A feature interview with Roberta J. Fox, Senior management technology advisor to Canada Suicide Prevention Services: New national voice, text and chat Suicide prevention service
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In 2017, Crisis Services Canada (CSC) was formally constituted and incorporated as a federal not-for-profit organization. From among its original Canadian Distress Line Network alliance members, a group of pilot members of distress and crisis centres from across Canada collaborated in the launch of the multi-media Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) solution.
CSPS offers a nationally available, regionally delivered suicide prevention service to anyone thinking about or affected by suicide. Its services are available 24/7, via toll-free phone, text or chat at no charge to the people of Canada.
CSC is guided by several core goals and principles and the belief that partnerships among government departments, distress centres, mental health/healthcare providers and technology vendors are the key to success. Working together can offer assistance that improves the quality of service and outcomes for individuals in crisis, particularly those individuals who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Approximately 11 Canadians take their lives every day, (average of 4000 per year across all ages, locations or walks of life). It is estimated that each suicide affects 7 to 10 people, which means 40,000 people are newly affected each year in Canada, with an untold emotional and financial impact on Canada.
Working together with the new virtual contact centre solution, these organizations are dedicated to reducing the number of lives lost and affected by suicide in Canada. This is their steadfast mission.
In November 2016, the Public Health Agency of Canada provided foundational funding to develop a next-generation innovative solution that would bring these organizations together, under one technology umbrella, to manage the technology, practices and resources required. With a remarkably fast turnaround, the CSC voice, text and chat suicide prevention service was launched November 28th, 2017. Since the launch, thousands of service users have contacted CSC and 62 active rescues have occurred, with hundreds more individuals in need receiving immediate crisis response and referrals to additional community resources. No matter where a service user was along the risk continuum, appropriate suicide management support was provided.
We spoke about this ambitious project with Roberta J. Fox, Chief Innovation Officer of FOX GROUP Technology, (foxgroup.ca), a leading Canadian Communications Technology Consulting firm who spearheaded and led the cross-functional business and technology team for this new national initiative.
During the podcast interview, we asked Roberta about her involvement in this project from a technology perspective, but more importantly, how the project landscape was created, and how the strategy came together from a business and technical perspective.
We hope that you find this incredible lifesaving application of next-generation voice, text and chat technology as inspiring as we did!
Good afternoon. My name is Chris Deineka, I am the Marketing Manager at BrantTel Networks. I’m chatting with Roberta Fox, Senior Management Technology Advisor to Crisis Service Canada and Chief Innovation Officer, FOX GROUP. With this initiative we’re supporting mental health awareness with this article on how Canada Suicide Prevention Services designed and recently deployed their bilingual, multimedia suicide prevention services coast to coast for all Canadians at no cost.
Chris Deineka: Hi Roberta!
Roberta Fox: Good afternoon!
Chris Deineka: Thanks for joining us today. I want to ask you a few questions. Looking for your honest and candid responses around this great project. So let’s start with, how has your role with CSPS evolved over the past year?
Roberta Fox: Thanks a lot, Chris, for giving us the chance to get the word out about what we’re doing at Crisis Services Prevention Service … Th, nks Chris, for the opportunity to provide some insight and experience and updates on what we’ve done with Canada Suicide Prevention Service, which for this podcast, listeners, we’ll refer to as CSPS in the future.
So the answer to the question about the role, during 2017 I was retained and my company, FOX GROUP, to primarily be the technology architect, designer, and project manager representing the organization, and to help them develop the solution and get it to market by November 28, 2017. In 2018, now from our success in what we did last year, now I’m gonna be helping them focus on business strategy, the technology strategy for the next generation, which I’ll be happy to tell you about in a few minutes. And I also provide some guidance related to fund raising, member expansion, and marketing primarily in the digital space. Since I’m a technology/creative person, they asked me to help bring some of that creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Chris Deineka: Wow, Roberta, that’s quite the start. And currently … For sure, you’ve been busy over the past year. Why is this nonprofit advisory role so important to you and FOX GROUP?
Roberta Fox: There’s a couple reasons, Chris, in two parts of it. We have a commitment at FOX GROUP to give a portion of our time back to support nonprofit, and particularly over the last three years we’ve been focusing in the mental health and suicide prevention area. I’ve been the virtual CIO for Spectra, which is based out of Brampton. And what I learned is that distress center, first responder, and healthcare organizations, oh my gosh! They actually work together, they want to work together, and they struggle on how do they get the technology solutions to be able to do that.
