Sunday, December 20, 2009

Federal Funding for Non-profit Jobs

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF), states can provide millions in additional support for jobs. These funds can be used for private, public, and non-profit organizations.

This program varies state by state, as states have some control on the use of these funds. As an example, here is the notice from Florida. Our non-profit customers may want to pursue this as a potential resources for certain types of hires in their organizations. Again, this is a sample from one state only:

Florida Back To Work

Program Overview for Public and Not-for-Profit Employers

Source and Amount of Funding

Funding of the Florida Back to Work will come from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF). The state can provide up to $200 million in additional one-time, non- recurring federal funds for jobs for Florida's neediest citizens.

Eligible Persons

Workforce will screen applicants for eligibility and skills. Employees will be managed through Mary K. Thomas Employment Agency. Parents with a child younger than 18 whose family income is less than 200% of federal poverty level in the last 30 days are eligible. Applicants must be enrolled in EmployFlorida.com.

Program Length

Funding is available through September 30, 2010.

Eligible Projects/Positions

Private, public and not-for-profit entities can participate. This fact sheet is written for public and not-for- project entities.

Not-for-profit employment projects must result in measurable, visible outcomes that are approved by their governing board and are consistent with their organization's mission.

Not-for-profit and public entities are not required to create permanent positions.

No position whose normal salary is above $40,000 per year qualifies for the subsidy program.

Positions that have been involved in a recent layoff may not be eligible.

Employers must provide direct paid project supervision. Supervision that is federally-funded is not eligible for matching.

Employers must demonstrate financial stability.

The subsidy will cover up to 100% of the wages of the participants in the projects. The agency must provide local cash match to cover 20% of the grant management fee to Workforce Connection, 20% of the staffing service costs and 20% of the basic benefits provided by the staffing firm.

Hope this is useful.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Friday, December 18, 2009

AHAR for HMIS

We are releasing a new Annual Homeless Assessment Report, aligned with the new Homeless Management requirements from HUD.

More than 800 calculated fields show what technology can do--it's a tremendous time saver. More than the numbers of fields and pre-formatted tables, it is also designed to help data quality managers when it matters most--when these annual reports have to run and run well, by offering data editing from withing the report itself.

VisionLink's AHAR report includes the ability for (properly authorized) report specialists to edit and correct individual data records that make up the report and its many tables. Each data point allows the user to click down into the records that sum up into the report, and if data errors become appear the correction is literally a click away.

We consider the AHAR, focused obviously on HMIS reporting, one of a series of specialized report among more than seven levels of reporting tools in VisionLink's Community Operating System (CommunityOS).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Member: National Breakthrough Network

The National Breakthrough Network is proud to welcome as its newest member, Jon McKenzie of Sarasota and Manatee Counties' IDEAS (Integrated Data Exchange Alliance of the Suncoast).

IDEAS is a collaborative funded by Sarasota and Manatee County Governments, and its primary sponsor is the Sarasota COAD, whose leadership is emphasizing data sharing and collaboration in "blue" skies, not just when disaster strikes.

IDEAS is launching five partnership portals on their VisionLink CommunityOS system representing 2-1-1, Disaster Preparedness, Childhood Mental Health, Elder Care, and Social Services Case Management. Welcome Jon!!

The National Breakthrough Network is sponsored and supported by VisionLink. NBN members are community leaders working to reach new levels of collaboration and effective and efficient service. Much more than a "users group" this national network selects its own members and takes on some of the most forward thinking and pressing strategic and tactical issues in the field of community resource and client management.

If you would like to know more about the National Breakthrough Network, please contact our our Vice President for Strategic Advantage, Lois Ann Porter. Her email is porter@visionlink.org. It's an amazing group, and VisionLink would not hold the leadership position it does without this group and its individual members.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

No Harm Upgrades

Some features are simple upgrades in functionality, but some are fundamental. When our customers make take on a large scale change, we implement a "no harm" support package. Obviously, we mean by this that no harm will come to their data during the transfer process.

Tonight we are moving one of our larger 2-1-1 information and referral customers from an older feature set for tracking incoming calls and provided referrals, to a much more powerful and flexible feature set.

This move brings all manner of customization and controls to the table, including conditional fields, controllable formatting, multiple form sets for different call center contracts, sophisticated mapping tools and dashboard reports. A large number of our customers moved to this new system some time ago.

Behind the scenes, however, this also means that we will be moving their data and reconfiguring it in the new world. And--this has to happen for a 24 hour call center operation that can't go down unexpectedly.

To help with situations like this, we build automatic scripts to move the data, special tools to configure and check the new environment, and most importantly, a special transfer or training environment where the customer can activate and use their new tools before they are actually put into production. This way, there are no surprises.

Sure it takes a lot more time to build new enhancements with these kinds of transfer support mechanisms built in, but it helps to keep the technology in the background, and lets our customers focus on the people they serve, and the partnerships they build.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, December 7, 2009

Geographic Redundancy

Going the extra mile: offering geographic redundancy for our customers and their data.

