shaping up for a certain sub-category of your contact form. Or, use it as an overview of your location breakdowns.
In the Analysis tab of Statistics, when selecting Chart Type, you have two Pie Charts to choose from, either Caller Issues and Demographics (which will start by showing you all the Categories on your contact form) or Caller Location.
The resulting charts are below. If you selected the Caller Issues and Demographics chart you get this broad overview of your contact form Categories.
And if you selected the Location pie chart you’ll see a high level look at the geographic location entries.
2. Drill down to get more detail
Once you’ve got that high level pie chart available, you can click on pieces of the pie to drill into the data below. Drilling into a Category will then show you the sub-categories that are available. These sub-categories are the Groups or questions asked within each category on your contact form. On a location chart, drilling into the State or Province piece of the pie will show you the county level information.
If we take our Caller Issues and Demographics chart above and drill into the mauve colored “Issues” category, we’ll see the Issue choices of sub-categories.
If we click on the “Mental Health/Counseling” piece of the pie, we’ll drill down to the lowest available level, which are the field choices or answer options within that sub-category. These are the items you may find in the drop-down or list of check box choices on the contact form.
As mentioned, if you drill further down into the location pie chart, you’d get the counties breakdown. So if I click on Nevada, I’ll see the Nevada counties chosen.
Clicking on Eureka county shows me how the city numbers shape up for that county.
3. Percentage vs. Count
Remember if percentages aren’t really your thing and you’d like to see a count instead, just click the “Total Count” option for any of the pie charts shown.
Now that I’ve told you a bit more about pie charts in iCarol, I suggest you go celebrate Pi Day in the truly best way possible — enjoy a piece of real, edible pie.
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.
A recording of our most recent Enhancement Review Webinar is available now available for you to watch.
Some of the enhancements we discussed were:
- Harnessing your resource data through the new AIRS XML 3.0 Export
- New Automated Verification enhancements that help save you time while keeping resource data accurate
- New Field Visibility Settings that provide enhanced control over what fields of information are seen in the various contexts of your Resource Database
- Geographic lookup options for iCarol Contact Form Version 5 users, that help you tailor the lookup based on your preference
- Ways to collect pre and post-SMS conversation data from your visitors
- and more!
So, if you weren’t able to join us for the live event, would like to learn more about the information we presented, or just want to review it again, now you can!