Each year, our sister publication Computer Dealer News hosts the Channel Elite Awards to recognize IT Solution Provider for their innovation, leadership, and commitment for creating value for their customers. As Canada’s leading IT channel publication, CDN invited solution providers to submit their best work to nine different categories for 2013’s awards. Here, we present the case studies these award nominees put forward to us. Find out who the big winners are on Sept. 11 when CDN presents them at the CEA Awards Gala.
Learn more about CDN’s Channel Elite Awards 2013
Nominee: Systemgroup Consulting Inc. from Mississauga, Ontario
Cloud Solution description
Healthcare is at crisis levels in countries around the world. In particular, mental health programs are facing enormous cuts. Funding, programs and services are constantly at risk leaving the most vulnerable people in our societies in peril. Systemgroup has partnered with a solution provider for charitable organizations to develop iCarol, a Microsoft Private Cloud multi-tenant solution built on SQL Server 2012 for scalability, security and highly available BI, virtualized with Hyper-V, and providing remote access for mobile workers to extend the capability of Mental Health professionals at Suicide, Kid’s Help and Community Care hotlines all around the globe. Consider the widespread nature of this problem. A Bing search will turn up thousands of headlines like these: “State Mental Health Cuts – The Continuing Crisis: FY2012 – States have cut more than $1.6 billion in general funds from their state mental health agency budgets for mental health services since FY2009, a period during which demand for such services increased significantly.” “Mental Health Cuts Hurt Kids – Mental health issues do not take the weekends off, that is why our programs and our services are offered seven days a week,” Aman said. “It is not clear to us how the service deficit on the weekends, due to the cuts, will now be managed. But for sure, services to clients will be severely impacted – there will be no continuous care.” “Military Suicides on the Rise – Funding for Mental Health Slashed – With newly released statistics showing a rise in the number of suicides in the Canadian Forces, the federal government has come under pressure over reports that the DND is cutting the positions of some mental health professionals. Organizations that provide mental health services are trying to find better ways to engage, support and reach people in crisis. This is where our partner and their flagship product, iCarol Messaging come into play. By implementing Suicide Hotlines and online Counselling Programs using Chat, agencies can stretch limited resources to reach more people. The resources need to be available – especially in times of crisis or natural disaster when desperate individuals need to make connections to help them cope. Availability is crucial. Desperate people don’t want to get a busy signal or a recorded message. Suicide and help lines peak during crisis situations and that was the case when Hurricane Sandy hit recently. When Hurricane Sandy crushed communication platforms across New York and New Jersey several months ago, people in crisis might have been left with no way to connect to the very agencies who could help them – unless they were using our partner’s iCarol Messaging System developed by Systemgroup and delivered on a private cloud. “When you have the most vulnerable folks, all you need is one chink in the system and you lose them,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “Whether they lost their housing, or the outpatient services they usually go to were closed and they were lost to follow-up, they have become disconnected, with predictable results.” New York Times, Storm Weakened a Fragile System for Mental Care, 2012 A state-of-the art application for the not-for-profit sector to manage crisis lines. Systemgroup has developed a Microsoft cloud-based, highly secure system that crisis organizations can afford by offering it as a subscription model. Using SQL Server 2012, Windows Server 2012, IIS 8, TFS 2010, Visual Studio and .NET, Active Directory Federation Services, and Hyper-V Systemgroup is able to meet the needs of hundreds of agencies – from the very small to the very large – who were not able to afford other expensive alternatives. Commercial cloud-based call center or chat systems would not meet our partner’s requirements due to the sensitive nature of the content, the requirement for privacy and confidentiality and the need to adhere to mandated regulatory controls. When Systemgroup CEO and Founder Ken Ryder met with our partner’s team, he believed that this was a critical application that could change the lives of millions of people by providing crisis lines and mental health agencies with the technology enablers that would make a difference. “(The partner) is supplying critical agencies that operate Suicide Prevention and Mental Health lines with the tools they need to assist the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Used around the globe, (our partner’s) technology platform we have built on Microsoft is helping connect people in need with the qualified resources and professionals who can help them avoid or deal with a crisis,” said Ken Ryder, CEO, Systemgroup. “Systemgroup has been an amazing partner to work with,” said our partner. “For the past four years we have met regularly and brainstormed to continue to innovate and add capability on the platform. For us it has meant offering a robust and highly secure solution at an affordable cost to industries that are facing shrinking budgets and limited resources. With Systemgroup’s help, we are enabling those agencies to increase the amount of time they can actually spend helping a client.”