No one expects a catastrophic failure, but if that should happen we provide that extra level of support to our customers with geographically separated server facilities. Thus, should something happen to our primary facility that causes a system-wide failure, we can fall back to our secondary facility.

It would take a lot for our primary facility to fail, as it is equipment with redundant equipment at all levels of network and server operations, and with power and cooling redundancy as well. Heck, there are solar panels on the roof in addition to everything else.

Further, we own and operate the equipment in both locations, so we'll not be blaming some other vendor if our operation is not humming along, and we are not relying on some other vendor to be as careful with our customer's data as we are.

We do this at no small expense. It takes a sophisticated staff and well designed operation to offer this level of support at price points that our non profit and charitable customers can afford.

If you are looking for mission critical services, ask your providers about their preparations for catastrophic failure, and to what degree they rely on other vendors to support your work. It's important to know before you need it.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Sunday, December 6, 2009

National Breakthrough Network

Membership by application, and approved by the members themselves (not by us here at VisionLink), the National Breakthrough Network is an extraordinary group of thought leaders improving practice across the nation.

The National Breakthrough Network, launched in 2007, is built on the straightforward premise that results are more powerful when stakeholders commit time and resources to work together.

The goal of the National Breakthrough Network is to increase the capacity of service delivery through collaborative data exchange across the country, one community at a time. The measures of success for the Breakthrough Network are:

* Engaged partners
* Coordinated data and services
* Maximized resources
* Measurable impacts
* Clients well-served

The objectives of this initiative are to work from both ends of the spectrum, on the ground at the local level, and as the convener of a national network of leaders.

The National Breakthrough Network is convened and facilitated by VisionLink where practitioners learn from and teach one another. The result: more effective practices of service delivery within each participating partnership, and, a national voice of service providers working on common issues..

Network members define the agenda, the content, and the voice. VisionLink provides the intersection of thought and practice through virtual and face-to-face meetings.

The Breakthrough communities benefit by deepening their knowledge and expertise, interacting with peers from across the country to learn strategies and effective practices, helping each other solve problems, and gaining a place to feel connected rather than isolated in silos where the wheels are constantly re-invented.

If you are a VisionLink customer and want to join, please contact us and we'll send an application to you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Client Records Management on Steroids

As promised a few weeks back, tonight we released our Client by Portal management module. Paired with our Users by Portal module released recently, it's a game changer, it's powerful, and it's well--common sense. Manage portals for specific purposes, permissions for specific users, and client records with appropriate levels of privacy and collaboration.

We are still trying to figure out how to explain this, but our customers have certainly been asking for this. Perhaps they are simply ahead of their time.

Let's say you have a 2-1-1 Information & Referral service in your community, and for your staff and call operators you have released a CommunityOS Portal with information, documents, training calendars, reports and of course the client and call records you use to track client needs and provide referrals. This portal is specific to this purpose and to these clients served.

Now, in this same community, you have a counseling program of some type, and perhaps an employment program for at risk youth. For both of these programs you also have web Portals with specific documents, content, and client records.

But lo and behold! (sorry, couldn't resist), it turns out that some of the staff that work for one organization also work for one of the others, and in fact, some of the clients that are served by one organization are also served by one or more of the others.

With CommunityOS, you can control which staff members have access to which Portal(s), and which client records they can access when they get there. Each staff member has access to all the web modules they are supposed to have access to, and each client is served coherently by each organization with which they work.

There is nothing like this in the market place. Particularly when you layer on the reporting and data management features that are included. The point? Technology is getting close to common sense, to the way real people in real communities work every day. Gotta love that. Let's go build a partnership!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Government Access: Privacy Meets Resources

While our customers work to support those who need help, protecting their client records becomes critical. This gets interesting at the intersection of charitable or nonprofit support, and government sponsored support. This is how we solve the privacy issue:
Across communities, clients seek support from a wide range of organizations; and in turn charitable, nonprofit, for profit and government organizations and agencies all provide a wide range of assistance to those in need. To gain access to these resources, clients need to provide at least basic information about themselves. This helps measure need and response, and mitigates fraud.

The problem comes when a client needs to give more information than they are comfortable releasing to gain help, and particularly when that information is expected by governmental agencies. Again, it's the intersection: if a client works with a nonprofit organization and also needs support from governmental agencies, should the nonprofit agency share client information with the governmental agency?

Complex statutes and policies govern privacy rights and the competing claims for the public's health and safety. Indeed, how information can or should be shared with governmental agencies varies across jurisdiction. As one example: an un-documented person may not seek assistance from a charity, if that charity is sharing information with governmental agencies.

Because there is no one way to solve this dilemma, VisionLink's approach is provide a special government sharing permission structure within our software. CommunityOS allows system managers to identify client records that can, and cannot be shared with various government agencies.

The technical solution is actually quite complex, but from a user's perspective, client records can be marked as authorized for government sharing or not, and these permissions can vary across different portals and data forms for either simple or highly sophisticated collaboration or strict privacy.

The end result is that the client is in control. They can decide who can see their data, and to what extent--and--for what purpose. It's a solution that allows community builders to bring together the best of a community's resources, regardless of their origin or control.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disciplined Protection of Customer Data

We meet our customer's demand for reliability by combining redundant technologies, sophisticated monitoring, and highly skilled staff. Here are the 9 disciplined practices we follow:

1) VisionLink uses open source and otherwise standard-based software at all levels of our server environment. We do this so that we are not overly dependent on any one vendor, or any one platform, or any one coding environment. We can mix and match leading solutions, deploying the right capacity at an appropriate value point.

2) We use standard network and server equipment in our racks as well; again, so that should we need to rapidly replace or expand equipment, the solutions are neither unusual, nor in short supply.

3) We deploy both horizontally and vertically scaled network systems. The technical wizards that run our server racks can explain this in engaging detail; from the CEO perspective, this means that we can isolate bottlenecks to very small focal points. Because the focal point is small, our adjustment can be precisely (and cost-effectively) targeted. Clear the bottleneck and the rest of the system simply hums at a powerful ROI.

4) We pay attention to the secondary systems. Case in point: we have learned more than we ever wanted to learn about both power and cooling. These days, watts per rack and cooling capacities seem to have as much to do with up-time as the primary server solutions.

5) We test our failure recovery procedures. Too many software providers don't actually do this; dangerous.

6) We trace down every possible single point of failure that we can identify. A case in point: some years ago one of our monitoring systems generated an alert that we never received because our paging network (large, national provider) was temporarily down. So, now we have multiple paths for alerts and messages; just as we do for power, cooling, servers, network switches, routers and on and on.

7) VisionLink staff (not a third party), monitor every part of our network, server, and backup systems. I'm not going to say here how many pieces of this puzzle we watch over, but it numbers in the hundreds. The technical team knows the operational parameters of just about everything--all the time.

8) This point is the most important and it's about the people. We have a technical team wise enough to understand that reliability and data integrity is everything to our customers. Our staff can actually hold at bay the glitz and glamor of the newest and fanciest solution. They do not deploy new technology into our production environment, just because it's new. Sure that would be fun. Until it fails.

9) I should close, however, by saying that while number 8 above is completely true, understand that VisionLink releases new software enhancements every 10 days, and that we regularly and fundamentally improve our network and server technologies. Change is necessary to give our customers the best technologies available. We just do change in a disciplined and careful manner.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Friday, November 27, 2009

Auto Taxonomy Updates for Call Centers

We have released an updated version of our auto-update solution to ensure that the categories through which you manage your resource directory are aligned with the ever improving AIRS taxonomy.

For more information about activating this feature switch on your VisionLink CommunityOS system, please contact our help desk.

This is part of a wide range of efforts to ensure compliance with the AIRS standards. We were the first to endorse and implement the AIRS Resource Exchange standard (to allow the exchange of resource data between systems). We were the first to support both the auto-update standard and the sixth level of the taxonomy. We were the first to support both the 2.07 and 3.0 versions of the Exchange standard as a "one-click" module, and we continually update our software to match new and evolving standards.

We believe that it is keenly useful for organizations to share a common method of categorizing community, state, and national resources, as this supports common and evolving best practice, comparable reporting and needs analysis, and the exchange of information when time is of the essence, as when a disaster may strike a community.

One of the past presidents of the AIRS board said it well: "The AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy is to the information and referral field what the Library of Congress catalog system is to libraries, nationally and internationally. It allows all information and referral providers to speak the same language, classify information consistently, and share data locally, statewide, regionally, nationally and internationally. It is the crucial element in creating a national database in the future, that will both help identify gaps in service as well as make it faster and easier to get people connected to vital resources. It is a tool that maximizes access to community resources and actualizes the mission of information and referral."

For more information about this classification system, go to: http://www.211taxonomy.org/.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Coordinated Assistance: 400 Members Strong

More than 400 disaster relief agencies, making up the nation's first and largest partnership of independent relief organizations, uses VisionLink technology to support their work. Is your community prepared? You can join today.

Born of the lessons from 9/11, the Coordinated Assistance Network helps disaster survivors gain access to coordinated and coherent support services. Before CAN, long-term relief support was more fractured, and donors had reason to worry about fraud and duplicated services.

Now, every CAN partner can work from a coordinated resource directory, and coordinated client intake and case management tools which appropriately manage information within and across communities and states.

Each partner remains focused on their particular mission and deploys their particular expertise as needed. The CAN partnership simply allows these organizations to work together as never before. The result is magnified and more coherent services, better information about met and unmet needs, and a growing body of professional practice created by the expert practitioners who make disaster relief their life's work.