So I’ve had this vision in the back of my head … And a lot of people know me for my out-of-the-box thinking. I dreamt, how could we bring enterprise-class solutions, the stuff that big companies have with big buckets. How could we bring that to mental health and suicide prevention, properly manage to help them do the work they do that’s so critical to Canadians and particularly save lives in suicide prevention? And, oh my gosh, because people who need this type of help, they want to go way beyond just speaking on the phone. They want to use text and chat technologies. So that’s been the backbone of my vision and what we’ve partly created last year. And now we’re going to enhance and continue to improve this year.
Chris Deineka: Well that’s amazing, Roberta. The Crisis Prevention Service was launched in 2017 as a multimedia contact center solution. We’re really fascinated by that, how you brought all those different technologies together to make this happen. What resources did you leverage to achieve these outcomes?
Roberta Fox: You know what, Chris? This is a really interesting question. I’ve been in technology for over 30 years. I started doing hands-on installs and worked up the chain. And this project has brought together everything I have, every relationship I have with the industry. The manufacturers, the vendors, the field engineers, combined with my team, which is a team of three of us at FOX GROUP that have a lot of expertise and experience. We brought all of that together and my quirkiness as a project manager, my Second City improv training. And the thing I’m most proud about is we also were able to leverage that Canadian commitment to make a difference, to be innovations, to take care of our fellow Canadians. This team was so dedicated. And to give some perspective, we had 11 different vendors/manufacturers. We also had 14 different distress center members. I’ll talk more about that together. But it really is a wonderful example of bringing everybody, lots of expertise and knowledge, all committed to helping make this solution happen.
Chris Deineka: Wow Roberta, that’s quite the accomplishment. Now with 11 dedicated vendors, Crisis Services Canada is thrilled to launch this new platform, like I mentioned, in November of 2017. There must have been some technology challenges along the way and I’m going ask you a question. I know it’s a bit of a loaded one. What were some of the biggest technology challenges you and your team faced?
Roberta Fox: Oh my gosh, no kidding! As I said earlier, this has been the toughest project ever in my career of 30 plus years. Biggest challenge were we took all the old technology that’s existing in their distress centers. Every type of phone system known to human kind, all different kinds of PCs, operating systems, desktop applications. That’s all still running and that’s underneath the umbrella that we call CSPS. On top of that, we laid this state of the art, omnichannel voice, text, and chat, integrated with CTI. So many different new technologies on top of the old stuff. So it’s sort of thinking like we took an old engine and a chassis and we rebuilt the whole chassis outside and made a whole new type of vehicle that’s never been there before. That’s the technology.
We also had time frames. Oh my gosh. We started at the end of March, where I got set to focus on it full time. By the November 28, same year, we actually integrated all of those areas on top of the legacy sites, and we figured out how to also integrate it into the distress center focused customer relationship management. And we brought together those volunteer distress organizations from over 125 people. So we re-engineered the technology. We re-engineered the people and the processes and best practices to have all the organizations act like one. And what was the most exciting was the very first day we went live, my dream of being able to have people wherever they are help … Very first day, we were able to save an 11 year old’s life via chat in Toronto, handled by a responder in Calgary. And this is also the tightest budget and timeline I’ve ever had to work with. And it’s working.
Chris Deineka: Wow, Roberta, that’s impressive. And number one, saving lives is the absolute goal of this organization, so you must be happy with your outcomes so far. That’s really the whole point of bringing all these various technologies together to achieve this outcome. What areas of business and technology were crucial to deliver this? It must’ve been a bit of a mixed bag. Can you explain a little bit?
Roberta Fox: Sure. You know, the thing that’s interesting in building a virtual … We built a virtual contact center but we’ve also built a virtual, nonprofit suicide focused organization if you think about it, Chris. Because really CSC is a nonprofit corporation, but we’re leveraging existing distress centers. So it’s almost like the future of healthcare and mental health services. So we brought together the technology, as I said earlier. We also brought together and developed accredited, oriented suicide prevention processes so that everybody, coast-to-coast, can act as if they’re working for the same corporation but they’re leveraged from their existing local services.
And I think the other part that’s really unique is we brought together the case management. So if somebody in Calgary answers a call one night, the next day the person calls back in, somebody from Toronto can take the call. They have all the information about what happened, what was said. It’s securely and safely managed and stored in carrier class centers with lots of appropriate technology and practices to make sure that the information is protected, all within the government guidelines. And it’s all working.
