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A community of customers

July 15, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A number of state substance abuse agency leaders have seen their relationship with a technology vendor grow into an ongoing opportunity to brainstorm with colleagues and to evaluate possible innovations by communicating with others in similar circumstances.

KITConnecX, a professional networking environment established by Pittsburgh-based KIT Solutions, LLC, has offered state agency personnel a more consistent chance to communicate across state lines, beyond the confines of the occasional national training event.

“I'm 31 now, and I've been on Facebook and MySpace; I came to realize that the only time we in this field were all interacting with one another was at a conference,” says Marfel Barnett, data coordinator for Virginia's state substance abuse agency.

KIT Solutions is an information technology company that provides data-driven decision support to health and human service agencies, through web-based, real-time reports. Its leaders consider the KITConnecX learning community to be an important vehicle for demonstrating to state officials that their individual states' problems are essentially the same challenges confronting their neighbors.

“Each state wants something of its own, but there are also underlying challenges affecting all states,” says Xiaoyan Zhang, KIT Solutions' president and CEO, referring to states' information needs.

Modes of communication

KIT Solutions' learning community offers opportunities for one face-to-face meeting a year and one webinar per quarter. The relationships built through these events result in stronger ties on an everyday basis across state agencies, which in turn can increase the knowledge base for local providers who are in regular communication with their own state agency.

“I actually interact with the other agencies on a daily basis,” says Barnett, who serves as the contact person offering technical assistance to Virginia providers who enter data into the KIT Solutions database. KIT's typical customer in the substance abuse arena is the state agency that directly receives federal block grant funding.

Barnett recalls that a webinar presentation earlier this year significantly benefited Virginia officials in their quest to improve data reporting by community-based prevention coalitions. The state recently received a State Incentive Grant from the federal government to support community coalition work, and the webinar specifically addressed how to enhance coalitions' data collection methods, he says.

Barnett says that whenever state officials from across the country get together in the webinar format, they quickly learn that the problems they are grappling with are largely similar from state to state.

“We may think our problems are just based in Virginia, but throughout the states we have the same issues,” he says. “You're not by yourself with a certain problem.”

Barnett explains that KIT Solutions houses the state's prevention-related data activity, and that the company also houses data for some of the largest prevention-related operations in state government (including those in California, New York and Pennsylvania). He sees the KITConnecX vehicle as offering an opportunity for prevention entities at the state level to speak with more of a unified voice when interacting with federal policy leaders.

“This can help us persuade the federal government on issues we're having,” Barnett says. “The federal government doesn't always know all that is going on with the states.”

Driven by the customer

Kevin Keenan, vice president of KIT Solutions' state business unit, says his company generally acts as a facilitator for cooperative activity that is largely coordinated by the state customers under the interactive learning community.

The webinars are generally led by the members of the learning community, Keenan says. While the state agency director is likely to be the sole attendee in face-to-face meetings of the group, the audience for the webinars tends to be broader. “California has asked a couple of its providers to participate,” he says.

Keenan adds, “There hasn't been a good mechanism [for communication], especially for people below the level that attends national conferences. This group allows individuals to meet and say what's worked for them, what hasn't worked, what's too expensive.”

According to KIT Solutions' leaders, the company's core product handles about 80 percent of a state's data needs, with the rest addressed through a tailored effort for each specific state. The company's Internet-based services are designed to assist in the management of social service programs through the measurement of performance and outcome; the implementation of best practices; and the tracking of funding and fulfillment of grant reporting.

KIT Solutions works with more than 2,200 human-services agencies encompassing more than 14,000 professionals.

Addiction Professional 2011 July-August;9(4):84