After Katrina, the public has little patience for charitable and governmental leaders who have not prepared their communities to respond to possible disasters. CAN, funded by the American Red Cross and led representatives from leading disaster relief organizations, is the ideal solution if your community has not already joined.

VisionLink's Community Operating System has won the respect of these national and state leaders, for providing reliable, flexible and advanced technology. During Katrina, we became known as "the one national system that did not fail."

CAN offers a technical platform--but also partnership support, best practices, case management standards, data exchange support and much more. If you would like to learn more, go to www.can.org. When disaster strikes, you will be thankful you did.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Quarterly Progress Report for HMIS

We are pleased to announce the release of the updated and compliant Quarterly Progress Report (QPR), the newest addition to the CCM/HMIS reporting tools.

The QPR is designed to meet the new reporting requirements for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The QPR was built in compliance with the standards and documentation released by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

We have gone beyond the "specifications" and included a number of tools to make the QPR more user friendly and useful across a broad set of HMIS applications. The best part, perhaps, has to do with the ease with which authorized users can access and edit the individual records which make up the summary report. Report managers will love this time save capacity.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, November 23, 2009

Powerful Portal Permissions

We've released new tools to control user access by Portal. Now you have even more tools to control who can see what, when, how and why.

Using VisionLink's portal technology, you can create entire systems for particular stakeholders--perhaps it's your board of directors, or those working on a literacy project, or for a group of housing specialists.

Now, it's easier to distribute access to the correct portal(s). With only a click or two you can determine which users or group of users can access any particular portal. And more--one person can have different permissions for different portals. And more---; well, for that, you'll need to sign into our Customer Resource Center. But you get the point.

As partnerships become more dynamic and comprehensive, leaders across the field ask for greater flexibility. Contact Help if you would like this feature turned on for your site.

If you are a prospective customer, talk to us about the partnership and revenue generating capacities of portal-based technology. You've not seen anything like this.

Douglas Zimmerman
CEO & President
VisionLink

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Positive Correlation: Development Sprints

We use the Agile methodology of development known as SCRUM. From the CEO's perspective, this is all about quality work on schedule. I have to play by the rules, too, however.

Our developers work in 8 day sprints. With a planning day before every sprint and a review and approval process at the conclusion of every sprint, it means we release enhancements every 10 business days. [We do this with switches so our customers are still in charge of which new tools they use, and when.]

These sprints develop a pacing of their own, as the development staff learns how to work well with one another. From the CEO desk, I have learned to flow with this same pacing. Sure, I can stop a sprint and insert some "critical" task, but these requests have become more naturally balanced with our SCRUM process, as to stop a well planned sprint has its own costs that ripple across the calendar.

On the other hand, a new sprint is always just around the corner, and thus, almost anything can wait a few days for the beginning of a new sprint; or for less critical needs, for a few sprints.

And so, I have learned I can get more of those "critical CEO" requests done, if I insert them into the sprint schedule, rather than just as I'm back in the office from a recent trip. It's a great correlation: the more I'm patient, the more I get--and faster, too.

Douglas Zimmerman
CEO & President
VisionLink

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evacuation - Special Needs Registries

We are working with IBM Global Services and United Way of America to offer sophisticated evacuation and special needs registries---read more; be prepared.

Working alongside 2-1-1 operations, the good folks from IBM Global Services are available to work with stakeholders in your community or state to discuss, plan, and implement a special needs registry using VisionLink's Community Operating System software.

Depending on your needs, these registries can focus on special needs, transportation, or more general evacuation registries. The point is that after Katrina the public will have little patience with an unprepared response to any significant man-made or natural disaster that impacts your area. Thus, one of the very useful steps is to launch a registry to pre-capture information about those who will have particular needs should disaster strike.

The best part of course, is that current CommunityOS customers need do nothing but add a Portal to their existing system (or perhaps even nothing more than a new tab on your current client intake forms--your call.)

If it would help your local efforts to engage IBM Global Services or the United Way of America, let us know and we will make the introduction. We also have example templates of the kind of data you would want to collect. Don't be surprised next time when disaster strikes your service area.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Contracts & Revenue

In this economy, generating revenue to support your organization's mission is job one. As a VisionLink customer you don't have to force a solution, rather you can demonstrate complete readiness to take on that new contract and gain the revenue when you need it most.

It's all built in. Launch a new portal and create the web site, navigation, permissions, content, file libraries, intake forms, resource directories, and simple and advanced reports that are specifically appropriate to that new contract.

Or, if the contract is similar to your existing work, then you can make only minimal changes, and build on everything else you have already done.

You can also support these new contracts completely privately, or collaboratively with other initiatives already in progress, all from your main VisionLink solution. The choice is yours, and no programming is required.

The point: you can explicitly and specifically manage the workflow and capture the information required of the new contract. Even better--you can mock up these tools as part of the proposal to win the contract. You can prove your capacities, as others using less capable software cannot.

