The iCarol Ideas Portal was released about 7 months ago, and already it is having a big impact, just as we hoped it would.
Since its release you have used the portal to:
- Add over 300 enhancement and feature ideas
- Cast 900 votes for your favorite ideas
- Submit about 150 comments to help our team better understand ideas
To date, nine ideas originating on the iCarol Ideas Portal have been released for use. We’ll talk about some of these in more detail on separate upcoming blogs, but here’s a brief summary of a few of those ideas and what they do:
- Receive email notifications and details when an Automated Verification Request has “bounced” and not made it to the recipient
- Receive email notifications that a Resource record has been flagged for review
- Initiate a new Automated Verification Request for a single record while viewing that record
There are currently 14 ideas planned and in progress, some that originated on the Ideas Portal and other ideas that were pre-existing but added to the portal so you could share you comments, feedback, and votes. Some of these planned ideas include:
- Create PDFs that include only certain fields of your Resource records
- Schedule statistics and specialized exports on a reoccurring basis
- Allow the template for sending referrals by SMS to draw fields from Site records
- Flexible date ranges in your statistical Summary Report
- Include Custom Fields in your Resource record PDFs
- Send referrals in the body of an email
- Integration with the 2-1-1 National Text Platform (NTP) including:
- Phone-to-Text referrals using 898211
- 2-way texting using 898211
- Pre-conversation surveys via SMS/Texting
- Updates to the iCarol Help area
- Applying your feedback to our Learning Guides
- Standard Resource Export using the AIRS XML 3.0 Schema
We want to thank you all again for embracing the iCarol Ideas Portal as you have, and contributing so many wonderful ideas to it. By participating on the portal and casting your vote on the ideas that would be most beneficial to you and your organization, you help our Product Management team prioritize what we work on next, and enhance the iCarol experience for everyone. Keep those ideas coming!
Increasingly our clients are seeking ways to share data both internally with other tools they use, as well as externally with one or more partners.
An example of connecting internal tools would be a client of ours connect their phone system with iCarol both to facilitate “screen pops” when a call is routed to a particular phone worker and iCarol appears prepopulated with information about that caller, as they answer the phone; as well as to combine the data collected by both systems to answer operational questions like “what is our average handling time for calls related to different help seeker needs?”.
And an example of sharing data externally would be giving access to your resource database so a third party can build a mobile app or a website targeted at a certain sub-population in your area, like immigrants or job seekers.
Enabling these data sharing relationships, whether internally or externally, is where API’s come to the rescue.
An Application Programming Interface (API) allows electronic systems to interact with each other without the need for the direct human intervention. That is, with an API no person needs to direct data traffic between two systems, say via a website or other screen – the systems just talk directly to each other behind the scenes. In this way, the data that resides in the main system can be searched, retrieved and even modified by other authorized computer systems connecting to it.
To do this, a software vendor writes an API and makes it available securely on the internet, and also publishes documentation about how other developers can use it. They can be one-way APIs, also known as “read only” because the software consuming the data from the API cannot modify it. Or they can be two-way APIs, where the consumer software can make modifications, like creating new records, or modifying or deleting existing ones.
At iCarol, we’ve had an API for a number of years now and are actively expanding its capabilities – it is used by quite a number of our clients to enable real-time data transfers both internally and externally. And we also consume quite a few API’s published by other software systems. Some of them enhance iCarol’s capabilities, like Google Maps or tools that let us send and receive SMS messages within iCarol. Others let us push client data to their partners, for example client or call data that needs to transfer into a partner’s electronic medical record systems.
APIs have been around for a long time in the software world, and will only grow in importance in the years to come. We continue to be excited about their possibilities and will certainly be expanding our use of them.
Are you ready to get started with a new way to learn how to do things in iCarol? We’ve always provided training materials in the form of Help Articles, PowerPoint presentations, Webinars, and Short Training Videos. As talked about in the first blog in this series, we’re working hard to improve our existing training materials, and to create new ones.
In addition to these learning channels with which you’re already familiar, we are now ready to add what we’re calling ‘Learning Guides’. If you’re a new iCarol subscriber, then you’re likely already familiar with using Learning Guides from your trial. We’re excited to announce that an initial set of Guides will be released to all Admin users on Thursday, September 7th.
What are Learning Guides and how can they help me?
Think of these new Learning Guides as activities that will take you through various tasks in iCarol, step-by-step, to help you improve your skills and knowledge within the software. They are a self-serve way to receive active training, and will enable you to learn more about iCarol and perform the actions you need to complete, on your schedule.
Who will be able to access the Learning Guides?
During the initial release of Learning Guides, they will only be made available to Admin Level users at your organization, as that is the audience for whom they are written.
When will the Learning Guides be available?
The first series of Learning Guides will be released on September 7th. This first series will be related to the upgraded Call Report V5, giving you an overview of the upgrade and teaching you about the new functionality available. But of course, this is just the beginning, and we’ll be releasing more Learning Guides in the upcoming months.
Where can I access the Learning Guides?
The Learning Guides will be accessed in the ‘Help’ area of iCarol, through a ‘Get started!’ pop-up menu that will appear at the bottom right corner of the page. Once you click the menu, you will be able to search through sub-categories or use the search bar within this menu to search particular Learning Guides, such as “How to use the new location lookup tool”.
After the first series of Learning Guides are released on September 7th, additional series for different areas of iCarol will be released. Your feedback on which Learning Guides you’d like to see created in the future is welcomed, and encouraged! So if you have feedback, we’d love to hear it! If you’re logged into iCarol, you can click this link go to the iCarol Idea ‘Client Training: Learning Guide Feedback’ to submit your feedback. Or you can find the idea by logging into iCarol, clicking the ‘Help’ link in your left side menu, then clicking the link at the top of the page for the ‘iCarol Ideas Portal’. From here you can search for the idea by name using the search bar at the top of this page, or click on ‘Planned’ from the status filter and look for the named idea here (and while there, check out what else is planned!)”
This blog is the second in a series of blogs that we’ll be releasing to keep you up-to-date on changes you’ll be seeing to the iCarol Help Area. Just in case you missed it, the first blog in the series is named ‘Upcoming Changes to ‘Help’ Area in iCarol’.
Communication is key in any relationship, and of course that includes iCarol’s relationship with our users!
Because iCarol is a web-based software, we roll out updates and enhancements to the platform regularly and seamlessly, without system downtime or the need for users to download and install anything. This is of great benefit to our users, though it presents a challenge to us to make sure our users are aware of these changes so they can understand and take advantage of them.
We communicate system news to people in a variety of ways, and the method will typically depend upon who it effects as well as the type of enhancement and its scope or level of impact. Often each enhancement is communicated using a number of methods and not just one.
When Admin level users sign into iCarol, they’re presented with their own dashboard of information most pertinent to them and their position as leaders at their agency. There are two areas on this dashboard where system changes are communicated.
Release history and plans
A software “release” happens when our Technical Team takes the enhancements or fixes they’ve been working on and apply them to the live iCarol system accessed by users. This step is the culmination of careful process undertaken by our Support, Technical, and sometimes Product Management Teams. Once a certain enhancement is coded by the Technical Team, a member of the Support Team or Product Management Team will thoroughly test the enhancement in a series of simulations in our test system to ensure the enhancement works as designed without undesired impact to existing processes. Once this process is complete, the “deployment” happens and the changes go into affect for everyone who signs into iCarol. The system doesn’t go offline or experience downtime in order for this to happen, so the changes may appear transparent to users unless they notice a new enhancement, or if they read the release notes.
A summary of upcoming release plans can be found on the right side of your Admin Dashboard.
Clicking the link for “See more release history and plans” takes you to the details list of what enhancements are included in an upcoming release to the iCarol web application, and details on past inclusions as well. A drop-down menu allows you to pick which element of iCarol you’d like to view release details on. These are broken down by the iCarol web application (your main iCarol system), Public Resource Directory, Messaging, and API. Each of those elements of iCarol have seperate releases and separate lists of work items to be tested and applied.
In addition to the Admin Dashboard, users of other security levels also have access to these release notes from their own dashboard. For those volunteers and staff members, the release notes are linked at the bottom left of the screen when they first log into iCarol.
Keep in mind that the language in these release notes can be a bit technical, but if you think a particular item may be important to your work and you’re not sure what it does, you are welcome to ask the Support Team for more details.
Announcements, Tips, and Tricks
In the center column of the Admin Dashboard is the “Announcements, Tips, and Tricks” area. In this area we’ll share news and goings on of note to Admins. This is one of the places we’ll typically announce noteworthy new features or enhancements, upcoming events such as when we’ll be at an industry conference or are holding a webinar, and important news like letting you know when a Taxonomy update is coming.
‘Help’ area of your iCarol system
All users signed into iCarol can access the ‘Help’ area at the lower area of left main menu.
The ‘Help’ page includes a number of links to tools including:
Training Webinars and Tutorial Videos
When you first land on the ‘Help’ page you’re brought to our collection of recorded Training Webinars and other tutorial videos or video series on how to use the various features of iCarol. These videos are categorized by the feature area they pertain to.
There is a library of solutions, step-by-step instructions, and answers to common questions that can be read in the Help Articles area of the ‘Help’ page. These articles can be browsed, or you may search using keywords or phrases the find the topic you wish to read up on.
iCarol Ideas Portal
Earlier this year we introduced the iCarol Ideas Portal. In this area of iCarol you can view the feature enhancement ideas submitted by your peers, vote for the ones you like most, submit your own ideas for consideration, and subscribe to ideas that interest you. When you subscribe to an idea we supply ongoing email communication to you about its progress toward potential implementation. Not only do we discuss this new area extensively on the blog, but we also covered it in a recent webinar as well.
Though not yet available to all of our users, for some time now new iCarol systems in trial have included in-system guides to help users learn how to use iCarol. These smart guides present themselves to a user when they enter a certain feature area to encourage them to take a brief tour or learn more about how to use a certain element of iCarol, and then walks them through the process. These guides are tailored for users based on their security level, ensuring that everyone gets a walk-through that is appropriate for their role. We’ve discussed these guides in past Enhancement Review Webinars and will be sending our users more information about them, as well as posting blogs and offering other communication, when we are nearing the wide release of these guides to all of our users.
Submit a Case
If you can’t find the answer to your question by searching in the Help area or elsewhere, or if you need to report an issue, then we welcome you to contact our Support Team for additional assistance. This is done by opening a case in the Case Management area. You can read our full instructions and tips for the best way to do this here.
Website and Blog
The iCarol website can be a great source of information about software features, including new feature released. Our primary features and sub-functions of those features typically have web pages describing their purpose and use, and visitors to our website can easily explore what iCarol has to offer.
On the iCarol blog we will post about new features and notable enhancements as they are added. Often our blogs will highlight how this new enhancement works, the solutions it aims to present to our users, how to enable it, instructions on use, and ideas for how you might use a feature at your organization. If you are signed up to receive our Weekly Blog Digest, you’ll receive a single email per week delivering links to all the blogs from the previous week.
We realize that your email inbox can get really full really fast, and so we try to be mindful of that by carefully deciding when to directly send you feature news via email. When a new feature or enhancement is particularly impactful or presents major opportunities for our users, then we may choose send direct emails. You can manage your communications with us, though keep in mind that as an iCarol user you may get necessary and important system emails from us, or shift reminders and other system notifications, even if you have unsubscribed from “marketing” emails.
We recognize that sometimes it’s nice to hear from us live and “in person” and so we occasionally offer webinars to discuss new features or enhancements to features. Once every few months we’ll hold our “Quarterly Enhancement/New Feature Review” webinars. These webinars are a chance for us to look at the most noteworthy system enhancements of the last few months and present them to you, consolidated, in the webinar. We’ll discuss the purpose behind the feature and the problems it aims to solve, talk about how it could potentially be used by you, and the benefits it delivers to your organization. Note that these enhancement review webinars are not trainings or walk-throughs of the features, but rather a chance for us to provide you with an overview of its use and purpose, as well as give you an opportunity to ask us questions about these enhancements. In addition to the regular enhancement review webinars, when a new feature is released that has a far-reaching impact, or presents a major change in functionality, we’ll also hold webinars about that particular feature, to provide an overview or also to train users on how to use it.
Annual Customer Survey
While we send out various communications to our users, it’s also important that we invite you to communicate with us and give us feedback. Each year we send out a survey to our Admin and Supervisor users asking for your input on a variety of topics pertaining to iCarol and your use of the platform. If you’re an Admin or Supervisor you’ll be receiving this email very soon, and we hope you’ll take a few moments to respond and let us know how we’re doing.
As a web-based and ever-evolving software solution, we recognize how imperative it is that we communicate effectively with our users so that they can make the most of using their iCarol systems. If you have any questions or feedback about how we communicate with our users, you can feel free to . And as always, if you have a specific question about how to use iCarol that isn’t covered or the answer can’t be found in one of the various places described above, please reach out to our Support Team for assistance.
Congratulations to our friends at Ontario 211 (ON211) — recent winners of the 2017 Citizen and Community Global Impact Award for their website, along with partners BDO IT Solutions. This award is granted to an organization that exhibits excellence in creating solutions that improve communities.
This award is a result of a partnership between ON211 and BDO IT Solutions to create a cost-effective, web-enabled solution aimed at transforming ON211’s online presence and among other goals, making their website easier for community members to navigate and find needed resources. BDO worked closely with Ontario 211 Services to develop the service on Microsoft’s technologies and implement in the Microsoft cloud, Azure. ON211 Resource records are curated in the iCarol database and that data is made accessible to the website via the iCarol Resource API.
Read ON211′s full press release about the project and award here.
Find out more about iCarol’s Resource API here and here, and please contact us if you’d like to learn even more about using the Resource API at your organization.
Many iCarol clients are required to collect and report on the needs of their help seekers. Those clients who use the AIRS taxonomy are able to do so using a tool called Needs by Taxonomy. There is no additional fee to use this tool as it is included for those who subscribe to the Taxonomy in iCarol, but a member of the iCarol Support Team will need to turn it on in your call reports forms. Once this tool is turned on, you may use the instructions below to document Needs by Taxonomy.
To begin, click the “Search for Resources” link in the upper right hand corner of the call report form. This will open the Resource search screen.
Next, conduct a search for a taxonomy term. Please note this tool only works when searching by Taxonomy, not when completing a Resources or a Keywords search. When the search results are returned, a box labelled “Terms searched” will appear indicating what taxonomy term was searched, as shown below.
When you view the details of a record, you will see a link at the top of the screen that says “Choose terms best describing the caller need for this referral”. If you click this link, you will see a list of all the taxonomy terms assigned to the resource. The taxonomy term you searched will already be checked, and you can choose additional terms or change the term checked if you would like. To make a referral to the resource, click the “Make referral” button.
On the Resources tab of the call report, the taxonomy term describing the need will now be at the top of the tab. You can check and uncheck which referrals met the need. By default, the Met/Unmet column will show “Need was met”.
In cases where a referral could not be found to meet the need of the help seeker, the need can still be documented and noted as unmet. To do so, conduct a taxonomy search. When the search results and the “Terms searched” box are shown, click the blue plus sign next to the taxonomy term search to change it to a green check mark.
Close the Resource Search screen and view the resources tab of the call report. There will now be a second Need noted, but with no referral. If you click the drop-down menu in the Met/Unmet column, you can choose a reason why the need was unmet. iCarol includes a default list of unmet need reasons, but this list can be customized by making a request to the iCarol Support Team.
If anyone has any further questions about the Needs by Taxonomy tool, please feel free to contact the iCarol Support Team via the online case management system.
Being a web-based service, we are always aware of how access to our systems effect you. After all, many of our users operate as 24/7 services, entering call report forms and searching for resources ’round the clock. We recognize that there’s never a “good” time for iCarol to be unavailable to you, and this is why we’ve invested so heavily in infrastructure and processes that work hard to minimize outages and make unavoidable ones as brief as possible. We have “fail over” servers that are are set to pick up systems routed to them in the event of connection loss, and members of our technical team receive notifications no matter the time of day or night in the event of detected instability so they can begin working on a solution, often before our users have even detected a problem. In an effort to be completely transparent about iCarol’s uptime and availability, we make status.icarol.com available to you, and advise our users to check this site if they suspect they’re having connection issues to help determine whether the issue is originating with iCarol or something is amiss with their own local network connections. These are all examples of efforts and placement of reliability as our very top priority.
Our service level agreement with our users is 99.9%, which translates to about 10 minutes of allowable downtime, on average, per week to achieve. Of course it’s our goal to go above and beyond that, and consistently we do. iCarol regularly achieves uptimes of 99.95% or 99.97%, and our overall uptime for 2016 was over 99.97%, translating to no more than three minutes of downtime per week on average. This 2016 achievement exceeds industry standards as comparable to some of the top web-based service providers, including Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, Amazon, and Netsuite. These companies are, of course, much larger than iCarol in every way, and yet we often meet and exceed the service levels offered by them.
We’re pleased to say that thanks to some of the infrastructure work that’s been done over the last year, our total uptime for the first quarter of 2017 met a “four nines” achievement, which is 99.99% uptime. To give you an idea of how good that is, it means that in a given month a site would be unavailable for just over 4 minutes total, and about 1 minute of downtime weekly.
Occasional, brief slowdowns or short periods of downtime are unfortunately an unavoidable part of the online world in which we live, but making these interruptions a rarity is our top priority. We are scaling our infrastructure and systems as we grow so that we can continue to provide the level of service you’ve come to expect and deserve from us. It is an ongoing item that we’re always monitoring and looking to innovate, but we were particularly happy with the performance following the strides we made and wanted to share that with you.
One of the greatest challenges for non-profit services is adapting to the new and varied ways in which the people in your community want and need to access your services. We’re dedicated to helping our clients face those challenges head-on with innovative solutions that help you help your community through the methods that work for them.
One of those solutions is iCarol’s Public Resource Directory (PRD): A feature that takes your iCarol Resource Database and turns it into a public-facing, searchable directory of community services. By taking your internally curated database and placing it online for public access, you’re expanding your reach, helping more people, and accommodating the growing number of individuals who prefer self-service over engaging directly with your specialists.
Late last year we shared with you our plans to refresh the iCarol Public Resource Directory and add some new tools and other enhancements. We’re excited to say that this new version of the PRD has officially launched! When you use this PRD you’ll enjoy:
A built-in Guided Search builder that allows your Resource Specialists to bypass web developers and instead build a guided, graphical search right within the PRD. For more on guided searching, stay tuned to our blog for details on an upcoming webinar on that topic.
Intuitive geographic searching that is easy for your visitors to use. They can simply begin typing in their known geographic location, be it zip/postal code, city, county, or state/province, to produce results that are relevant to their location.
Expanded customization around the look and feel of the PRD using Cascading Style Sheets that allow you to blend the search seamlessly into your website with highly granular control over things like font sizes types and colors, background color, logo integration, and more.
Mobile responsive functionality, delivering a mobile-friendly experience that rivals that of more costly mobile apps and accommodating the many individuals using their mobile phones or other handheld devices as their primary means of accesing the internet.
Relevant search results that improve your clients’ outcomes over what they’d likely experience if they tried to search for helpful resources on their own via a regular internet search engine. When your web visitors search or browse your PRD, they’re benefitting from your expert curation of the resources, reducing their frustration and confusion as they try to address their challenges.
To see some of these benefits in action, check out our video about the Public Resource Directory.
The PRD is available now and we encourage you to contact our Support Team to learn more about the upgrade process. Also stay tuned to our blog for announcements on upcoming webinars that provide further insight on using the PRD.
It’s important to us that our customers know about feature enhancements and learn about them in various ways to accommodate their varying learning and communications preferences. That’s why we regularly hold webinars to provide a summary of the major enhancements applied to iCarol in recent months, and explain to attendees how the enhancements help you at your organization.
For those who couldn’t join us live during out recent installment of our iCarol Enhancement Review Webinar, that recording is now available online for you to watch at your convenience.
In recent months we’ve released a few enhancements to our Resource API that we’re excited to tell you about. But wait, before I get ahead of myself…
What is an API?
API stands for Application Program Interface, but it might as well stand for “Awesome Possibilities Increase”
because it enables you to do all sorts of exciting things with your Resource record data and opens up a world of new options for what you can do with the service provider information you curate.
An API provides a way for web and application developers to access and display, in their own creative way, resource data housed within iCarol. These developers can query, or ask questions of, the resource data in your database that’s made available to them through the API, and iCarol will answer by responding with the resource records that match their request. This advanced tool allows them to be creative and do things like create resource directories, search tools, resource lists or any other application that displays or uses resource data.
Using the iCarol Resource API, our users have engaged with their developers to do things like…
- Create mobile apps that show mapped resources near a person in need, and provide them with record details
- Build completely custom designed resource searches , ways to view resource record details on their website
- Partner with other organizations to contribute resource information to their database — collaborations that are often revenue generators
Like other areas of iCarol, our Resource API undergoes regular maintenance and enhancements through periodic releases, and lately our team has been very busy making the Resource API better than ever!
What have we done for you lately?
Initiate Automated Resource Verification Requests
One of our enhancements has the Resource API working with another iCarol feature, Automated Resource Verification. Automated Resource Verification enables you to ensure resource accuracy while simultaneously saving hundreds or thousands, depending on the size of your resource database, of hours of staff time spent updating records. Using this feature, Resource Managers can generate batches of resources due for verification or updates, and send a verification request to contacts who work at those programs and agencies, requesting their input on the record information. The email includes a hyperlink that, when clicked, provides the contact with a live look at the information on file in the iCarol database. This contact can make suggested edits and submit them directly on this web page. When this request arrives back in the iCarol system, Resource Managers can review the submitted information, and make their own changes and edits, before accepting the verification. Once accepted and applied, the resource record reflects all of the updates with the click of a button. This solution is far better than spending time playing phone tag, sending manual emails, or sending out mailers and then updating records manually, field by field, when you finally receive responses. The Automated Resource Verification feature not only saves you time and money, but your resource contacts will appreciate the convenient process through which they can update their information and ensure clients are receiving the right information about their services.
With this new development to the Resource API, your web developers can create a process for your public users to automatically send a verification request to a service provider, prompting them to begin the verification process. Because the Resource API gives you the control to choose when, and who can send requests you can have your web or application developer create a process that meets your unique needs. Overall, being able to initiate new AVR requests using the Resource API gives you another way to ensure your resources have the most recent and accurate information available.
Filter results by Custom Field
There are over 100 difference “standard” fields available for use in your iCarol Resource Database which allow you to track and curate resource information you need to help your community. Some of these fields include Phone Numbers, Address, Languages Spoken, Description of services, etc. are of these are commonly used in the industry and describe what a service is, how it is offered and who it serves. However, many of our customers also use Custom Fields in their resource records to collect and display additional information that does not fit perfectly in a standard field. Custom Fields are often used to track additional eligibility, contact information, updating priorities, and to create custom filters for call and chat specialists to refine search results.
With this enhancement to the Resource API, the resources returned from a API request can be filtered by the resources with a specific custom field selection. This allows you, among other things, to create subject-specific Resource API Portals, which you can use to harness your data on your own website, and even to access new revenue opportunities with partners wanting subject or issue specific resources.
For example, you may have a partnership with a local service provider such as a domestic violence shelter or LGBTQ center, who would like to display a subset of your resources on their website or in an application they are building. They know and trust the great work you do curating a resource database, and they don’t want duplicate your efforts. They would like to contract with (and pay!) you to access your resources by subscribing to a Resource API Portal that has filtered results, of just resources that you have identified as serving their communities.
With all the time and effort you spend collecting, updating, maintaining, and curating resource information, you could and should leverage it to improve your service offerings and get more funding for your organization. The iCarol Resource API is a great way to expand the possibilities of what you can do with your resource data, and these latest enhancements go even further to boost your ability to help the public or explore new partnerships and revenue streams.
To find out more about the Resource API, including these new enhancements, check out the Help area of iCarol, or contact our Support Team if you have specific questions, or want to start using the Resource API at your center.