Chris Deineka: Roberta, this sounds like something that corporate Canada has been trying to do for years and you seem to have accomplished it with an ounce of the time and an ounce of the budget.
Roberta Fox: Well, you know, absolutely Chris. But to me, that’s the real thing I’m the most proud of. This is what Canadians do best, right. We’re always the first of all kinds of things, usually in military situations. But we really did do all of that type of thing and brought everything together where we solved the business and technical challenges. So it really ties into my next big opportunities, and I’d be happy to tell you about that. So I think they fall into three buckets. I think the next big opportunity for CSPS, now that we’ve got this wonderful … Think of it: we’ve got a wonderful foundation of our house. We’ve got the main parts. We’ve got all the plumbing working. Now we want to say, “okay those rooms that we built, what do we want to do with them?”
So what I think about there is, I want to get working on AI, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition. But I want to be really clear. It’s not to replace the people; it’s to enhance the people. So think about this. A service user, that’s the person who calls in and is helped by a responder. We could have it that taking the notes of the call recording goes right into the CRM system. So I want to automate the parts that, in contact centers, agents have to fill out. I want AI engines to go do that for us. And then the voice recognition. Then want to look at integrating with social media, social media hooks as future channels.
And then also, equally important, in order for CSPS to continue in the future, we really need to build our brand, our innovation, and brag about our innovation and build organizational awareness. Because we need to continue and expand our fundraising to support this program and the people so that we continue to grow capacity. And we can also look at … I think some of your listeners and readers should look at how we did it here. Like you said, it could be used for other mental health areas. This type of technology and working together could be used in healthcare, could be used for seniors programs. Could be used for all kinds of other things to reduce time, effort, and costs for public services.
Chris Deineka: Yes, that’s a great point, Roberta. We’re trying to write this article to spread awareness about these fabulous services that are out there. But even more important, to make Canadians aware of the fact that they, too, have the power to change things in organizations to make things better. Especially when it goes for not-for-profit orgs. Especially if it provides services to the community that are required and necessary, just like this one.
Roberta Fox: Absolutely. As I said in the beginning, I always dreamed about having enterprise class solutions for nonprofit. We did it! So, okay other nonprofit organizations, get on the bandwagon.
Chris Deineka: Yes, that’s right. So Roberta, just in wrapping, what information can you share to other organizations who are looking to amalgamate and do this type of thing?
Roberta Fox: I think the thing is, as I said earlier, me and my team have lots of experience doing tough projects that usually take two to three years equivalent to this, and eight to ten times the budget of this project. And what we accomplished in nine months and under budget … We’re very proud of the accomplishment but I think, also, to be aware of having the ability and experience. And in tech industry vendor relationships, it still takes different types of tech vendors and partners and staff to work with the customer or organizations. So unfortunately we’re not there yet where I can go one throat to choke to any firm, but you know what? The folks in the industry are getting there. And this, also, is a great example. So I think I would say if you’re looking to do this, it’s possible. It can be done. It can be done in less time than a lot of people think. And it does work. So we’re getting there and my visions are becoming reality now.
Chris Deineka: Yes Roberta, that’s fabulous. We’re absolutely thrilled to promote Crisis Services Canada with this article. And on behalf of BrantTel Networks and the authors, including FOX GROUP, we’re thrilled to promote these dedicated groups of people, including hundreds of volunteers that came together to create a solution for a community that has not been accomplished in the entire world, all to save lives and the issues that surround mental health. Thanks, Roberta, for your time today.
Roberta Fox: You’re welcome.
Congratulations to Crisis Services Canada and the dedicated team members from the pilot sites and other CSC distress centre members from across Canada that made this project come together.
We’re using this as a platform to promote Mental Health Awareness from the project side. You can bring together disparate technologies under one umbrella, and you can do it with a limited budget, and in this case, you did it to save lives.
We encourage all of you to support mental health in Canada, choose to support Bell Let’s Talk, and join the fight to end mental health stigmas and prevent suicide in Canada.
We urge all companies and Canadians to support these causes, regardless of business affiliation, race, age or politics. Let’s all put our corporate logos aside and support Bell Let’s Talk on January 31st.
The Team at BrantTel Networks, FOX GROUP and particularly the dedicated team at Crisis Services Canada
On January 31st, support Bell Let’s Talk – for every text message sent by Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives. Crisis Services Canada supports the goals of the Bell Let’s Talk program