I recently had the opportunity to connect with Scott Anderson from ClientTrack, a software solution aimed at increasing the impact of social benefit organizations and their work by “integrating people, processes, and technology.” You can learn more about Scott and the work ClientTrack is doing in the interview below.
Scott Anderson is the Director of Communications for DSI, the developer of ClientTrack. He earned his PhD in Communications from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to his PhD, he worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in community health, adolescent residential treatment, and a faith-based organization.
(I appreciate this opportunity to talk about ClientTrack and its ability to promote effective collaborations. As many of you know, Amy is a magnificent example of bringing people together through technology to make a difference. I’ve been impressed with her ability to connect people and powerful ideas. I’ve been a “taker” from her source of information, and now I hope I can be a “giver” of information that might help others. Thanks, Amy, for all you do!)
First, what is ClientTrack?
ClientTrack software products and professional services provide comprehensive solutions for the Health, Human and Social Services community. ClientTrack is an extremely capable web-based solution that fully:
- Enables organizational best practices and improves efficiency at a pace organizations can support,
- Ensures and simplifies compliance reporting for funding sources,
- Enhances outcome reporting to strengthen fundraising and build community awareness, and
- Optimizes collaborations within and between organizations.
How does CT define “collaboration” and what is so important about it?
For us, collaboration is about using technology to smoothly and effectively bring people and community resources together to accomplish more than what any one entity could accomplish alone. Co-laboring (working together) is not just nice, but necessary in the social service world. From an ecological perspective, individuals who seek support from social services generally require interventions in multiple domains, from housing to work assistance, to counseling, energy assistance, or after school programs, to name a few. Because we want to help the “whole” person, we need to be able to provide “whole” solutions. And that’s what effective collaborations among community providers do.
The words “smoothly” and “effectively” are essential to notice. The “smooth” part refers to ClientTrack’s ability to facilitate (i.e., “make facile, or easy”) the information sharing process. Community service providers can use ClientTrack to securely and confidentially share client information (with client consent). Among other benefits, ClientTrack makes it possible for a provider to immediately check availabilities and openings with other community service organizations, instantly enroll a client in their services, provide immediate referrals, and provide intake information electronically to the other providers. When information and services are shared like this, the client doesn’t have to fill out paperwork again, and providers don’t need to spend unnecessary time re-collecting basic information (which equates to saving money… something we could all use right now!).
By “effective,” I refer primarily to the ability to track client-level information across a number of community services. A primary case-manager, for example, might be able to immediately see that a client visited an employment agency over the last week, or was able to find temporary housing through another service provider. Beyond this immediate knowledge, client outcomes (e.g., quality of life, self-reports, self-sufficiency) can be assessed based on system-wide information, and not simply a “snapshot” of services received in one location.
In summary, collaboration is critical because a client-centric approach, tied into a community of resources through technology, facilitates simplified, whole solutions that can be evaluated based on system-wide outcomes.
Do you have any specific examples about new ways organizations are collaborating more effectively or more efficiently?
Three examples showcase a few of the collaborative efforts of our current clients. Their organizations are of various sizes, and each has unique needs and means for collaboration.
>> Example One: Large Collaborations
One of our clients is the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC; http://www.aidschicago.org). They are a local and national leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, due in large part to their innovative, collaborative approach to providing services to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS. Specifically, they serve as a “lead agency” overseeing and coordinating services among more than 60 affiliated organizations in the Chicago area. Over 50 of their organizations now use ClientTrack, providing smooth, secure exchanges of client information from one service to the next. The system is configurable to each organization’s specific needs, but shares the same information pool. This translates into a reduction of duplicated information, saved time in information gathering, improved client services, and ultimately, improved organizational efficiency. Shared information allows participating providers to spend less-time in paperwork, and more time in people-work.
The scale of their collaborative efforts is inspiring, but what’s even more notable, is how it all seems to be working out so well. Through this “lead agency” model of collaboration, AFC can provide clients with excellent care across a continuum of services and decrease the gaps in service clients might otherwise experience. Additionally, through this model, AFC is in an unprecedented position to evaluate client-level information from a system-wide perspective. What this means is that they will eventually be able to track the progress of an individual as a result of receiving multiple services throughout the community. Because of their broad vision and future-looking leadership, AFC was recently awarded a substantial grant from a private foundation that will help them improve their client information systems, including enhancements to further leverage their implementation of ClientTrack.
For any who are interested, we are hosting a very relevant webinar in a couple of weeks. The Director of Program Data and Special Projects at AFC will be discussing how AFC has encouraged community programs to “buy into” their collaborative efforts, and the strategies others might consider to successfully build their own collaborative networks. (More information available on the CT website.)
>> Example Two: Resource Power through Collaboration
We are currently in the first phase of implementation with a group of three Community Action Agencies in Massachusetts. In this situation, the collaboration among the organizations is not about the need to share client information between organizations (as a result of geographical separation). Instead, they recognized that a common intake process among all the agencies would benefit policy advocacy and decision-making on a state level. That is, by collaborating to collect the same information and use the same intake assessment, they can improve the quality of information (e.g., number of individuals served, total money spent in given programs) they use in their advocacy efforts on a larger, macro scale.
