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Learning about iCarol enhancements and other system news

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.

iCarol Dashboard

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.

    Release history and plans

    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.

    Release details

    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.

Help area

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.

    training videos

    Help Articles

    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.

    In-system guides

    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.

Emails

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.

Webinars

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.

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iCarol at the DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference

From August 1-3, Polly and Rachel will attend the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) conference on suicide prevention, held in Denver, CO.

Every two years the DoD and VA collaborate to host the Suicide Prevention Conference. The conference focuses on suicide prevention efforts across both departments and is the only suicide prevention conference that specifically addresses suicide among Military and Veteran populations at a national level. This year’s conference theme, #BeThere – It Takes a Community, is consistent with DoD and VA methodologies, which require a multi-pronged strategy for prevention including: media messaging, non-medical interventions, mental health interventions, training for gatekeepers, peer-to- peer support, troop and family member training, and leadership engagement. The DoD and VA recognize that education on a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention is vital.

This will be iCarol’s first year attending this conference, though suicide prevention for Veteran and active duty service members is a topic with which we’re familiar through our work in the suicide prevention industry at large, and our relationships with many clients who serve this population. Through our first visit to this conference we hope to learn even more about the unique needs and best practices for serving Veterans and active duty members of the armed services.

To read more about our work in this industry, click here.

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iCarol achieves 99.99% uptime for first quarter 2017

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.

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iCarol at the National Conference on Problem Gambling

If you’re going to be in Portland for the 31st National Conference on Problem Gambling this week, be sure to stop by and say “hi” to Mary from iCarol who will be there for the pre-conference and will be at our booth in the exhibitor’s area. We’re proud to be a part of this event; the largest and oldest conference of its kind bringing together leaders in prevention, education, treatment, responsible gaming, research, and recovery.

We’ll be joining the Pre-Conference beginning July 19th and attending the Helpline Symposium workshop on July 20th. It’s important to us to stay engaged on all the latest with this group and learning the current events and news impacting the industry.

iCarol is the chosen provider for a national chat and text collaboration platform for the National Council on Problem Gambling. Several centers and organizations from around the U.S. participate to provide help in states where they provide services. Help seekers from around the U.S. text or live chat with the national service, then iCarol’s comprehensive design reads the help seeker’s location. If there is a center in the network from the person’s location designated to take the chat or text at that time, then the chat or text is sent to them. If there is not a designated center available, a trained back-up center is sent the chat or text. This successful model, which has been in place for a few years now, is great because help seekers get help close or specialized to them when it is available, and either way, help seekers always get connected to help. Contact us if you are interested in a model like this at your organization.

With every event we attend we continue to be amazed by the diversity in the helpline services available for so many different needs and issues in communities all across the world. Problem gambling helplines are doing wonderful work to strengthen families and improve health and wellness by reducing the economic, social, and personal costs caused by problem gambling. We’re sure it’s going to be another exciting and educational event. See you there!

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iCarol to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference

iCarol Webinars

iCarol is thrilled to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in Dallas, TX, June 7-9, 2017. Over the past few years, iCarol has helped more and more agencies working in the sexual violence support space, especially as the need to offer chat and text to survivors increases. We couldn’t be more honored to help these agencies in their missions, and make the work these vital agencies do easier, and save them time and money along the way.

For some, like the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, the agency is focused on sexual violence prevention and survivor support. For many other iCarol clients, sexual violence support work is part of a multi-faceted agency.

In particular, providing survivors options for texting and live chat during the crucial hours following a sexual assault ensures they have options other than calling on the phone to reach out to the supporting agency. Many survivors have questions about getting a SANE nurse exam, or need support. Some agencies even explain how an advocate can meet the survivor at the hospital and explain the processes over text messages or live chat. In many states, the sooner evidence is collected in an exam (often within 72 hours), the better. The support work for survivors surely does not end there.

Here are a few other highlights of iCarol’s work with sexual violence support agencies:

    Ensure hours/funding are accounted for and seamlessly administer and track:
  • Advocate/SANE hospital & mobile responder activities
  • Outreach/presentations at schools, events, training
  • Case worker/advocate follow-up — no one gets missed

  • Instant reporting for funders:
  • Advocate and staff training hours & certification (also with expiration alerts to staff)
  • Monthly & quarterly reporting of interactions (calls, chat, text, in person), stats built right in

  • Better volunteer/advocate/staff shift attendance:
  • Clear and web/mobile accessible organized schedules
  • Seamless tools for volunteers to get help to fill a shift
  • Text and email reminders about upcoming shifts

The conferences is “A Conference for People Who Want to End Sexual Violence,” according to their website. It also states: “The purpose of the conference is to provide a national training opportunity for 1,500+ workers from rape crisis centers, state sexual assault coalitions and other allies (medical professionals, law enforcement, campus rape crisis programs, public health department workers, and others) from across the United States and its territories.”

