Federal Practitioner: Qbase Vice President Josh Temkin Discusses the Project REACH Challenge
November 19, 2014
Josh Temkin, together with his colleague, Jim Horner, designed and developed the solution, website, and mobile applications for Project REACH
Joshua, Vice President, Healthcare, brings over 15 years’ experience managing, designing, and developing large complex health and data integration programs for the DoD, VA, National Cancer Institute, and the FDA. As VP of Healthcare, Josh leads and manages Qbase’s health portfolio, providing technical leadership and oversight for Qbase projects and customers.
Federal Practitioner: Ending veteran homelessness by 2015 is a major government initiative. VA launched Project REACH (Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless) with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in 2012 to facilitate veterans who want to prevent or escape homelessness and the caregivers who encounter them. How did Qbase LLC, an independent development company, get involved in the project and what was the motivation?
Josh Temkin: In short, there were 3 reasons:
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We knew we could quickly do this.
We saw it as an opportunity to showcase the best of our abilities as a company.
We knew we could have a big impact.
We follow challenge.gov and are always looking for opportunities to apply our skills and our product portfolio in new areas. Our products have been used commercially and throughout government for improving the accuracy of locating places, and we knew we could apply them in other settings. We saw this opportunity as a proving ground for our technology, and we knew we could make a difference from day 1.
At its core, the project was essentially a data integration project, and our products integrate disparate data sets, clean and standardize them, and get the data ready for use. Other products of ours incorporate geo-location technology with stellar accuracy. We knew we could do exactly what the government was looking for—faster, better, and with more precision than could others—and on a nationwide scale.
Bringing all our expertise together with the purpose of connecting veterans and the services they needed was a meaningful project for us to get behind.
FP: The app guidelines were more or less set, as former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki noted in a March 2012 press release: “We are asking [developers] to make a free, easy-to-use Web and smartphone app that provides current information about housing, health clinics, and food banks.” What resources already existed for Qbase to pull from, and what did you find were the most difficult areas to develop?
JT: Our Data Discovery and Data Transformer products were created to help rapidly identify issues within large data sets and then prepare the data to be put to its most effective use. Our MetaCarta product is depended on by national security agencies to give them situational awareness about very specific locations around the world.
This expertise enabled us to quickly conceive and develop our application and to differentiate it from others by its breadth and performance. As an example, on day 1 our tool was providing nationwide information to users, whereas other products were just reaching statewide status. We did it through both the website we developed (www.homelessreach.info) and through our Homeless REACH mobile application for iOS and Android devices.
In the same vein, combining our technologies for use in multiple new settings is precisely what’s driving innovation and new product development at Qbase today. One example is our in-memory computing platform with embedded analytics. This platform marries our existing capabilities with powerful new IP to enable people to have more meaningful experiences with data and to interact with information in new ways, whether that means gaining instant awareness of world events, being more informed about competitors or an industry, or understanding the connections within their data that may not be immediately obvious.
FP: The Homeless REACH app launched in 2013. How has the app grown over the past year, and how do you see it evolving over time?
JT: We’ve seen tremendous interest in the application, which speaks to the widespread need for free, mobile technology that enables people caring for those in need to find nearby resources, quickly and accurately.
We’ve been contacted by many groups who provide care and resources to the homeless throughout the country. Most recently we were contacted by the Mayor’s office in Philadelphia to add more information about their resources so they can utilize the platform as part of their outreach. We’ve had similar discussions with officials and outreach groups in Los Angeles, California, and Austin, Texas, as well.
Anywhere there’s a gap between the services made available to people and the awareness of those services, there’s a need for something like this.
FP: Why had nothing like this been created before, and why did it take a federal initiative to spur action?
JT: All the information about where resources existed, how to get to them, and what was available existed, but no one had brought that information together in this way before.
What we saw in 2012 was a perfect storm of sorts in that the government was turning attention to this space and put out its call to action. Jon Bon Jovi, through his charitable work in New Jersey, brought some celebrity star-power to the issue. Also, the rise of mobile technology made this accessible to large numbers of people who either needed help or wanted to provide it.
Our application is about finding resources based on the user’s current location or through searching for resources based on a full or partial address, and being very accurate in the results returned to direct someone to those resources. The difference between help being 2 miles away and 3 miles away, for example, matters when you’re walking, when it’s cold, and when you’re hungry.
Our technology could walk people all the way to the front door of the places they needed to be to get help. Other sources of information were not as well curated as ours, because our technology can “correct” bad data and deliver the kind of premium accuracy that really matters to people in need.
That’s where we stood out, and that’s the kind of solution that was needed.
FP: What types of feedback have you gotten, and what are you most proud of?
JT: We’re most proud of the fact that we’ve helped so many people and that we have provided and continue to provide a free resource for people to use who are helping those in need. That’s the main thing. Everything that has come after has been icing on the cake. Google recognized us with an award, and so did the Defense Strategies Institute. I think the reason for the recognition is that everyone likes to see technology applied in meaningful ways. When you’re able to meet a very basic human need with a logical application of technology and see pretty powerful results, you remember that. You want to do more of it. And you want to find ways to do it as often as possible.
For more information, visit www.qbase.com/case-studies/homeless-reach.