As a second benefit, their collaborative efforts granted them purchasing power that they would not have had otherwise. As a group, they were awarded a state grant to assist them in implementing software that would support a universal intake solution. With those funds, they hired an agency to help them assess, find, and implement an appropriate solution. They were able to share and reduce costs along the way specifically because they were working together. Their collaborative efforts created funding and service-improvement opportunities they couldn’t have had working alone. Through collaborative efforts, this group of Community Action Agencies is accessing resources that only collaboration could provide.
>> Example Three: Collaboration Effectiveness and Excitement
A final example is Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD) (http://www.bostonabcd.org/). ABCD is the oldest and largest community action planning (CAP) agency in the United States. The organization provides more than 100 programs through 13 community neighborhood centers that impact more than 100,000 low-income families in the Boston area.
As a tool for optimizing collaborations, ClientTrack has made a difference for ABCD in three primary ways. First, ABCD has been able to improve their internal collaborations. Specifically, the technology has allowed each of their programs to “speak the same language” in the data they collect and share. Like many nonprofits, they were using a variety of software programs to meet a variety of needs (e.g., intakes, assessments, eligibility determinations, case progress notes, scheduling, referrals). As a result, the ability to share information from program to program or center to center was challenging, given that the information—often duplicated—was created in different formats that were not easily compatible with one another. By using ClientTrack, ABCD was able to standardize the process for collecting information, bring the functionality of many programs into a single program, and share a common pool of securely accessible information about their clients. Through the shared database, workers in ABCD’s neighborhood centers are now able to conduct quicker intakes for clients already in the system, reduce duplicated information, track services received in other programs, simplify referrals, track system-wide outcomes, and many other aspects required for effective case management. By collaborating and sharing information, ABCD’s staff has simplified and automated many of their administrative procedures. This translates directly into letting them focus more on what matters most…the people they serve.
The second benefit for ABCD of collaborating and sharing data is the ability to use information for broader, organizational-wide purposes. Specifically, because their information is stored in one central database, ABCD can access the data in a variety of ways. They can use the information to create reports for various grants they receive (a very large task!), analyze the effectiveness of their programs and services, or create reports that showcase the benefits of their services to donors and their communities. By coordinating shared information among their various programs, they can show better accountability and transparency regarding their funds and the services they provide.
Finally, in developing their collaborations, ABCD has noticed that other programs affiliated with ABCD, but not currently using ClientTrack (whether due to prior investment or funding requirements), are noticing the value of their collaborative efforts. The fact that ABCD’s collaborations in case management are really happening, and are not just ideas on paper, is generating an appeal and excitement among other organizations. This excitement, in turn, will generate further collaborative efforts. When done well, collaborations can perpetuate and expand their own existence, to the benefit of all involved.
Regardless of the specific tools used for collaboration, what are some of the processes or elements to success you’ve seen?
I approach this response with a technology bias. I strongly believe that collaborative technology solutions are critical for social benefit organizations to maintain viability and avoid liability. The paper-based approaches to providing services are a liability for nonprofits, given that many funding organizations increasingly want to be certain their money is being maximized. Seeking grants is fundamentally about reducing uncertainty, and paper-based processes only open the door to greater uncertainty (regarding efficiency, security, privacy, reporting, etc.). With that said, the following is my list of specific processes and elements that lead to successful collaborations:
- Visualize your “ideal” collaboration before anything else. This will be the basis of implementing solutions that work.
- Find champions of your collaborative efforts and let them help you promote your vision.
- Implement a technology solution that can grow, change, and keep up with your vision and expanding collaborative efforts.
- Implement a technology solution that can “talk” with other technology solutions used by other organizations.
- Implement a technology solution that works with data the same way you work with people…client-centered (not service-centered). This approach to data makes tracking clients across collaborations much easier.
- For smaller organizations, join with other community organizations to increase purchasing power on your collaborative technology solutions.
- Be creative with collaborations: Share advertising, events, office space, or other resources.
- Recognize that collaborations are like marriage or getting a new roommate: you’re bringing together different systems that require mutual adjustments. Those adjustments can be difficult and take time and effort, but are well worth the outcomes.
What’s ahead for you in 2010?
As a ClientTrack team, we are looking forward to 2010 and the opportunities to again link arms with nonprofits everywhere to make a difference. I don’t want to make light of a “kumbaya” setting, but there’s a lot to understanding the power of people and communities coming together in a common cause. These are difficult times for many nonprofits, with tightened funding streams and increased demands for service. 2010 is not likely to improve.
But, we are confident that we have solutions that can help community providers make a difference. Creative collaborations will be critical in 2010; that’s why I’ve identified collaborations as one of the five things nonprofits must know in 2010. We can help organizations leverage technology to improve their day-to-day efficiency, simplify compliance reporting, enhance outcomes reporting, and build meaningful collaborations. We have outstanding products and services, developed and implemented by a group of dedicated people. We look forward to opportunities to share our solutions and work with organizations committed to providing best-practice services, quality care, and life-changing collaborations on behalf of their clients. By pushing together, we can move mountains.
I’m so happy to share this interview with Scott because of the great examples he has to share from his work and the sector. He’s been a great resource and conversation starter recently for me. If you would like to contact Scott, learn more, talk about ideas or examples he has shared here, or just say hi, you can leave a comment here, follow ClientTrack on Twitter, or visit the CT blog.