Thursday, June 25, 2015

Connect First Partners with VisionLink to Help Those in Need

VisionLink is proud to announce our new partnership with Connect First, an award-winning cloud contact center technology provider, to help not for profits succeed in creating efficiencies and cost savings. Click this link to read more about our exciting new collaboration!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Boulder-Based Company Creates Software to Help Haitian Children

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(From left to right) Dr. Douglas Zimmerman, Founder and CEO of VisionLink; Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, Director General, IBESR; Jeff McIntosh, Deputy Country Representative - Programming, Catholic Relief Services-Haiti Program).

Port au Prince, Haiti - June 11, 2015 – Last week, Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) launched a new website that provides an online directory of resources, projects, and services available for vulnerable children across the country. VisionLink, a Boulder-based company, is proud that Catholic Relief Services chose VisionLink to create and support the site in the years to come. 

VisionLink Founder and CEO, Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman, shared the stage with IBESR Director General Madame Arielle Villedrouin and Catholic Relief Service Acting Country Director Jeffrey MacIntosh. However, the star of the show and the reason nearly 200 people from across the country attended the event, was a new website dedicated to expanding access to services for orphaned and vulnerable children in Haiti.  

The website, www.bscht.org, is designed to increase access to and coordination of programming and services for vulnerable children who need health, education, and legal support. VisionLink's president, Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman noted, "importantly, this solution is designed to be operated and managed by the Catholic Relief Services staff in Haiti, who collected the information already available on the site, and who will be maintaining and updating the information over time." The site also provides access to the Bridgade IBESR phone service to provide operators with information detailed program and services information. 

About VisionLink:
VisionLink has been providing communities with humanitarian inspired software and consulting solutions since 1991. VisionLink customers manage millions of client and resource records for more than 8,000 communities across the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world. 

More information about VisionLink and its mission can be found at: www.visionlink.org.

Contact:
Lori Warrens
404-402-4029

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Severe Weather in Texas and Oklahoma - Debris Removal and Muckout Hotline

As a public service, VisionLink, Connect First, Inc.​, United Way of Abilene, Information Technology Disaster Resource Center​ and Crisis Cleanup​ are sponsoring a free, multi-agency debris removal and muckout hotline for survivors of the recent severe weather in Texas and Oklahoma. Effective immediately through July 4th, residents of Texas and Oklahoma requiring assistance may call 1-800-451-1954 to request help with cleanup, Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations Are Helping To Take the Bite Out Of Malaria.   

Today is World Malaria Day, a day when we are asked to consider the fact that every minute a child dies of a mosquito bite.  To draw more attention to World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) and their partners are sharing their vision of a world in which mosquito bites are no longer fatal.  Working with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, WHO has set ambitious goals to reduce malaria cases and death by 90% by 2030 and eliminating malaria from an additional 35 countries by 2030. It can be done, but achieving this goal requires eliminating the barriers to treating malaria, specifically the lack of access to well equipped healthcare facilities.   

Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSROs) provide doctors, nurses and community healthcare workers with the tools they need to treat more patients and improve the standard of care in their community. MSROs work with US hospitals, manufacturers and non-profit healthcare providers to recover, redistribute and effectively utilize high-quality medical supplies and equipment to improve the health of those in need. The Medical Suite (see footnote below) is just one example of an MSRO working to expand healthcare in developing countries.  

VisionLink is also proud to be doing our part to improve access to services for vulnerable children and orphans in Haiti, with a new program launching in June. Using our 211 / I&R experience, we are deploying an online resource database, mapping and research tool that connects users to a range of services, including health programs. Developed in partnership with Catholic Relief Services and the Haitian Institute of Social Wellbeing and Research, our partnered site will be launched in Haiti in conjunction with the National Children’s Day in June of this year.  To find out how you can help eliminate malaria visit http://www.worldmalariaday.org.

VisionLink’s commitment to drawing attention to community needs both domestically and internationally does not stop with our work in Haiti.  VisionLink’s newly formed non-profit organization, Avancera, is working with the Medical Surplus Recovery community and their stakeholders to expand their programs, identify best practices, and accredit organizations that adhere to the MSRO Code of Conduct.   The mission of Avancera is to help networks of nonprofit organizations and their stakeholders create more effective collaborations by sharing resources, experience and expertise, and by applying technology to accelerate collaborations for improved impact and outcomes. The newly formed MedSurplus Alliance will be supported by Avancera and will provide a home for a broad coalition of MSROs, medical product manufacturers, international humanitarian organizations, foundations and other stakeholders committed to creating a healthier world.

— 

IMEC Medical Suites

A Medical Suite provides all of the equipment and supplies needed to turn an empty room into a fully functional department of a working hospital. For example, an Exam Room Suite contains an exam table, light, diagnostic equipment, medical supplies, patient scale, patient chair, linens, medication cart, desk, chair and waste container: all of the furnishings and materials needed for a complete Exam Room.

In consultation with doctors in the U.S. and in developing countries, IMEC has developed over 40 types of Medical Suites. Combined, these Suites can equip an entire hospital, including administrative offices, kitchen, exam rooms, emergency departments, and surgery.

Over our years of service, IMEC has developed this system into an efficient and effective process for improving health care in impoverished hospitals worldwide. 


To read more about IMEC and their mission, please visit: http://imecamerica.org

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

VisionLink Staffer Named Mentor of the Month



Our very own Jamie rogers was recognized by Denver Kids, Inc. as Mentor of the Month for April 2015.

VisionLink encourages our staff to participate and support nonprofit organizations, and Jamie has gone well beyond the call of duty.

Denver Kids, Inc. is an educational organization dedicated to helping Denver Public School students. Their mission is to help youth who face personal challenges graduate high school, explore post secondary options and become a productive and contributing member of society.

Jamie is an inspiration to many of these young people, helping them to build confidence, become leaders, and guide them in positive directions. Jamie's passions include working with children, education, disaster and humanitarian relief, poverty alleviation, and social services. When he isn't working, volunteering or mentoring, you can find him on his snowboard hitting the slopes.

At VisionLink, Jamie helps bring new customers and partners into the VisionLink network, as a Community Solutions Representative. You can congratulate Jamie directly at: rogers@visionlink.org.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February 11, 2015: National 2-1-1 Day

Please help us in congratulating 2-1-1!



Today, February 11th, is National 2-1-1 Day and VisionLink would like to be the first to say how proud we are to support 2-1-1s and their mission to provide free and confidential information and referral services to millions of Americans nationwide.

Right now, 2-1-1 operators across the nation are assisting with requests for services including housing, food, health care, and a variety of other services. VisionLink honors all of the call and resource specialists, and community organizations which work diligently to connect needs and resources effectively and efficiently across the United States and beyond. This work happens thousands of times every day, and millions of times a year.

Dr. Douglas Zimmerman, founder and CEO of VisionLink, Inc., will be presenting at the United Way CEO Summit today. The summit brings together the United Way CEO 2-1-1 Workgroup to discuss the work, commitment, and community impacts supported by United Ways and 2-1-1s. Dr. Zimmerman will be speaking about big data and its implications for 2-1-1s.

If you would like more information about 2-1-1s in general, please feel free to contact Lori Warrens, Senior Director of Community Solutions at VisionLink, and a founder of the national 2-1-1 system. Lori has been instrumental in the launch and growth of 2-1-1 and is now helping to pilot similar solutions in other countries. Please contact Lori at Warrens@VisionLink.org.

Happy National 2-1-1 Day for the VisionLink Team! We appreciate the work you do, and are honored to support your work.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Helping Orphaned and Vulnerable Children in Haiti

Jacky was only 8 years old in 2010, when he was separated from his mother after the 2010 earthquake and forced into child slavery. After escaping he was left homeless and living on the streets of Haiti until discovered by Haiti Mama, a nonprofit organization committed to connecting homeless children with their families. The organization found Jacky's maternal aunt and after four long years Jacky was reunited with his mother.

