Read below to learn how Centric volunteered it’s Business Intelligence expertise to help both the Wells Foundation and the GroundWork Group use data analysis to improve their services.
Tony Wells, President of the Tony R. Wells Foundation, was concerned with the current status of performance reporting and analysis for the Stride application. He and his wife had started the foundation in 2000 to help children and their families by investing in social enterprises. One of those enterprises is DS-Connex (a service based on the Stride application) that assists Down Syndrome Associations in over 26 cities nationwide to increase the funds they raise through Buddy Walks. These walks are events where teams of walkers, usually including people with Down Syndrome, are sponsored by individuals who pledge contributions to the Association.
Although Stride has been succeeding in assisting fund raising, Tony’s goal is to use the information gathered from each of the participating associations to identify best practices amongst them and to provide guidance on how to improve upon the success in each city. His team needed to learn how to understand the dynamics of each city better, to identify commonalities in cities that would allow the transfer of some practices, and to facilitate adapting to the unique characteristics of different situations. All of these activities had to be supported by solid business analytics, which in turn had to be built upon data available in Stride.
Which Came First – The Data or The Analytics?
The relation between analytics and data is very much like the chicken and egg conundrum. Analytics has to be based on data; while, at the same time, data has to be collected and organized to meet the specific requirements of analytics. Unlike big organizations, small and medium business organizations, like the Wells Foundation, usually do not have dedicated staff to solve the puzzle. So, the typical development process of business analytics used by large organizations is not feasible for smaller ones. It usually takes too long, as well.
Although the Foundation had collected data, they were still looking for the solutions to provide the analysis and reporting needed to advance their abilities and the capabilities of the Down Syndrome Associations they serve. Tony talked about the challenge with his business partner at Centric, who brought in one of Centric’s Business Intelligence (BI) experts to review the situation on a volunteer basis.
Centric’s Agile Approach to Data and Analytics
The Centric BI expert recognized the key issues and recommended a two-pronged, agile approach to make data and tools available to the Foundation’s support team to use in making their daily decisions.
The application and data were developed and hosted by The GroundWork Group (GWg), a nonprofit organization that provides fee-based IT services to other nonprofits. The first step was to coordinate the work with GWg to provide secure access to the data and prevent any inadvertent changes, while enabling the analytic capabilities. This was accomplished by working closely with GWg to set up remote read only access to the database, so data could be downloaded into an Excel workbook. The Centric BI expert helped to accomplish this task.
Taking Advantage of Existing Skills and Knowledge
Next, Centric’s BI expert set up a demo for the executives, managers, and analysts at the Foundation and GWg to explain how to conduct data analysis with Excel’s PowerPivot. PowerPivot provides powerful analysis, visualization, and reporting capabilities that can handle large amounts of data. The demo showed that the Foundation could achieve its goals of improving service, as well as providing publishable reports and graphics that would provide support for white papers.
This approach took advantage of existing skills at the Foundation. Several of the staff were already advanced users of Excel, although some of the advanced capabilities of PowerPivot were new. The demonstration showed them how to build on their current skills to answer many of their questions.
Providing Valuable Results to Enhance Existing Services
This demonstration also showed opportunities for GWg to enhance the services they offer to their other clients. This nonprofit provides support for multiple organizations that have repeatedly requested reports that, up to this time had been one off instances only available from GWg. The approach of delivering data extracts in a form that their clients could use to answer their own questions is the beginning of a new set of services GWg will provide. Not only will this provide their clients better service, it may provide a more stable revenue base for GWg.
The results are typical for an agile exploratory process using analytics and data. By bypassing upfront data analysis and data cleansing and providing access to the raw data by end-users, Foundation personnel will be able to find out what they can achieve with the raw data. They will also identify opportunities and challenges in using the data. For example, the data entered by local Down Syndrome Associations in different cities showed inconsistent data quality. The Foundation staff will need to determine how that inconsistent quality may affect performance comparisons across the different associations. