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:
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.
Our customers take part in a variety of collaborative relationships with fellow not-for-profit agencies, governmental institutions, private companies, and others. This often requires sharing of information that they input and store in iCarol, and commonly includes (but isn’t limited to!) resource/referral information, or client interaction data collected in a Contact Record (aka Call Report Form). We heartily support such collaborations because they are the key not only to an agency thriving, but these partnerships also foster a continuum of care model that help create healthier, more connected communities. So we are always looking for ways we can encourage these partnerships and make them possible and easier to engage in using iCarol.
There are a number of ways our customers can share Contact Record data. Protecting confidential information is paramount and one should always be sure they are following their organization’s policies, protocols, and any pertinent regulations when sharing this data. Some examples of ways that our customers share Contact Record information include exporting data tables from iCarol to hand them over to a partner, printing records for faxing or hard copy delivery and storage, or using our Contact Record API to transmit data to their partner’s web service. The latest way we have enabled Contact Record sharing is be creating a feature that allows authorized personnel to send an email with a password protected PDF file of the Contact Record, right within the iCarol system.
In what scenarios might you want to email a Contact Record?
When sending a warm referral to another agency
When sending Contact Records to a funder who requires a copy of the contact
While referring a Mobile Crisis Intake to a crisis specialist on duty
For sending the details of a high risk interaction to the counselor or supervisor on duty so they can follow up
Here are a few other highlights and things to know about this feature:
You control who can use it
Access is granted in a user’s Advanced Security Settings, giving you granular control over who can and cannot email Contact Records.
How to access
The ability to send a Contact Record by email will appear whenever you create a PDF of a Contact Record, whether it is a single PDF or a batch of PDFs compiled within the Advanced Search on the main Calls page. First you must request that the PDF be made.
Once you click the “Make PDF” button, the options to print the PDF or send it in an email appear.
PDFs sent using this feature can be password protected so that the recipient must enter the correct password before viewing the PDF file, further securing sensitive information. The stronger and more complex the password, the better protection for your PDF to ensure only authorized recipients can view it.
Create a template
If the emailed Contact Records will regularly go to the same recipient(s), use the same subject line, body text, etc., you can create a template. This can save data entry time when preparing the email, and keep a consistent message if you are emailing records as a part of a specific contract or program at your organization. A single template can be created by taking the following steps:
From the left main menu of iCarol, click on ‘Admin Tools’
Click the ‘Calls’ tab
Click the link titled ‘Edit the template used for sending contact records by email’ and follow the instructions on the next page to create the template
Once the template is created, this information will be available automatically each time you create a PDF.
There are no additional costs to turn on and use this feature, it is included and available to all of our subscribers who use Contact Records. For more information, please see the Help Articles in the Help section of your iCarol system. If you have additional questions or need assistance, please open a case with the Support Team.
At iCarol, we’re always looking to the most cutting edge and progressive ways of strengthening system security, protecting data, and preventing unauthorized system access. This always has been and will continue to be a top priority for us.
In addition to the security measures we take to protect data during its transmission and storage, ensuring good password strength is one simple way that each iCarol user can protect their system and the personal information stored within. That’s why, to help our users do this, we are proactively implementing advanced security protocols for passwords used to access the iCarol system. Once these new protocols are enacted, our users will be prompted to update their passwords to ensure they meet our new strength requirements.
We appreciate our users’ compliance with these new protocols. We want you to rest easy knowing we are doing our part to keep your iCarol system secure, while also helping ensure that each individual’s use of iCarol also upholds this security through tight password guidelines.
There’s a lot to like about iCarol’s Flexible Public Web Forms (also known as Online Forms). You can do so much with this versatile tool that is, at its core, a public facing version of the same Contact Forms that iCarol users access within their systems to log interactions with the people they serve.
In case you’re asking “What’s an iCarol Public Web Form?” These forms are Contact Forms hosted in your iCarol system that can be enabled for the public to use. You’ll link to them when you wish to offer services on your website such as:
Self-assessments or screenings
Submitted forms are delivered to your iCarol system where you can then follow up yourself, securely send them to another agency if necessary, and of course since they are Contact Records you can export the data collected or run reports on the data within iCarol. Want to know more? Skip to the bottom of this blog post for even more information about Public Web Forms.
Enabling Time Restrictions.
If you have a service that is only available during certain days of the week, or certain hours of the day, then you may not want your Public Web Form open and available to be filled out on your website outside of those service hours. For example, a Mobile Crisis Intake Form — For better communication and clarity, and to reduce confusion or frustration, you would likely want to keep this form from appearing as an option on your website if the service was currently closed and the web visitor won’t receive a timely response.
Public Web Form time restriction is an option that allows you to make a form available only during the times you choose. The form is turned on or off based on whether or not you have an Online Form shift that is actively staffed at that time.
If there is no shift at that time, or if the shift is open and unstaffed, the form won’t be active and available on the website. If a service is going to become unavailable soon, a warning message and countdown timer can appear for any visitors who may be in the middle of filling a form. There is also the option for custom messaging to appear when the service is unavailable, which could include information such as alternative options for the visitor to pursue in absence of the target service (e.g. a number to call) or more information on the service’s normal hours of operation, and the next time web visitors can expect to see the form on and available.
By only having these Public Web Forms open when the target service is available, and guiding web visitors to other alternative services instead, people in need are directed to the right service at the time.
Why is it important to offer intakes and other forms on your website? Well for one, the people in your community are craving more communication options between themselves and the services they need to access. Whether out of convenience, personal preference, or greater ease of access for those with disabilities, diversifying available communication channels reduces barriers and opens doors for more people to receive the services they are entitled to, and get the help they need.
Using the forms doesn’t just help the people who use your services, but it helps you and your staff as well. You’ll be able to increase staff productivity since these forms can now be filled out directly by the user online, where they may previously have required manual staff time and assistance to the client. You’ll also be able to capitalize on potential volunteer interest — convert volunteer prospects into applicants easily, no more waiting to receive their application through email or snail mail. You’ll also shorten the recruitment and training life cycle, getting volunteers online faster. And because you can now direct so many clients to fill out their satisfaction surveys online, you can increase your outcome data, meet your goals, and get the funding you need.
Public Web Forms can be tailored to meet your needs in a variety of ways, including:
Customize the look and feel of the form to fit with your website and branding, using Cascading Style Sheets to give your form a highly stylized look. You may include your logo, choose your fonts, colors, and more for a cohesive fit within your website.
Edit the fillable fields and text on the form with our Contact Form Editing tools.
Pre-screen clients with questions before the user can proceed to the rest of the form.
Ensure data integrity with an integrated Captcha, protecting you from false or spam/bot submissions.
Enforce form timeouts and warn users of an impending timeout to make sure a form isn’t kept open for too long before submission, protecting the integrity of the data as well as your user’s privacy.
Notify key staff members by email when a form is submitted.
Analyze, track, export, and report on the information collected in the forms. Once the Public Web Form is submitted by the user, it becomes the equivalent to a finished Contact Record in your iCarol system.
To get started using these forms in your iCarol system, contact our Support Team. If you’re not yet an iCarol user, we’d be happy to speak to you about this and other solutions we offer. Please contact us.
The Pre-Chat Survey Queue Indicator gives your organization the ability to include questions in your pre-chat survey that, depending on the answer selected, triggers a corresponding indicator with the conversation when it’s under ‘Waiting in Queue’ and ‘Your conversations’ (found on the main Messaging page). This can be used to aid your volunteers and staff to quickly triage/identify which conversation they should join next based on how the help seeker has answered specific questions set up by your organization.
Your organization may wish to use this feature to indicate any of the following for your conversations:
Needs: Add one or more questions for the help seeker to identify their need or concern (e.g. mental health, finances, relationships, etc.)
Contract Type: Add one or more questions for the help seeker to identify what contract/service they are inquiring about (e.g. mobile crisis intake, tax assistance, health insurance navigators, coordinated access, etc.)
Risk Level: Add one or more questions for the help seeker to answer that can be used to gauge their risk. (e.g. suicide, self-harm, or runaway/homelessness risk)
For example, you may wish to include a question like the one you see highlighted below:
Depending on how the help seeker answers that question, when the conversation appears on your main Messaging page, you’ll see the indicator associated with the answer that your organization setup:
Notice in the screenshot above the text box with some additional information about the help seekers’ concern; this appears when your vols-staff hover their mouse over the indicator and can help them further prioritize which conversation they should join next.
In the example we’ve been looking at, we chose to include just one question that is used to determine which indicator appears for the conversation. But, you have the option to include multiple questions to determine which indicator appears for the conversation. Let’s look at one possible way you could set up multiple questions to use for this feature. For example, you may wish to ask the three questions highlighted below to assess a help seeker’s risk for suicide and create corresponding indicators for High, Medium and Low Risk. Values you assign to each answer will determine the ultimate risk level that appears on the main Messaging page:
The Pre-Chat Survey Queue Indicator feature is included with all Live Chat Messaging subscriptions. If your organization is interested in finding out more about this feature or wants to get started with the setup, sign in to your iCarol system and click here to read the related help article to learn more.
In the past we’ve talked about APIs and how they help you do more with your data, especially in existing or potential partnerships. To briefly review, API stands for Application Program Interface, and it 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 — the systems just talk directly to each other behind the scenes.
Much of iCarol’s discussion regarding APIs so far has been in reference to our Resource API, which allows you to take your resource data and use it to create custom searchable websites, build mobile apps, or contribute resource data to other projects. For instance, we have customers who have partnered with local libraries, hospitals and prisons to host their community’s service inventory on the partner’s website. Rather than the partner having to build and curate their own resource database, they pay their local Information and Referral service who uses iCarol to provide the information.
One thing is for certain: APIs are a leading way for our clients to harness their data and open up new avenues for partnerships and revenue streams. Now, this exciting technology is available for another area within the iCarol suite: Contact Records (a.k.a. Call Reports).
The Contact Record API provides a way for you to take the data from a submitted Contact Record and push it to an awaiting “restful API web service” or “webhook,” which would typically be owned or provided by the entity you are working with. The Contact Record data is pushed or transmitted one way.
How could you use this new data sharing capability at your organization? A few ideas:
Send all the contact record data you collect to a funder or partner’s system as part of your contracted service.
Send just the contact record data you collect in specific forms, such as intake forms, when contracted to provide a service for an entity such as a hospital, insurer, mobile crisis team, or other service provider.
Send contact record data to collaborative reporting systems or dashboards for trend analysis, and data-driven community planning to influence public policy.
At iCarol, it’s one of our deeply held beliefs that your data belongs to you. We see it as part of our mission and stewardship of that data to help you harness it to do more good in your community, provide continuity of care to people in need, and enhance your relevance and marketability as a community partner and vital provider of services. The Contact Record API gives you one more way to participate in collaborative partnerships, leverage your talents to help more people, and increase your funding.
If you are an iCarol customer who would like to learn more, please open a case with our Support Team. Not a customer yet? Contact us here.
The iCarol Assessment Gauge is a highly configurable feature that is included with your core subscription to iCarol. It is most commonly used to assess two different situations: Eligibility or Risk.
What is it?
The Assessment Gauge is a series of questions you can embed into your iCarol Contact Form. Potential answers to each question are presented in a matrix format. Behind the scenes, the answers for each question have a weighted score. As a specialist goes through the assessment and marks an appropriate answer, these answers help form an overall quantitative measurement of either risk or eligibility, depending on how the form is being used.
The way you use and setup the Assessment Gauge is entirely up to your organization. Some examples of situations in which your organization might make use of the Assessment Gauge could be, but are not limited to the following:
Eligibility Assessment Examples:
Health Insurance Enrollment Eligibility
Tax Assistance Eligibility
Mobile Crisis Team Referral Eligibility
Risk Assessment Examples:
Mental Health Intake Priority
Suicide Risk Assessment
Disaster Risk Assessment
Domestic Violence Assessment
Homeless Diversion Program Assessment
This feature has been available for several years in iCarol, however we have made updates to the tool with the Contact Forms V5 Upgrade, including:
More user friendly with an updated look
Faster response as you answer questions
Scrolls with the page instead of being stationed in the top right corner
You can choose to add the Assessment Gauge directly within an existing contact form:
Or create a new related form for assessments that only take place during a sub-set of your interactions.
You could also add the assessment in both contexts; one on the original or “parent” form, and others on related forms. It’s important to note that there can only be one assessment on each iCarol Contact Form.
How it works
As users answer the assessment questions, the gauge moves up or down depending on how the answers are weighted, something decided and set up by your organization. Below is an example of how a set of questions in a suicide assessment may add up to create the gauge shown below. Based on the weights of the answers, this person was assessed as being very high risk.
To learn more about this feature and learn how to get started with setting it up in your system, iCarol customers have access to this help article. Please open a ticket with the iCarol Support Team if you’d like additional guidance or assistance using this feature!
Awhile back we shared our intentions to make some changes to the terminology we use when talking about certain iCarol features and capabilities. Namely, referring to “callers” or “calls” as the standard when talking about the people served and how you serve them. Before we go any further, let’s backup and review…
Recap – Why the changes?
iCarol was inspired by the volunteer experiences of our founders in a helpline environment, which were, at the time, very much rooted in call taking as the method of engaging with and helping people in need. Over the years, new technologies that lend themselves to different and expanded ways of communicating only grew in popularity and availability, and iCarol adapted as a result by enabling into the software communication channels like Live Chat, Texting/SMS, and connecting clients with services through a public website, for example Online Forms and the Public Resource Directory.
The fact is, iCarol is such a flexible solution that since the very beginning our customers have used it for far more than just phone-based work. But, much of the terminology we use when talking about our software centers around calls. For example, the functionality used to document interactions with clients and collect necessary information has historically been called “Call Reports” or “Call Report Forms,” and the area of your system where these interactions are logged is titled “Calls.” There are other examples like “Caller Profile” and “Phone Worker” being used throughout our public website and web application (aka “web app”).
We want to be more inclusive and consider the broad scope of how iCarol is actually used by our clients by using terminology that actually reflects its full potential. It’s important that we do this so that our current customers feel their work is understood and respected by the iCarol team, but also so that potential clients understand that iCarol is the solution for them, and ensuring they don’t mistakenly think its capabilities are limited and can’t meet their organization’s needs.
What is changing?
After surveying our clients and having internal discussions, we have settled on some new terminology to transition to:
Calls (as seen on the left main menu of iCarol)
Call Report or Call Report Form
Contact Form/Contact Record
Vol/Staff, Volunteer or Staff, Worker
Help seeker, Person in need, Client
It’s important to note that these changes are cosmetic only, and none of these changes should impact the way iCarol works or how you use the software to complete tasks.
When will these changes occur?
We have already begun making changes throughout our public website to reflect the broader scope of how people can and do use iCarol. You may also notice these newer terms on our blogs and other public-facing content, and they may be used by members of our team when they’re answering your questions or working with you on Support cases.
In regards to the iCarol software that you sign into and use each day, changing terms there will take longer to implement. We are still in the process of analyzing all the areas that need to change, and we will then decide what areas to prioritize and organize our efforts before any changes will begin. When we do begin changing terms in web app, you will find these changes will happen in phases and for a time there may be some inconsistencies, i.e. some pages use the new terms while others still use the old ones. We appreciate your patience through the process. When we know more about when you can expect to start seeing these changes in iCarol, we will communicate that on the blog and the iCarol Dashboard.
iCarol offers multiple ways for you to retrieve the data you put into your system. You can use our Statistics area to access dozens of available-on-demand charts and graphs that present information that our clients most commonly need to meet their reporting requirements. You can also apply numerous filters to these reports, drilling directly in to uncover the desired information. This area is a sufficient source of information for most of your basic reporting needs.
But, we understand that others may want or need to run cross tabulations, pivot tables, or otherwise customize their reporting experience a bit further. Our users can extract their raw data files for further analysis in external programs like Microsoft Access or Excel, or simply export the data for offline storage. These data tables contain every last detail about activities like your shifts, volunteer and staff profiles, the records in your resource database, and contact records including the data from contact record text entry fields, among other activities.
Our philosophy is this: The data you put into iCarol is YOUR data— we are simply the stewards of it by keeping it stored and protected for you, and so of course you should have access to it as needed. Many of our users choose to go to the Admin Tools area of iCarol to export this data on a regular basis. However, this does require taking a few steps to initiate the download, then waiting for the export to complete before you can begin your analysis.
We’ve created an enhancement to the Admin Tools export area: Scheduled Exports. Using this feature, our users can schedule an automatic export to occur. This export can be delivered in your iCarol system just as the manual exports, or you can set a path to a S/FTP that you’ve provided for this data to be delivered to.
Each iCarol customer is allotted one free monthly scheduled export to use in their system.
This feature is also available as a subscription — you may add on several scheduled exports to your iCarol system for a nominal monthly cost. When you subscribe to this feature, you may choose from multiple time frames for the scheduled exports to occur: Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, or Annually. If you find yourself needing to export information on a repeat basis throughout your reporting cycles, having these files exported automatically is a convenient and time-saving solution.
To add your free monthly scheduled export, log into iCarol and navigate to the Help area to read our detailed Help Articles with step-by-step instructions (simply search for “Scheduled Export”).
The Automated Verification Request/Response (AVR) feature in iCarol helps you keep resource records reliable and up-to-date, and saves hundreds of hours when compared to sending manual emails, letters, or making phone calls. But, you may find over time the list of Requests sent by you, or your organization, may become long and therefore hard to determine what requests are still open.
If you use the AVR feature, it’s also likely your organization has setup a Verification Process, in which you set a certain number of times you’ll reach out to an organization requesting an update be made, and specify the ways in which you’ll reach out to organizations. For example, you may have a Verification Process setup where you send 2 emails to an organization, then if they don’t respond X weeks after the 2nd email is sent, you may try calling the organization twice, and so on and so forth.
For this reason, and more, it’s helpful to keep the list of open Requests updated so it can be used as a tool to help keep track of your Verification Process. You can keep this list updated using the buttons at the bottom of each Request to ‘Close’ or ‘Hide’ the request, depending on your desired outcome, in combination with the filters available on this page for which ‘Existing Verification Requests’ you want to include in this list.
Updates were recently made to the buttons that control which Requests appear on the list as Open, which ones appear as Closed, and which ones are Hidden. The updates made these buttons more meaningful and user-friendly, making it so each button has a slightly different outcome. The three buttons available to choose from are ‘Hide this request on the list’, ‘Mark the Request as Closed’, and ‘Mark as Verified and Close’, and each button causes different changes to happen within the resource records included in the Request you’ve selected.
Depending on which button you choose, the changes are as follows:
‘Mark the Request as Closed’ will:
change the status in the list of requests to ‘Closed’ so it can be filtered from appearing in the list
cause no change to the ‘Last Verified…’ or ‘Verifier’s…’ data
make the Request links sent to verifiers inactive, making it impossible to submit a Response for this particular Request
‘Mark the Request as Verified and Close’, will:
change the status in the list of requests to ‘Closed’ so it can be filtered from appearing in the list
change existing date in the ‘Last Verified…’ and ‘Verifier’s…’ fields, unless a Response has been submitted by a resource included in the Request
make the Request links sent to verifiers inactive, making it impossible to submit a Response for this particular Request
‘Hide this request on the list’, will:
cause no change to the ‘Last Verified…’ or ‘Verifier’s…’ data
permanently remove the Request from appearing in the list of requests on the left side of the page; once you do this, there is no way to un-hide the request
make the Request links sent to the verifiers remain active, making it possible for a verifier to still submit a Response for this particular Request
After you have your Requests marked as ‘Close’ or ‘Hide’, you can use the filters at the top of the Automated Verification Requests page to show only ‘Sent’ Requests, which are any Requests where you haven’t chosen to ‘Close’ or ‘Hide’, or you can use the filters to show only ‘Closed’ requests.
When you choose to use each button is entirely up to you and your organization, and should be based off your internal processes, but the information outlined in this blog provides all the details and information you’ll need to make the best decision for the work you do! For more information about how to use this tool, you can read the help article ‘How to close or hide an Automated Verification Request’.