What type of cloud architecture was deployed and how were these decisions made with security in mind?
Due to the highly sensitive nature of the data that is collected in the system, a private cloud was the only configuration that was ever considered. The solution is based on the following architecture. Low cost of ownership – Virtualized with Hyper-V, the solution is delivered on an affordable subscription-based model where agencies, crisis lines, kids help phones and others can manage the monthly fee as part of their operational costs; Multi-tenanted – Using the features of SQL 2012, the iCarol solution supports a secure multi-tenant architecture where sensitive data is kept secure and only available to the groups who need to have access Secure – Fully encrypted, there are no breaches of confidentiality or privacy concerns from any of the agencies Private Cloud – Delivered across a private cloud, the service is available anywhere and at any time, enabling agencies to support remote workers – even in times of crisis when core systems are threatened – as was the case with Hurricane Sandy. Business Intelligence – Flexible and deep analytic capabilities delivered by SQL Server in dashboards and familiar tools have empowered agencies to spot trends, predict volumes and staff accordingly, provide detailed intelligence to support funding requests, improve training and consolidate information for a deeper understanding of the risks and needs associated with their community.
How does this solution push the boundaries of a typical cloud computing solution and qualify as innovative?
The iCarol Messaging platform brings together visitors from different mediums (SMS, web-based chat) to communicate in a real-time with counselors all over the world. The rich feature set, integrates with the iCarol incident reporting system to provide detailed information on each chat to ensure that visitors are counseled appropriately and effectively. Additional integration with SMS service gateways facilitate seamless communication with mobile users via SMS. Traditional server-based cloud solutions leverage pull-based technology where users pull information at different intervals to refresh content. Due to the nature of iCarol Messaging’s chat content and the various mediums in which it is delivered, it was critical to the success of the platform to enable PUSH content delivery to avoid delays in message communication. This has been done through leveraging Comet technology. This technology advancement allows the iCarol Messaging platform to replicate a real-time chat experience while delivering messages to thousands of users concurrently around the world across various mediums.
Why was this type of cloud solution the right choice for this business case?
The low cost of ownership provided by a subscription model as well as the managed support was the right configuration for the clients who tend to have limited budgets and resources with little or no on-site IT support.
How was the success of the system measured and what were the results?
Prior to using iCarol, these agencies would rely on manual, paper-based systems. Confidential information would be kept in binders. Trends could not be spotted easily. Call wrap-up times were longer as staff members wrote notes meaning fewer calls could be answered. The iCarol Messaging System has reduced manual methods of capturing information, making the crisis counsellors on average 15 to 25% more effective and increasing the number of calls they can take. In the past year, users on the iCarol Messaging System have engaged in: • 142,308 Chats • 3,777,077 Messages sent iCarol has attracted 117,836 unique visitors in the past year. In addition to dozens of testimonials iCarol is used exclusively by “The Trevor Project” a high profile national crisis line for suicide prevention. Honored by the White House as a Champion of Change, the Trevor Project is also endorsed by dozens of celebrities such as Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres and Barak Obama. A full list of more than 60 celebrity endorsements can be found here – http://www.looktothestars.org/charity/the-trevor-project The Trevor Project – Honored by The White House – A national iCarol client, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people under 24. Every day, The Trevor Project saves young lives through its free and confidential lifeline and instant messaging services, in-school workshops, educational materials, online resources and advocacy. Honored by the White House as a Champion of Change, The Trevor Project is a leader and innovator in suicide prevention. Lady Gaga Born This Way Tour Partners with The Trevor Project “Now more than ever, our kids need access to support within their communities, including mental health services,” said Cynthia Germanotta, BTWF President and Co-Founder. “By connecting youth to these local resources, we hope to plant the seeds that will help them deal with today’s challenges and inspire them to continue exercising their strength and bravery well after the Born Brave Bus leaves town. We are incredibly grateful to our partners for helping to make the Born Brave Bus Tour a reality. To have this many reputable, national organizations come together at a local level is revolutionary.” NFL Lifeline uses iCarol to Provide Confidential Connections for Players and the Families with Mental Health Issues The following video “To My Brothers” is raising awareness about the need for NFL players to address mental health concerns. With increased violence and more research linking concussions to increases in mental health issues, the NFL is using iCarol to provide confidential connections between players, their families and mental health professionals. iCarol provides the platform “NFL Lineline” for the NFL Players Association to support players, ex-players and their families deal with depression, domestic abuse and any associated mental health issues. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBSbgjfQYdQ&feature=player_embedded Mental Health Association of New York City Stays Standing During Sandy From: Gloria J. (Mental Health Association of New York City) Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 4:38 PM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: Vinh Tran [iCarol] Subject: Thank You iCarol Neil, Hello! I was speaking with Vinh earlier and sharing some of my thoughts on iCarol and he thought you would appreciate knowing as well. I wanted to let you know that iCarol was one of the few systems we use that stood the test of hurricane Sandy and for that we are very grateful. Chat was especially important because it was the only service we provide that continued without interruption and allowed us to respond to people in crisis. Our building transformer blew up causing us to lose power which had a huge impact on our phone and routing systems but iCarol stood and thanks to iCarol we were able to work remotely. I appreciate how hard Vinh and your staff has worked with us to create our vision of a multi portal chat program and man we pulled it off in a nick of time! Thanks again and I look forward to working with you more in the future, Gloria Four Case Studies – https://www.icarol.com/Learn-more/Case-studies 1. The Crisis Lines Association of British Columbia used iCarol to take nearly 200,000 calls annually providing over 3.7 million minutes of support each year, connecting people with a crisis-line worker every 2.7 minutes; 2. CrisisChat.org is the first nationally-based online crisis service that utilizes the existing expertise of crisis centers which have been providing critical, life-saving support to Americans since the 1960s. 3. 2-1-1 Maryland is a network of four non-profit call centers that provide information and referral services by phone to the residents of their state, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Callers express whatever needs they may have and trained staff and volunteers find service providers in their area who can provide them with assistance. Maryland is the 19th largest state in the USA with about 5.7 million residents, and collectively the 2-1-1 Maryland network takes about 275,000 calls per year. 4. 211 services in Alberta are composed of two non-profit help lines chartered with answering information and referral (I&R) phone calls from residents of Alberta. In addition to providing the 211 service, the 211 call centres (Distress Centre Calgary and The Support Network in Edmonton) also offer other services like crisis / distress lines and counseling serving a population of 3.7 million. As a cloud-based solution, this application is currently being used by hundreds of agencies around the globe to facilitate confidential conversations between professionals and people in crisis. United Way of Northeast Louisiana, Louisiana, USA “We are in the middle of Hurricane Isaac and getting hammered hard. iCarol is working wonderfully well for us.” -Jan W., Director Mental Health Association of New York City, New York, USA “iCarol was one of the few systems we use that stood the test of hurricane Sandy and for that we are very grateful.” -Gloria J., Senior Crisis Counselor Grassroots, Columbia, Maryland, USA “You and your support staff are more like partners on the journey to help our clients than someone we do business with.” -Brian Y, Director Contact Altoona,Altoona, Pennsylvania, USA “Having the ability to see a real time status update of today’s scheduled calls and quickly identify any incidents or issues has improved our service commitment to our callers.” – TerriAnn G, Executive Director The Help Center, Bozeman, Montana, USA “iCarol’s Outbound Calls features allows our staff and volunteers quick and easy access to our Telecare client list, homebound seniors whom we call daily for a check-in and medication reminders. We love it.” – Kate R, Program Manager Maryland 2-1-1, State of Maryland, USA “The commitment to providing excellent customer service is the hallmark of iCarol.” – Saundra B, Director 211 Canada, Canada “We’ve been very impressed by the responsiveness and professionalism of the whole iCarol team. Deploying one software solution for 211 Canada-wide poses many challenges. These have been tackled both creatively and sensitively by a company truly committed to help us take 211 to an entirely new level.” -Bill M., Executive Director Crisis Center / 2-1-1 of Tampa Bay, Florida, USA “Our experiences with iCarol have been outstanding and we highly recommend iCarol.” – Debra H, Director Mental Health of Frederick County, Frederick, Maryland, USA “iCarol is fabulous and super easy to use. My older volunteers learned in no time! Also the staff is very responsive and is happy to tailor things to your center’s needs.” – Rachel L, Director Community Crisis Services, Hyattsville, Maryland, USA “I was skeptical about switching to another data program that wasn’t going to do what we really needed to do – iCarol isn’t like that. Its customizable and awesome to work with. All our volunteers and staff love it and scheduling and supervision have never been easier.”- Tom B, Deputy Director Contact Helpline, Columbus, Mississippi, USA “We really love the system and are using less and less paper on call reports. iCarol support is really good and fast to respond to emails and correcting issues.” – Lindy T, Executive Director Childhelp, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA “We found our migration to iCarol and the ease of the system itself was smooth and without angst. We have been extremely satisfied with this product and the accompanying customer service.” – Susan S, Executive Director Portage Path Behavioral Health, Akron, Ohio, USA “You all are wonderful. So responsive and easy to work with. Terrific!” – Barb M, Hotline Director Dial Help, Houghton, Michigan, USA “Ask anyone here in our office and you will know I can talk all day about how incredible iCarol is.” – Kevin W, Program Director The Help Center, Bozeman, Montana, USA “iCarol’s Outbound Calls features allows our staff and volunteers quick and easy access to our Telecare client list, homebound seniors whom we call daily for a check-in and medication reminders. We love it.” – Kate R, Program Manager Klinik, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada “Have we told you lately that we love iCarol?” – Lorraine P, Assistant Director London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, London, United Kingdom “From initial contact to implementation the staff at iCarol have been fantastic. The transfer of existing data went smoothly and the support we have received throughout the setup process was excellent. Our volunteers find iCarol easy to use, the reports it can produce are invaluable and it has enabled us to move into the area of ichat through the Instant Messaging module. Above all the friendliness and responsiveness of the staff team are what sets iCarol out from the rest – their aim is to make sure iCarol works for you in the way you want it to work.” – Joe L, Co-Chair National Alliance on Mental Illness, Orange County, Santa Ana, California, USA “iCarol is easy to use, comprehensive and extremely secure. Everyone involved loves it” – Nancee, Executive Director
How did the design and implementation of the solution break new ground for you as a solution provider?
Our partner was looking for a technology partner that would be willing to invest significant resources into building a state-of-the art application for the not-for-profit sector to manage crisis lines. It wanted to provide a cloud-based, highly secure system that crisis organizations could afford by offering it as a subscription model. Commercial cloud-based call center systems would not meet their requirements due to the sensitive nature of the content, the requirement for privacy and confidentiality and the need to adhere to mandated regulatory controls. They had been working with another Microsoft partner but there was no co-investment and development had ground to a halt as our partner was not able to deliver the solution needed at a price-point that their clients and prospective clients could afford. Systemgroup has a long history of supporting charitable causes and encourages its employees to get involved in giving back. When Systemgroup CEO and Founder Ken Ryder met with the partner’s team, he believed that this was a cause their organization could get behind. “(Our partner) is supplying critical agencies that operate Suicide Prevention and Mental Health support lines with the tools they need to assist the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Used around the globe, their technology platform we have built on Microsoft is helping connect people in need with the qualified resources and professionals who can help them avoid or deal with a crisis,” said Ken Ryder, CEO, Systemgroup. Ken saw the partnership as an opportunity for his team of skilled developers to challenge themselves by developing new protocols and methods. He also saw it as a way for his team to feel really good about the end result in terms of the people they would be helping. He immediately pledged 50% of the development costs, 100% of the management and planning costs, and formed a partnership that would enable our partner to succeed. The greatest challenge faced by the Systemgroup team in developing a dynamic, feature-rich platform was accommodating the various platforms, browsers and chat mediums. Visitors in crisis often have very little patience or choice in the technology they use to communicate with counselors. It was imperative for Systemgroup to implement a solution that was robust enough to handle the various browsers, network connectivity constraints and operating systems while still delivering a real-time chat experience. Given the sensitive nature of the communications, it was critical to iCarol customer’s that the chat experience be reliable and robust and to ensure that visitors were not left more frustrated than they started. This required Systemgroup to design a solution that could handle every situation imaginable in a graceful, sensitive manner. In addition to investing 50% of the development costs, Systemgroup donates 100% of the time of the team members in brain-storming new ideas, scoping project requirements and participating in project team scrums.
How does the solution further your client’s green or environmentally friendly plans?
ith iCarol, the agencies have eliminated paper-based systems and moved to an online solution. The private cloud is delivered using a multi-tenant virtualized environment for minimum impact on energy and resources.