And if we can help, contact your account manager for assistance. We have implementation coaches ready to support you with anything from a strategic discussion to a comprehensive contract support package for that new contract.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sharing the Work

Managing multiple portals for multiple partners is even easier. It's grounded, however, in the art and science of true collaboration.

This is a public blog, so the proprietary technical details are available to customers in our Client Resource Center, and of course via the Help Desk. But we have released Single Sign-On tools that let you manage access to multiple portals across an entire network, administrative tools to control access better, and sub-sysop tools to distribute management tasks by portal.

The concept here is important. As multi-agency and multi-sector partnerships grow across a region, state (or for some of our customers nationally and internationally), system administration tasks can grow considerably. So with these enhancements we make it easier to share the work load.

What this assumes, however, is a true sense of collaboration. This is not "cooperation;" this is about working with other organizations who share common objectives. Doing so requires focusing time, money, and expertise from each partner.

As a former grants officer, I tried to spot efforts along a continuum. If grant applicants wrote in their narrative about how two or more organizations shared common objectives, they were probably describing cooperation. If they were conducting common training for their staffs, for example, they were probably aligning their work (although both organizations were probably doing the same work...).

What the foundation's board was trying to find, however, were partner organizations dividing up the work or taking on distinct aspects of an integrated whole. In other words, two organizations were collaborating well when each organization took on an important and related, but different task. As a grants officer if I could see this in their budgets; it became real at that point and we had a success story to tell the donors.

So it is with VisionLink's Community Operating System; we are working to build systems that truly allow each partner to do the work they need to do confidentially, and to work collaboratively with another partner organization where appropriate. It's nearly magical when it works.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, November 9, 2009

Take Down This Wall!

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, it's appropriate to pause and think about the walls between services in our communities....

Much as the fall of the Berlin wall was a world changing event, the fall of barriers between services can truly change communities. The conversation is shifting however. In the past, we protected information such as the profiles of community resources--we found silos to be useful. Over the last several years, however, I see more and more willingness to collaborate and exchange data in the name of client service. Never happy with the status quo, however, what's the next frontier?

At a recent gathering of The Independent Sector, Brian Gallagher, United Way of America, "warned against getting stuck in "collaboration silos," in which similar groups never venture beyond talking to organizations that share their particular causes. [As reported by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.] The point is that collaboration is now of value--but the cutting edge is around collaboration across sectors.

Indeed the core design of VisionLink's Next Step, PathFinder and Tapestry--all now woven into our Community Operating System (CommunityOS), is all about integration across education, workforce, and social services. Add readiness to respond to disasters and you gain a successful, resilient community. I want to live in one of those!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

2-1-1 Legislation

Major initiatives require funding--and 2-1-1 is no different. Help the campaign to fund 2-1-1 nationally.

Right now, thanks to work from AIRS and the United Way of America, significant progress is being made collecting co-sponsors for legislation to fund 2-1-1 across America.

In the US House, the legislation is H.R.211, and in the US Senate, it goes by S.211. It's important that you and others contact your representatives and senators and ask for their support.

It seems to me that investing in systems that improve the public's access to existing resources is a good thing for our economy, now and as it improves.

VisionLink's Washington DC staff are doing their part as well--on behalf of all of our customers to work with key legislators to endorse and move this forward. Join the campaign! (And of course you don't have time for this--but think of how much time 2-1-1 funding would save you!)

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, November 2, 2009

Staying Healthy

Here is what we are doing to promote a healthy staff, particularly during the flu season.

Because we are in the business of providing mission-critical technology to our customers, staying healthy becomes a core business objective.

We have launched a health policy that essentially instructs staff need to work from home if anyone in their household has any symptoms of ill health (even just aches or sneezing). Further, they cannot come back to work unless everyone member of their household is symptom free for 48 hours. Yes, this does require us to make sure that our staff can in fact work from home, but if it helps us stay healthy it's all for the good.

We are also sterilizing the office every day, shifting to paper plates and cups (don't tell anyone--with an office in Boulder, CO that is not very environmental of us), and changing how folks use the water cooler, as this turns out to be a key source of germs.

We have discussed this policy with a number of health experts and we'll continue to review and refine. If you have suggestions, please share!

Here's to a more healthy fall and winter!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Co-Lo: Game Changer

Do you ever get the bug to travel? Well, about every three years around here we get the bug to complete a major technological overhaul. It's fun, it keeps us on our toes--but more importantly, we do this to ensure your success. You certainly don't want to trust your data to an outdated system.

So, it with great pleasure that I can let you know that we successfully completed our co-lo move. In keeping with VisionLink's DNA, as if this was not challenging enough, we also deployed a significantly more advanced server system architecture, and we added additional fall back capacity (should we experience a catastrophic failure.)

The best part of a move like this is that you, our customers, won't notice anything different. Or so we said. In fact, you will notice impressive performance gains.

Moreover, we gain the ability to add more capacity, more quickly and less expensively, as well. Overall, we just took a huge, major step forward deploying some of the most advanced technologies in the field. Why? Because we can be even more reliable. Even most cost efficient, and even more scalable.

Oh, and the cost to you? Nothing. Just like our other upgrades.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Read Only + Speed

We keep hearing that CommuntyOS (formerly Tapestry) is the fastest system out there. Well, it just got faster. Plus, more enhancements including a Read Only multi-agency function.

We have optimized our code base to improve the loading and reloading of various key pages, including the Client History, Contact History, Case History, Client Search and New Client Record pages.

Of course, your experience will depend on your browser, the computer you are using, and the speed of your Internet access. Regardless, you will however notice significant improvements in speed. And just wait until we upgrade our server systems (stay tuned.)

We also added an oft-requested feature: multi-agency Read Only fields in the Form Builder. So now you have them. Within a Form Set certain fields can be set to Read Only, while those same fields can be editable for those with proper permissions. This is particularly useful in a community partnership where some should be able to see certain information, while others need to work with that data directly.

Fire up those partnerships! (or inter-agency systems for that matter!)

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Major HMIS Upgrade

As per federal guidelines from HUD, VisionLink is pleased to release major new HMIS enhancements.

We've been working hard these past several months to update our HMIS solution to comply with recently revised standards from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

We began this work while the new specifications were still in a public review period, but in this way we can deliver the new tools just as soon as possible to our customers.

The changes include many new data fields, changes to existing data fields, including rewording and additional answer choices, and data migration. In the event where an existing data field changed, data migrations were performed to insure that no previously collected data was lost and the integrity of the data remains.

Please visit the Upgrades & Releases section of our Customer Resource Center to download the release notes for the HMIS updates. We have also included a Word version of the release notes to assist in your creation of user training materials and update documentation.

As always, if you have questions about this or any other CommunityOS update, please feel free to contact your Account Manager at am@visionlink.org or the Help Desk at help@visionlink.org.

We have more HMIS releases coming. Stay tuned. And thank you again everyone--we truly appreciate the hard work on everyone's part to help us implement these new standards quickly and efficiently.

Enjoy!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wear Out Your Handbook

Okay, so we sent out CommunityOS Handbooks to everyone a little while back... Are yours worn out yet? Need more copies?

Seriously, that little handbook is an excellent tool with which you can communicate with your advisers, board members, and decision makers--not to mention prospective partners.

CommunityOS is a rather comprehensive system--and the handbooks attempts to tell the story of the possible. And check out the Stories of Success throughout the handbook as well. Do you have one you can contribute? All you need to do is give us a call and we'll get in touch, capture the details and do all the work. You'll even be able to approve the advance copy.

Take Handbook copies to community meetings, pass them out--demonstrate to others the asset you bring to your community. While others are arguing about the specifics of small minded software, show them another path towards collaborative community building. Okay--maybe it's not that easy, but we are honored our customers let us help.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Co-Lo Moving Truck?

We all resist change. In the realm of technology however, resisting change is like being a chicken that crosses only half of the road. You can imagine the consequences.

VisionLink builds into our business plans a fundamental technical advance roughly every three years. We have one coming up--a full co-lo move to new facilities, and a new architecture for our server systems, and more. Stay tuned.

I remember the "early" days, when we sent our servers out to our customer sites and we provided remote monitoring support. A few years later all of these machines came back to our central location and we began to host our own servers.

The next major step was a complete overhaul of our core database and web server technology. Then we integrated three complete product lines into one. We were becoming a true SaaS provider before we knew the name for it.

Now we are about to fundamentally improve our server systems from top to bottom. This is not only good for our customers, its good for our own staff. It means we can recruit and retain extremely talented staff as they know they are working with really powerful tools and equipment, and in a powerful coding environment. It's not unlike fundraising campaigns; dollars attract dollars. It's the same in technology--smarts attract smart.

Hold on to your hats, I'll let you know when we are done in a few weeks.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dashboards for HMIS

New Dashboard Reports are coming out for Homeless Management (HMIS)!

Again, you asked for it... So here you go. We know we can build more of these, but for starters: HMIS Clients by Ethnicity, HMIS Clients by Location, and HMIS Clients by Zip Code. You will see these listed along with the many other pre-built data sets.

The best way to deploy these could be for either public use--to give others a general understanding of the scope of homelessness in your area, and / or, you can deploy these only to registered, or staff users for a more private insight into this information. It's real time of course, so let those metrics loose!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Friday, August 28, 2009

Custom Search Forms

Building on the Form Builder (not sure my English teacher would like that intro), we are releasing an even easier tool to customize your own search screens.

Even better--different Form Sets can have their own search screens to make sure that each group or partner, or each staff group using a particular Form Set can use the Search Screen that best meets their particular needs.

