COEUR D’ALENE — A Coeur d’Alene company that developed software for use by state agencies and nonprofits to remind social service clients of necessary tasks has landed a big contract with the federal Veterans Administration.
“It’s a national contract for vocational rehabilitation and employment, starting off with injured vets who need assistance getting back to work,” said Cody Dixon, director of operations for The Career Index Corp. (TCI).
The contract, which went into effect on May 1, will cover 1,200 counselors and 110,000 veterans nationwide. The first phase will be implemented by 2021.
Dixon couldn’t reveal the exact amount of the contract, but said it was a six-figure-a-year, five-year contract.
“The thing we’re most excited about is taking technology to help enhance the services our veterans are receiving,” he said.
TCI’s product is called SARA, or Semi Autonomous Research Assistant, a virtual assistant that combines artificial intelligence and natural language processing. It uses two-way electronic mail and text messaging to follow up with people on their status with items such as training, health care and job search. If the system runs into a problem, it can refer the client to a case manager for individual attention.
SARA is currently being used in 44 government agencies across the country, Dixon said.
“We don’t have a marketing department, or sales,” he said. “They come to us, we show them a demonstration, they connect the dots, then they find the funding to make it happen. We have leads we haven’t even followed up on. Our primary focus is to make sure we’re delivering the service we’re promising.”
The product is expected to help both parties in the system. Counselors are overwhelmed and have large caseloads, Dixon said, but the SARA system will help them with data entry and documentation, freeing up their time for direct client engagement.
“These are folks who have been trained, with masters’ degrees, and they’re stuck doing paperwork,” he said.
At the same time, the technology will also help the veterans by giving them a way to link back to their counselors and find additional resources, Dixon said.
The software will be used to create appointments and appointment reminders, send out notifications and reminders and relay all that back to the case manager. “From a reporting standpoint, we’ll be providing reports to administrators,” he said. “It’ll be change management across the board.”
Part of the process will be taking SARA and hosting it in Amazon Web Services GovCloud, a cloud-based system with security, compliance and reliability features that government agencies require.
“We’re taking everything we do now and replicating that over into a completely different environment,” Dixon said. “It’s double the maintenance and double the work.”
But what could be even more work is teaching the counselors and veterans how to do something in a different way, Dixon said.
“People hate change, but they’ve been clamoring for change,” he said.
The software is now in its third release. The most recent version came out in September with additional counselor calendar functionality, different icons and buttons and a restructured database, Dixon said.
With the new contract, The Career Index has added four support staff locally, and is partnering with developers and a consulting company to help provide training.
“We’ll be using a ‘train the trainer’ model,” Dixon said. “We’ll train 150 of their trainers, who will train the rest of the field.”
The company has also leased a new office in the Innovation Den in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
Where TCI might go after this, Dixon isn’t sure.
“We’re starting to realize that SARA, and the impact it can have, is greater than the size of the company we are now,” he said. “We’re having those conversations internally now: How to get this resource, that could be of social impact, into areas we don’t have the resources to touch right now.”