Most orphaned and vulnerable children in Haiti are not as fortunate.  While a high percentage of vulnerable children have a living parent, many do not. The current state of the social welfare system is largely inadequate for the disproportionately high need in Haiti. In order to survive, thousands of children fall victim to human trafficking, work in the sex industry, live in substandard orphanages or on the streets. The situation for children living in family households is not much better.  According to EMMUS IV, a study on mortality, morbidity and utilization of services in Haiti, 95% of households with vulnerable children have not received basic external support for childcare.   


There is hope. Catholic Relief Services is leading a partnership with the Institut duBien-Être Social et de Recherches (IBESR), the Government University Department of Social Work and VisionLink to develop an interactive directory of resources and services that can be easily accessed using web, smartphone and tablet (or printed for offline access).  These services include: protection, food, shelter, healthcare, education, legal services and mental health programs.  The site will also be used to maximize coordination amongst all service providers and support Brigade de Protection des Mineurs, the child protection police of Haiti.

VisionLink is honored to be a part of a groundbreaking effort to create a more promising future for more children in Haiti.  Named Timoun, the Haitian Creole word for child, our solution leverages current open source software solutions and is designed to operate in low tech or bandwidth settings.   

VisionLink applies world class, flexible software and decades of high stakes consulting and program design and implementation experience.  In Haiti, VisionLink tools are being used to deploy online resources, asset mapping and visualizations and to build collaborative networks of partner organizations. 

Learn more about Jacky and the problem in Haiti that Timoun will help address in this article from the Huffington Post: Family Reunited With Son Forced Into Child Slavery After HaitiEarthquake Tore Them Apart. 

Lori Warrens
Senior Director, Community Solutions
VisionLink

Thursday, January 29, 2015

VisionLink Is In The News: Real-Time Winter Storm Map



I wanted to quickly write and share with you the local and national media coverage that VisionLink has been recently receiving in response to winter storm Juno. Due to the potentially historic damage of this storm, VisionLink successfully created a unique geo-tagged map to chart--in real-time--the damage reports from those in the storm's path. 

How does it work? 

Using VisionLink's outbound telephony polling software, over 12,000 people throughout New York and New Jersey received automated calls enabling them to report on what the storm was doing to their homes and to their local communities in real-time. 


But why? 

VisionLink's goal is simple: provide the public, media outlets and participating organizations with locally vetted information about the blizzard's impact for those living in the storm's path. 

 

“Today’s technology allows us to gather information like never before and in this case, directly from those impacted by the storm to improve situational awareness, and promote whole-community recovery. This tool allows anyone in the country to track the impact of this major weather event.” 
--Dr. Douglas ZimmermanVisionLink's president and CEO


Where can I see and share the map? 

To see and learn how to share the map, please visit: www.WinterStormMap.com


Who is talking about VisionLink's Winter Storm Map? 

We are very excited and proud to have been mentioned in various media outlets throughout the country. Here are a few of our favorites: 

Digital Journal
Yahoo Finance
Herald Online


All best,
Jamie Rogers

Community Solutions Representative 
VisionLink

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Red Cross Installs Smoke Alarms over MLK Jr. Weekend


Over Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend the American Red Cross installed smoke alarms and safety information to those in high-risk communities. 

The American Red Cross embarked on a national campaign in October 2014 to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires. The goal is to reduce these deaths and injuries by 25% during the next five years. Well on the way to meeting their goal, the American Red Cross has installed more than 21,000 smoke alarms to 36,000 people! 

Read more: http://www.redcross.org/m/news-article/Red-Cross-Volunteers-Install-Smoke-Alarms-on-MLK-Jr-Weekend#arcmobile

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Day 2015


 As we do several times a year, we pass along this essay from Stan Stahl. His well crafted aspirations remind us of the positive and amazing progress this nation can take on, even when we seem bent towards argument. The community operating system of VisionLink is built to enable the operational connections between needs and assets across our nation's communities. It is an honor to build the tools used by leaders, staff and volunteers across the United States as they work to weave resilient and connected communities.


Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President and CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

It is still the Winter of America's discontent. It is as a deeply divided nation that we prepare to celebrate President Obama's second inauguration. We continue to hunker down in our own ideological camps, refusing to think outside our own box, treating the words of anyone with whom we disagree as if they were incoming missiles rather than opportunities for dialogue.

Meanwhile too many of our people continue to be unemployed, too few can even earn enough to pay taxes, our medical entitlements continue to grow through the roof, we are spending considerably more than we take in, we have no long-term economic strategy-let alone a tax policy to enable it. Instead of cooperating with the other side, our politicians sound like Groucho Marx in Horsefeathers: "Whatever it is I'm against it."

The reaction of the NRA and the coalition of gun-control lobbies to the horrific events in Newtown last month illustrate just how divided we are. Each talks past each other, each more passionate, each more armed with its "facts."

Where is that more perfect union the founders bequeathed? Where are the blessings of liberty they secured for us, their posterity?

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I share this dream. I have shared it my entire life. I too dream of a day when we live out our creed, of a day when we treat each other as equals, of a day when children ... live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ... of a day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'

I grew up in an America where legally-mandated segregation was reality. Fifty years ago in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and the rest of the old South, Blacks could not drink from "whites only" water fountains, could not sit at "whites only" lunch counters or swim at "whites only" public swimming pools. I came-of-age politically growing up in Detroit in the 1950s when I was part of a picket line outside Woolworth's because Blacks were not allowed to sit at lunch counters in Woolworth stores in the segregated South.

In the America I grew up in, Black children were educated in segregated schools, separate although far from equal. Black men felt the need to cross the street when a white man was coming, fearing for themselves and their families. Fifty years ago, Blacks could not vote nor could they peacefully demonstrate for their freedom.
... this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. -Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801

Fifty years ago, the year of the March on Washington and King's I Have a Dream speech, 100 years after Blacks were freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Blacks were a minority without equal rights and without the protection of the law.

The next year, on July 2, 1964, the 188th Anniversary of the day the Continental Congress voted America's independence from Great Britain, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Later that year, Martin Luther King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The next year, on August 6th, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Free at last ... nearly 100 years after the Civil War had ended slavery ...  America was finally agreeing to live out the true meaning of our creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men-including Blacks- are created equal.'

What we did in the 1960s and what we have been doing ever since is affirming the rights of minorities: rising up to live out the true meaning of our creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men-and women, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sexual orientation- are created equal.'

Or as Jefferson put it: that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now ... We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we are to break through America's political impasse, we the people have no alternative but to learn to live together. We the people have also seen throughout our history what we are capable of achieving when we work together, unleashing and focusing our energies towards meeting our challenges.

It is the true meaning of our creed that teaches us how to get along. Miracles appear when we live out the true meaning of our creed, when we treat all men and women-even our political opponents-as political equals. Our opponents have interests, concerns, hopes, fears and aspirations just like we do. They're in the same boat as we are. We either learn to live together or we perish.

Imagine if we the people committed to living out the true meaning of our creed. Imagine if we stepped up and did our part to make it happen, treating each other with respect, with understanding, with compassion and with that special feeling that we are part of a shared American community.

As King reminded us, Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. And love means applying our creed to others, treating those with whom we disagree with the same respect as we would want them to treat us.

Imagine if the gun control lobby and the NRA lived out the true meaning of our creed, accepting as self-evident that all men and women-both those who want gun control and those who oppose gun control- are created equal.'

Imagine if the two sides started meeting regularly, getting to know each other, understanding each other's lives and their concerns, discovering as Lincoln reminded us that we are friends, not enemies. Would that not lead to common ground, to doing better than we are doing now? Would that not make for a more perfect union?
Imagine if even one side sincerely reached out to the other ... taking the other side's perspective seriously, with respect; recognizing that those who hold a different perspective are also created equal.

Imagine the impact, for example, if the NRA donated $5 million to fund mental health studies that might lower the incidence of these senseless killings. Or the impact if the gun control lobby donated $5 million to the NRA to jointly produce and distribute an educational Keep Your Gun Safe program to help gun owners keep their guns from falling into the wrong hands. Perhaps both groups might each donate $2 million for programs to prevent bullying in our schools. Imagine the impact if we the people simply lived America's creed.

As we live America's creed, we unleash our imagination, our creativity, our ability to work hard, our sense of community, our readiness for shared-sacrifice, our entrepreneurial spirit; all those qualities that define what is exceptional in America.

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank god, I'm free at last.'"

Let Freedom Ring.


Copyright © 2014. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Connections, The Airs Newsletter November/December 2014







The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) has released the latest issue of Connections, the AIRS newsletter. This issue covers such topics as 2015 AIRS Conference, choosing the right tools for I&R texting communications, and more. Read Connections by clicking the link.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 MedSurplus Alliance Conference



















On November 3rd and 4th, more than thirty representatives of Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSROs), donors of surplus medical equipment and consumables, and academics met to explore the challenges and benefits that building a working alliance may have for individual organizations, donors, recipients, and the field of medical surplus recovery over all.   Our mission?  Stop the flow of useless and inappropriate medical supplies that are donated to developing countries where they become a burden and cause more harm than healing. 

Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSROs) are non-profits that collect quality medical donations from hospitals and manufacturers to distribute to healthcare providers in developing countries. MSROs are fueled by generous donors, skilled staff and devoted volunteers working hard to provide hope and resources to underserved populations during times of medical need.  The conference participants ship nearly 1000 40 ft. containers each year.  Their work benefits people and the planet by redistributing existing resources to people and places that need them. 

The MedSurplus Alliance was formed to support MSRO operations and to change the hearts and minds of donors regarding what can and should be donated.  It’s a tough challenge, we know!  However, in ‘The Answer to How is Yes:  Acting on What Matters”, Peter Block asserts that when we are driven by clear and powerful purpose, we find ways around the obstacles that arise. VisonLink also believes that we’re better together than working alone.  The MedSurplus Alliance is committed to focusing on its mission and serving its stakeholders while honoring the different strengths, operational realities, and approaches among them.

Would you like to learn more or join us?  Please visit www.medsurplusalliance.org to read the MSRO Code of Conduct and learn about the coming MSRO Accreditation program.  
Please share your ideas or suggestions to strengthen the conversation!

Lori Warrens
Senior Director of Community Solutions
VisionLink

Monday, November 17, 2014

National Information and Referral Services Day











In 2011 the Senate passed S.RES.241 declaring November 16 as "National Information and Referral Services Day" at the request of the Alliance of Information and Referral Services (AIRS).

Information and Referral connects people with services to find a solution to a variety of issues about housing, food, legal issues, family support, health care, jobs, schooling and much more. One such services is 2-1-1, a phone number used to access information about community services. 2-1-1- call centers are initiated by United Ways and Information Referral Agencies. In 2013, 2-1-1 services in the United States assisted more than 15.6 million callers (http://211.us.org/) and are currently available in 90% of the United States. VisionLink, provider of CommunityOS, is honored to support nearly one out of every four calls made to 2-1-1 across the nation. 

November 16 VisionLink celebrates National Information and Referral Services Day with the goal of gaining public awareness and the importance of information and referral services across the nation.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Please Join VisionLink In Welcoming Aaron Titus To Our Proud Family!

VisionLink is honored to welcome yet another resident specialist to our ever-growing VisionLink team. As the new Disaster Product Manager for VisionLink, Aaron comes from an extensive and distinguished background. As a former member of the New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NJ VOAD), Aaron coordinated Hurricane Sandy and Irene response efforts for Mormon Helping Hands. As the project manager for Crisis Cleanup, an open source collaborative work order management platform, Aaron has helped connect more than 230 organizations and 40,000 volunteers to more than 11,000 families needing assistance after 15 disasters in four countries, producing an astonishing $26 million in value for disaster survivors.

Prior to moving to VisionLink, Aaron was also General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer for Identity Finder. Aaron has spent seven years as the Privacy Fellow for the Washington DC policy institute Liberty Coalition. There he helped develop Privacy Commons and NationalIDWatch.org, empowering individuals to recover from identity breach and theft. As an attorney he specializes in internet, technology, privacy, and corporate law and has consulted organizations on legal requirements, risk identification, risk management, and developing a corporate culture of privacy.

Aaron Titus’ work has been covered in countless newspapers and news media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, ABC, MSNBC, and NPR. He has testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Aaron Titus received his J.D. from the George Washington School of Law, and his undergraduate degree in Architecture from the University of Utah. Aaron is a proud husband and father of six children, with his and his wife’s seventh child arriving in early 2015.


Aaron's addition to VisionLink underscores our philosophy in hiring only the best minds to complement our award winning software. Please join us in welcoming Aaron to our proud family.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Life To Be Remembered & Emulated

Joann Hale












Sadly, this week marked the loss of one of the disaster response world’s strongest leaders and advocates. Joann Hale was one of the most influential, hard-working, and caring people we have ever had the pleasure of working with here at VisionLink. 

Joann's love for her community and for her fellow New Yorkers was vast and the many people she helped will feel her loss.  Her leadership also transcended state lines with her work in the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) during Super Storm Sandy and other disasters. Joann was also a major voice in the construction of an online national infrastructure to better coordinate and respond to these disasters.  

Her presence will definitely be missed as we remember her legacy. Yet, at the same time, Joann would have wanted us to follow in her path and continue onward in her quest to better respond to people in need.

Everyone here will sorely miss Joann. We keep her family in our prayers as we strive to carry on her great legacy.

Sincerely,
The VisionLink Team

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

OPERATION DRAGON FIRE: BETTER INFORMATION FOR BETTER DECISIONS IN TIMES OF CRISIS


The Strategic Advantage team at VisionLink concluded a three-day engagement in the Washington DC area last week — a significant convening of the top executives of public and private industry leaders in the fields of technology, social media, crisis management, multiple levels of federal government and academia. The sessions engaged leadership from the Centers for Disease Control, National VOAD, Facebook, Target, FEMA, Health & Human Services, Homeland Security, United Way Worldwide, Operation HOPE, the US Chamber of Commerce, GE Healthcare, American Red Cross, Booz Allen Hamilton, and many others.

The purpose of the meetings was to establish vision and direction and to form a number of workgroups to focus on infrastructure, processes, people, and tools that could improve the timeliness, quality, availability and access of real-time information during and after crisis situations across America. It is a goal of Operation Dragon Fire that outcomes will help communities, organizations, and response teams make better decisions with better data.

VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage team, directed by Lois Ann Porter, has been working as part of the Project Management Office with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and NVOAD on the planning and execution of the Kick-Off as well as the preparation of content and meeting documents. Douglas Zimmerman, CEO of VisionLink, is a member of this ongoing Functional & Technical Considerations Workgroup. 

The forums were made possible by seed funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; VisionLink’s work was under contract to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.



Monday, June 9, 2014

AIRS Annual Conference: Innovation Platform for I&R

Every year, I&R industry experts, cross-sector partners, and friends gather in a major city to present, share new technology, connect with friends, and discuss ideas shared in conference sessions or sketched out on paper napkins in the hotel lobby. These gatherings also provide an opportunity for a crash course on the latest technological and cultural innovations impacting the human services environment.  

To understand the scope of ideas shared over the years and the changing field, it’s fun to review past conference programs and past hot topics. For example, at the 1996 AIRS Conference, technology came front and center: “I&R and the Internet, Is it Time to Consider a Connection?” Or my personal favorite: 1997 - "United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta introduces a 2-1-1."   What ever happened to the idea of I&R kiosks on every corner? (Editor’s note: Lori Warrens was instrumental in creating the concept and national support for 2-1-1.)

I think the conference is a required stop for sharing an idea, conducting mini-market research, and determining whether your idea “has legs.” I’m speaking from personal experience. This year I had the honor of sharing a new I&R service and partnership concept with an audience comprised of I&R stakeholders so comprehensive and balanced that it offered a one-stop focus group Don Draper would envy.

This week, I presented “Tapping into New Community Resources - Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations" along with Mary Cooksey, the 2-1-1 Program Director at A Call for Help Community Resource Center at the United Way of Abilene, TX. The session gave us the opportunity to discuss and hear feedback on the partnership that grew between 2-1-1 Texas A Call for Help and Global Samaritan Resources (GSR) out of a need to better coordinate the connecting of people to durable medical goods. Session participants shared some innovative ideas and others shared their great need for this type of coordination in their communities to address unmet community needs and build the capacity of such partnerships.

GSR and other Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSRO) across the county collect surplus medical supplies and equipment. They organize, store, and ship requested supplies to communities in need around the world. 2-1-1 and GSR are also working together to meet domestic needs by distributing GSR’s goods locally via the Abilene Basic Needs Network. To learn more about the project goals and outcomes, click here to view the presentation.

I couldn’t stay for the entire conference, but I know that the rich discussion that Mary and I experienced with our audience was repeated across the meeting rooms, dinner events, and small group discussions. I also know that those discussions have a lasting impact that is shaping the next generation of I&R products, services, and professionals. At the same time, I know the AIRS conference can't do it all. I hope that all of us will seek and support strategies to incubate and ultimately launch the next great I&R idea.

To learn more about how VisionLink is supporting Medical Surplus Recovery Organization expansion and quality improvement efforts, visit medsurplusalliance.org.

Lori Warrens
Senior Director of Community Solutions
VisionLink

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Story From the Team

Our help desk team works around the clock to ensure that our customers have the support they need. We love to hear about moments from our incredible help desk team that remind us of how proud we are to work with such great folks. Here's one story from a recent call:

"Hi Everyone,

As you know, in Help Desk we tend to talk to people who are frustrated, confused, or experiencing some sort of issue. Once in a while we get to see the other side, so we decided to share this story with the whole team.

A very nice woman called this morning about her dossier submission. She was having trouble accessing her scores and was clearly very nervous as I guided her to the correct page. She told me that she was doing this in front of her class and that her boss had just walked in.

When she finally found the page with access to her scores, she saw that she had passed! She told her students and cheers erupted from the whole class. Needless to say, she was very happy. It was a very nice moment to be a part of, and one of those few concrete reminders we get of the ways we help our customers.

Thanks,
VisionLink Help Desk

Moments like these remind us of why we work so hard to support so many valuable nonprofits and human service organizations. We hope this pause for celebration sparks a smile for you as it did for us.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 MORE Things To Know When Choosing Nonprofit Software

We posted 10 Things to Know When Moving to a New Nonprofit Software Platform last year, outlining 10 technical and operational factors organizations should consider when they are planning on making the move.

Last week at the Nonprofit Technology Summit, I collected additional strategies we can share! Thanks to Amy Rosenblum of the Cultivation Center and her fantastic session on nonprofit software, here are 10 more tips for moving to new software platforms:


1. Start with an exit strategy
Think about how you would get data out of your new system in the future. Is it expensive? Is it sorted? You should know how easy it is to move in case a change is necessary.

 2. Define the timeline
Decide when you realistically would need your system to be fully functional. Plan your deadline for a less busy time of year.

3. Double that timeline—or triple it
Finding and implementing new software is very time-consuming. Be sure you have a timeline that will allow you to complete the process well before you need the system in place.

4. Create your dream list of features and capacities
What features do you absolutely need? Would the new software be compatible with other existing software? Consider requirements as well as the end user experience.

5. Define your budget to implement, maintain, and fund new software
Be careful, because no software is truly free and the initial cost may be misleading.

 6. Who is on board with the new system?
Consider who will be using the software, their willingness to change, and their readiness to learn. New platforms are only useful to the degree that they are implemented.

7. Ask questions and be ready to answer them
Collect information about your top software choices in a spreadsheet. Call non-sales people and tech support to get a vibe for the company and the service you will receive.

8. Prioritize the constraints and know tradeoffs
What do you have to have in regards to timeline, features and cost? What can you give a little on? Sometimes you can trade a longer timeline for a cheaper system or less features for quicker implementation.

9. Know the contract
When you do choose software, ask more than one person to review the contract, making sure that it supports your priorities.

 10. Communication is key
Get to know your contact so that you can ask questions when needed and get quick responses. The process continues even past purchase and implementation, so a good line of communication is essential.


If you have more tips for choosing new database software, feel free to email them to douglas@visionlink.org. You may also download our original 10 Things to Know When Moving to a More Capable Software Platform here.

Georgina Douglas
Marketing Operations Manager
VisionLink

Monday, May 5, 2014

Scrum: A Universal Process for Organizational Success




















VisionLink studies manufacturing processes and team best practices to inform the way we operate. Many of our teams use the agile methodology Scrum as a structure, but we rely upon our experience with collaborative work to make this approach work smoothly.

Here are a few of the key ideas we integrate into our work. When done correctly, collaborative workflows can achieve the best results, the most reliable timelines, and the happiest teams. These can be applied to any organization, no matter the methodology.


Shared Vision
It’s important to share a vision of what the goals of the project are and what success will look like. Taking the time to come together on a vision leads to the best outcomes in the long run.

Well Defined Tasks
Each task should be well-defined so that the team can be sure of completing it correctly.

Team Approach
Teams should be cross-functional, involving people from each aspect of the organization that has a stake in the outcome. This involvement leads to better results and team unity.

Prioritized Work
Maintaining work in a ruthlessly prioritized backlog ensures that the right tasks are completed first.

Retrospectives
After completing a project, a quick, simple conversation about what worked well and what needs improvement can expose potential flaws in your process and new insights for future projects.

Visible Work Log
Current tasks and their status (to do, in progress, complete) should be visible to all. This can even be done with sticky notes and some columns on a wall.

Measured progress
Consistently tracking work done relative to the goal can help set reasonable deadlines and serve as an early warning when progress is slower than projected.

Time Boxing
Setting tasks within a certain time period makes them more likely to be completed, rather than continually refined past the point of diminishing returns.

Breaking Up Tasks
Breaking up a large, general project into smaller tasks can make the project clearer, allowing everyone to work on different aspects more efficiently.

Limit Work in Progress
Before beginning new tasks, team members should check to see whether they can lend help to other team members. With work prioritized, this leads to the important tasks being finished first.

Stand Up Meetings
When crunch time hits, short stand up meeting as part of the daily process can bring issues to the surface that would normally fall through the cracks.

Craig Quincy
VP of Engineering
VisionLink





Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Protecting Community Resource Data


We believe that organizations should be compensated for the creation, organization, maintenance, and updates of community information data, especially in the nonprofit space.

In this nonprofit space, there are no discretionary profits available to allocate toward community information management. Moreover, raising money specifically for data management is much more difficult than raising funds for particular causes. So, organizations that manage information should be careful to avoid undervaluing the results of their hard work by giving away data without any guidance or protection.

This does not mean that data should be kept private and self-contained. In fact, VisionLink was the first to support the idea of a data exchange between I&Rs and 2-1-1s, which became the AIRS XML data exchange standard. We have also created standards for the exchange of information about disaster shelters and about client records. As the builder of CommunityOS, we are keenly focused on the need to move data around easily. The more that community resource information is used, the more good that can result.

All of this information requires a tremendous amount of work to prepare and organize, and therefore should carry value. This value can be recognized in a variety of forms of compensation. Recognition, especially by promoting the source of important data, helps with fundraising and positions the organization in a leadership position. Compensation can also come through trades, where one entity contributes a certain category of data while another takes on the other sectors. Finally, large data collections are worth real money, and financial compensation can help to defray the costs of data management. If we don’t compensate organizations in some way for their data, then we require them to divert funds away from other areas and potentially impact their ability to help their own communities.

If we agree that community information data represents valuable time and energy, we may also agree that these critical collections of data should be protected against screen scraping and other means of unauthorized use.

Enforcing copyright over data collections is possible, but other measures are often more efficient and less costly. We recommend establishing a Terms of Service, or a Terms of Use policy for your information (especially within your search results), so that you can place contractual obligations on those who use your information. Screen scraping, for example, can be a contractual violation. It’s important that you have some claim to your data collection, rather than having these databases used and rebranded by other resellers without permission.

So, let me end where we began. The exchange and free flow of information makes for powerful systems of systems. Even better, with the right kinds of APIs and other technical toolkits at your disposal, you can let brilliant minds take advantage of these databases and build all sorts of applications, making your information broadly available. The first step, though? Establish some protections so that as the value of your hard work becomes more and more apparent, you have legal grounds to protect your databases and to direct how your information is spread far and wide.

Sincerely,
Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO of VisionLink