Foreign Affairs seeks to improve case management app

As far as Bill Sampson is concerned, WorldReach Software’s case management application was probably the only thing working on his behalf when he was behind bars in a Saudi prison/torture chamber.

Sampson, a 43-year-old pharmaceutical engineer and Canadian citizen, was arrested in November 2000

in connection with an alleged involvement with a car bombing. He was released this past summer after the Saudis granted him clemency and spared him the promised beheading. Sampson has publicly stated he believes Canadian officials did not do enough to prevent the torture he was submitted to.

Behind the scenes, however, the Canadian consulate was using the Ottawa-based company’s case management software application to track all related information about his incarceration, from calls from family to the date of the next consular visit.

And while WorldReach software is not likely what eventually set him and others in similar situations free, it does help the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) keep track of everything related to detained and missing Canadians’ cases, from calls from concerned family members to the date and time of the next consular visit.

The software, which is used at more than 400 locations in approximately 200 countries, has so far worked well in handling individual cases, says Serge Paquette, acting director, emergency services at DFAIT. But the minute news of the latest terrorist attack, natural disaster or plane crash in another country hits the news here, the phones start to ring.

The department typically handles approximately 8,000 to 10,000 calls a month. But on 9/11, for example, there were about 24,000 calls into the department’s call centre from people wanting to know if their friends and family were affected.

To help DFAIT better deal with the volume of calls related to these increasingly frequent events, it is working with WorldReach to develop a new module of the software, says Paquette.

Paquette says DFAIT used the case management module for the nightclub bombing in Bali last year. “”Typically what happens is that as soon as it makes the news here in Canada, concerned parents or relatives call us and ask us to try to locate their fellow Canadians in that country,”” he says. “”Right now we don’t have a tool per se to deal with this huge influx of calls — we use one of our current modules to do that. It works, but it’s not ideal – really it’s a case management tool we adapt.””

The new module will allow DFAIT call centre staff to input all those incoming calls, the details of the callers, and who they’re looking for, he says, as well as provide a location to store passport photos and any other available information.

DFAIT also wants better search features, he says, because often there are multiple calls from many people about one person. “”So there will be a relationship now between the missing people and the callers and also the relationship between missing persons.””

An early version of the system is expected in December, with full delivery scheduled for February.

“”It keeps improving,”” says Paquette of the WorldReach application. “”The beauty of it all is we’ve been a partner since its creation – they (WorldReach) know the system inside out and they know our business, so it makes it easy for us when we have new requirements – they know what we go through.””

According to WorldReach president Gordon Wilson, the company was formed in 1998 as WorldReach Software after a five-year software development partnership between parent company AMITA Corp. and DFAIT. WorldReach, he says, initially focused on helping DFAIT manage the assistance it provides to international travellers and those living abroad.

“”When people need their government, whether they’ve been arrested or detained abroad, they need to get messages back to family or get temporary financial assistance — all manner of things overseas,”” he says. “”They would typically contact the local embassy or consulate and that would start up a case, and all the information that’s coming in from family to headquarters in Ottawa or people in the field or the person involved directly would be consolidated into one electronic case file, which all of the various people involved with the case could then share and take a look at it at any time. The system is really key because you have a lot of points of information coming in, particularly in a large-scale disaster.””

The U.K. has been using it since 2001, and the firm recently signed a deal with the Netherlands as well.

Wilson also sees potential uses in both the provincial and municipal levels of government, both of which fulfill different functions in emergency situations. He also sees its applicability in the event of an infectious disease breakout, such as SARS.

“”We have a component of our software that deals with the registration of people,”” he says. “”In DFAIT’s context it’s for people travelling abroad, but there’s no reason that component can’t capture all the basic information you need for quarantine as well. For example, in the case of SARS they had 25,000 people quarantined at one point.””


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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