And to make it all even faster, you will notice a new panel to the left that gives you direct access to the last 10 client records you worked with.

There are a few other fine points designed to assist you, but you'll need to check them out to see for yourself. I'm not giving it all away on line here.

Think about how this kind of flexibility works to engage partners. Most folks are used to software that forces them to adapt to the tool, not the other way around. With VisionLink technology you can respond easily to the distinct and different needs of each partner, and yet working together you can all save money on the same technology platform.

Design at will!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Conditional Triggers

Another major release for VisionLink customers. This upgrade to Form Builder comes in two flavors: an eligibility builder, or a more simplified conditional trigger tool; both react to the data you enter, as you enter it.

Even though you can share data between agencies, and even though every partner organization can have its own client intake forms--you asked for more. So we are releasing a conditional trigger module that lets you establish one or more criteria for a field, and one or more fields in a conditional data set, so that you can cause all sorts of things to happen based on the data entered into a client entry form.

Launch on-screen reminders, web links, call scripts, warnings--or even entirely new tabs and new fields based on data that is entered into a single field, or which matches criteria across multiple fields.

And thanks to the multi-agency nature of the Form Builder and Portals through which they are deployed, different partner organizations can establish different triggers as best fits their needs.

This is particularly ideal if your organization needs to attend to specific contractual data collection needs, or to test for eligibility for special programs. Sure, you'll train your staff, but now the technology can be an automatic reminder, enhancing service and quality.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Chairman Called

Talking with the Chairman of the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations, we gained a powerful insight.

With the type of clarity professional marketing staff can only hope for, the chairman of PQMD said this of VisionLink's technology: "You've given us the tools to share our message with the public, the private space for our members to work confidentially, and the collaborative space for us to work together."

Wow, that's quite a compliment. It's also the core vision driving the CommunityOS design. We believe a Community Operating System should help with messaging, needs to allow for private and confidential work, and needs to allow for collaborative work as needs arise.

If we can help our customers with this, then we've linked our vision to their operations and we can sleep well at night. (But then morning comes--more upgrades to build!)

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dashboard Meets Calendar

We have connected the Dashboard reporting module with your CommunityOS calendar.

This means that you can use a pre-built Dashboard data set named "Calendar"...and the results are simple and powerful: a clean table of event dates and event titles for whatever interval of days you have requested. Of course you can also make this partnership-wide or agency specific, and control who sees this Dashboard based on the permissions you set.

Lean and clean--another data option from CommunityOS.

Stay tuned--Dashboard reports keep coming out. Soon we'll release Clients by County so you can easily measure static or dynamic counts of clients by county--and again, for your entire partnership or on an agency-specific basis. Compare your results a year ago to today; launch a real time counter. The choices are nearly endless.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, June 15, 2009

Using Tech to Partner

True partnership building requires change in each organization's behavior to support agreed upon objectives. Too much consultant-speak?

Then let's get concrete.

Our experience is that partnerships do not form well unless working together does not require any one partner to give up on their ideals--or on specific operational needs. In the world of technology, this means that every partner needs to have their needs met by the technology. Only after those needs are met is that partner truly able to consider a more collaborative partnership.

Thus is the vision of CommunityOS--that the tools are flexible enough so that each partner can deploy the tools they need, customized as they need them. The tools are also, however, built from the ground up for multi-agency deployment. Each partner can have the private space they need for day-to-day work, AND the collaborative space to take on larger problems working together.

Technically this is extraordinarily complex. For example, there are software products that let you customize the forms you use. And there are products that let you share between agencies. But very few do both. Fewer still wrap all this in a portal based architecture for cross-sector collaboration. Fewer still give you administrative tools to make management of a complex collaborative simple.

Thanks to our customers, we learn how to do this better every day. Technology used to be the excuse; it was the "why" partners couldn't be partners. That excuse is gone. Now what? Let's take it on.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dashboard Reports!

It's a MAJOR upgrade... Dashboard reports: pre-built, real-time, graphical, and permission controlled. Show the world what you have been doing--release some Dashboards today.

Okay, more than mild excitement here. We've been hearing the need: deploy reports from pre-built data sets so users don't have to work with the data from scratch. Then offer charts and other graphics to make the point. Oh, and the data should be real time and update itself automatically. Configurable. Easy.

We delivered and I am very proud of the team. The best part is with the Dashboard framework completed, we can continue to release new data sets for all of our customers, or for specific customers as needed, and at little cost.

My best deployment tip? Think of this for funders and key decision makers. Because the dashboard reports are fully integrated with the content management system, this means you can create your own stakeholder-specific narrative report, replete with dashboard summaries about the metrics important to your funders and decision makers. Give special views to your board, others to your staff...you get the point. And they update in real-time, too. Amazing. Deploy a dozen!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO

Friday, May 22, 2009

Community Based Shelters

Did you know we have a community sheltering module, too? Yes--separate and different from the National Shelter System, and its 55,000 shelters, this one is community focused.