If you are going to be at the conference, please stop by the iCarol booth! Have questions or want to set up a time to meet? Please !

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Upcoming Changes to ‘Help’ Area in iCarol

Question mark

Are you familiar with the iCarol Help Library, where you go to watch video tutorials, recordings of training webinars, read help articles, and more? Even if you aren’t familiar with our existing iCarol Help Library, you aren’t going to want to miss the important, exciting news we’re about to share with you!

In recent years, iCarol has continued to evolve and grow to best meet the needs of our clients. With that growth, we recognize our Help Library needs to be updated to reflect the evolution we’re sure you’ve all seen.

That is why our team at iCarol is working hard to redesign the entire Help Library as you know it today. The following are some important changes we’d like to highlight that you’ll be seeing in the coming months:

    New Guides: Some users may already be familiar with the ‘Get started!’ menu, which contains Guides that walk you through different tasks that you need to complete in iCarol. Our team is working to develop these Guides to help with your training needs. Watch out for more details in future blogs!

    Update existing training materials: Some training material you may be used to accessing could be unpublished for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is because we are re-evaluating our existing style guide and making changes to the way information is presented to you. So if you find yourself unable to locate training material you previously had access to, simply have a designated Support Contact from your organization go to Help in the left side menu to submit a case requesting information.

    Overall Redesign: In addition to the changes outlined above, the entire look and flow of the Help Library is being updated to incorporate the same growth you’ve seen in other areas of iCarol. This means if you are used to searching the library a certain way, you will need to be aware of the changes so you can know how to still search for the information you need to find. Watch out for more details in future blogs!

This blog is the first in a series that we will be releasing throughout the year to keep you informed of the changes you’ll be seeing throughout our Help Library; so, make sure you keep an eye out for more details!

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iCarol response to WannaCry Ransomware attack

On Friday May 12, 2017 we were notified by Infrastructure Engineers that a massive global attack was underway which had already infected hundreds of thousands of computers and servers worldwide. This attack was known as the WannaCry virus and it targeted a vulnerability in Windows-based operating systems by encrypting the contents of a hard drive and any shared drive that computer was provided access. To decrypt the contents and return the hard drive back to a normal state, users were presented with a message demanding a ransom payment in Bitcoins, a virtual online currency that is difficult to trace.

Microsoft had recently released a patch to secure this vulnerability, which we had scheduled to deploy with our next patching cycle on June 11, 2017 after validation in our labs. However with news of this attack and following the recommendation from Microsoft Support and our Infrastructure Engineers, we acted swiftly and began the patching process of our external perimeter servers, considered to be at the highest risk of being targeted. By the end of the day Saturday May 13th, our exterior perimeter was secured in our production environments. We continued the process Sunday May 14th to secure our Disaster Recovery sites and by the end of the day Monday May 15th we completed the securing of our desktops, internal application and database servers. Following these actions, we can confidently say that all servers have now been secured in the iCarol infrastructure against the WannaCry virus.

Guidance for our users

We advise all of our users to be sure you stay up-to-date on browser and operating system updates on your machines. If you are running a Windows-based operating system please be sure to run the latest updates (Control Panel > Windows Update > Check for Updates) to make sure you pick up the latest patches and protect yourself from WannaCry and other viruses.

We take our role as stewards of your data, including sensitive information about the people you serve and the important work you do, very seriously. Should you have any questions about system security in the wake of the WannaCry Ransomware attack, please do not hesitate to reach out to our Support Team.

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iCarol to attend the 2-1-1 Leadership Summit and United Way Community Leaders Conference

I’m excited to be attending the upcoming United Way CEO 2-1-1 Summit and Community Leadership Conferences next week in Orlando! Of the many big ideas and opportunities we can advance collectively, some of my favorites are those that contribute to 2-1-1’s operating as a coordinated national network, and that increase our relevance in key areas like social determinants of health. I’m looking forward to formal presentations and “hallway talks” about:

  • Deeper engagements with medical and behavioral health entities
  • Technology standards to harmonize the distribution of social and human services data to trusted partners
  • Coordination of the National Texting Platform
  • Greater use of “syndromic survellience” (love that term) to alert our leaders to emerging crises and issues

If these topics are of interest to you too, please let’s make sure we connect in a session or during a break to explore how we can advance 2-1-1’s overall, and your 2-1-1 network in particular, in the near term.

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Faster delivery of your data exports

One of the most common challenges faced by non-profit human services agencies is taking all the data that they generate each day and finding ways to use it to tell the story of their impact. Every day in iCarol systems across the world, thousands of pieces of data, are recorded. There are the calls, chats, texts, and other interactions where specialists record detailed information about those contacts, what they need and what services were directly provided, or the referrals made. Each referral record may contain over a hundred fields of information updated by resource specialists on an ongoing basis. There’s shift information, who worked and when, and how many hours each volunteer logged in a given period of time. Speaking of volunteers, in addition to hours worked there are the trainings and certifications they’ve achieved, new skills obtained, contact information, and the list goes on. That’s just a small sampling of the kinds of information being captured, and when you multiply just the things listed so far by nearly 70,000 users worldwide, it really adds up!

Much of your storytelling can be achieved through the dozens of charts, graphs, and other tools available in the Statistics area of iCarol. All of the most common data points our customers require are typically found there, and especially once you add in the available standard filters like location or time frame, or more custom filters from your call report fields, the information produced from these in-system reports is very powerful. Still, there are reasons you may need to dig deeper and export detailed files. Some take the raw call report data and place it into external programs for further manipulation or cross tabulation, or prefer to write their own queries. In the cases of fields where a text answer is provided instead of selecting from a dropdown or checkbox list, an export is needed to review the information that can’t be quantified.

Using iCarol you can export much more than your call report data. Detailed information on your shifts, volunteer information, client profiles, and your full database of resource records are all available to be extracted. Some centers have policies or contracts that require local copies of contact data or a hard copy of the resource database be downloaded on a regular basis. These are just a few of the instances where a data extract may be required.

Of course we take great care to ensure that this data is secured and protected, but also accessible to you when you need it. While we act as its caretakers, the data is owned by our clients and it’s important that they be able to download it for offline use outside of iCarol when needed. As you can imagine, these large amounts of data take time to retrieve and process. Our systems also contend with multiple simultaneous requests from various organizations across the globe. As iCarol grows and more and more non-profit agencies use it and add to this mountain of data, it’s our job to ensure that our high performance standards continue to be met.

Early this year, members of our technical team endeavored to apply a fresh approach to the processing of this data. We made changes to the service that generates those data exports in an effort to reduce the wait times between making the request and receiving the data. The team was able to accomplish this by optimizing queries, re-architecting the exporter service being used, deploying additional services, as well as making changes to the exporter schedule.

So with all this talk of data, it’s time to share some of our own. Following these changes to our export service, we decided to compare some numbers occurring in February of two different years: 2016, prior to any changes, and February 2017 after the new approach had been put into place. The table below shows this comparison. The “Time to complete” accounts for the number of minutes that elapse between when the extract request is made, and then the email notification of completion gets emailed. It’s also worth noting that there were over 100 more exports requested in February 2017 than in February 2016, and yet as you can see our average time overall and for the individual types of exports all decreased by significant percentages.

Data export comparison

As time goes on we’ll continue to monitor this performance and look at comparisons using a larger sample size to get a fuller picture of the progress. This first look, however, is very promising and we’re hoping this has had a noticeable positive impact on our clients as they request these exports.

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iCarol to attend the American Association of Suicidology Conference

From April 26th through the 29th, members of our team will be in Phoenix for the 50th American Association of Suicidology Conference.

We’ll have a booth at the conference and you’ll see us at many of the events and sessions, too. It’s important to us to learn about and be aware of all the latest research and the expanding needs of helplines as they work to build suicide-safer communities.

We hope you’ll stop by our booth and let us know how things have been going for your organization, and tell us about the exciting initiatives you’ve had going on. We’ll be available to answer any questions you may have about iCarol, and we’ll have some fun activities to check out that are brand new this year!

In particular we’d really enjoy hearing your feedback about the new iCarol Ideas Portal we recently released. We’re excited to hear from our users about how it’s going, what you like about it, and any other feedback you may have. So if you’ve used the Ideas Portal, we definitely want to see you!

With all the excitment and so much going on, the time at the conference goes by quickly, so please look us up at the conference, or beforehand to schedule some time to chat so we’re sure not to miss the opportunity to see you!

We look forward to seeing you and learning about all the latest in the life-saving work being done by the helpline industry so that we can continue to build our systems to support you.

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