In fact, we are releasing upgrades that have to do with capturing transportation information, and several useful enhancements around types of shelters, basic services, and additional services.

If you are current customer, you may want to log into our Customer Resource Center and explore the Shelter Space module; deployment is but a switch away. This is a perfect example of sharing resources across many organizational partners--many of which support clients who sometimes need sheltering services, and explicitly not because of a natural disaster.

Of course, there is no charge for this module.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO

Friday, April 17, 2009

Free Your Data!

Tonight we make the AIRS XML Resource Data Exchange capacities a module directly available to system operators!

Now system operators can share their Resource information with other partners and other systems, when they are compliant with version 3.0 of the AIRS Standard.

Importantly, this tool is available in the system administration area of CommunityOS--no programming intervention is necessary.

In addition, we are maintaining support for version 2.07 of this same standard, as there are some vendors who are compliant only with the older standard. Ever onwards!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HMIS Upgrades!

You asked for it--you got it. Be sure to check our recent HMIS upgrades--and once again, thanks for your input!

With this HMIS upgrade come new data validation tools, pre-entry duplicate checking, Agency and Demographic reporting, GNIS coding, and improved overall performance.

The data validation module focuses on fields such as Date of Birth, Social Security Numbers and so forth, where a specific format needs to be followed. Dates are checked in a similar manner.

A new duplicate checking tool prompts the user before they create a new record--it's part of the normal work flow now. And in the report category, check out: "This Agency's Programs and Services," "This Agency's Clients By Programs and Services Received," and the more general, "This Agency's Clients."

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO

Friday, March 20, 2009

Document Storage Report

VisionLink releases a new document storage report--and this makes for a great reminder about the Document Manager and Fax to File components.

Can you or your agency partners make use of document management? Any electronic file can be uploaded and attached to a specific client records quickly and easier. If you are looking for something closer to the magical, try our fax to file system.

When activated your user goes to a client record, prints a special fax page, and then puts that cover page and any other pages and forms into your fax machine. Over never busy, toll-free phone numbers the fax is converted to a PDF file and automatically attached to the client record.

Complete with sysops features, this module lets the system administrator review activity, assign faxes that cannot be auto-assigned and more.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO

Friday, March 13, 2009

Enhanced Accessibility

With a click, make client data entry easier for those with accessibility needs.

Form Builder provides many options--and now among the navigation button options is an accessibility button which you can deploy or not with a click. Deployed, it allows someone to override graphics and layout components that complicate the view for text readers and similar tools.

So, deploy the accessibility button in the Form Builder and give your staff with certain needs a powerful view.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Saturday, March 7, 2009

It's the Little Things

We know it's not a huge thing, but I think you'll appreciate this new Auto-Fill tool for City, County and State.

It's switchable, so you decide. Enter the Zip Code and the city, county, and state auto-fills. Even better--you can overwrite any of this data if you find errors in the database (which is, however, provided by the United States Post Office).

And one more: you can determine whether the system should retain the Zip Code to automatically narrow your search criteria for community resources and assets. Okay, so maybe it's more than a little thing. It's a serious time saver.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, February 16, 2009

Met & UnMet Needs

Thanks to suggestions from the good folks in New York and Texas, we have released a new Presenting Needs tool. Complete with auto gap analysis and reporting!

Depending on which switch you want turned on, you can now make identification of presenting needs and met and unmet needs part of your everyday work flow. The new module captures met needs by tracking the classification of any referral you make, and the unmet tool lets you indicate the nature of an unmet need.

And! We attached these tools to the Dashboard Reports module, so that you can create automatic dashboards which will track the leading met and unmet needs in your community and beyond.

Community-based, real-time analytics. Demonstrate the needs you meet most often, and those requested for which resources are least available. As conditions change, your data updates every hour.

Automatically. This is what technology is all about, letting you focus more on the people. We'll take care of the technology.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Friday, January 30, 2009

FormBuilder 2.0

Tonight we begin a series of upgrades, which when combined create Form Builder 2.0. It's hard to imagine this module has come so far so fast. Thank you customers for your input!

Form Builder 2.0 includes business logic auditing (meaning that changes to the Forms themselves are now audited), extraordinary integration of our content management system and the Form Builder (can you say "flexible call scripting"?), and new navigation tools for use within a multi-tabbed form with many fields. But there is more!

Included in Form Builder 2.0 are government sharing controls, a whole new Presenting Needs tool for I&R and I&A specialists, an upgraded Client Export Wizard and sophisticated duplicate record merging tools as well. For Form Builder 2.0 we are also releasing new documentation, with all of the current 1.0 version features, along with 2.0 features in a single document for easier use.

Now your partnership can benefit from precisely the client intake forms you seek, as you need them, when you need them, and for who you want to deploy them.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink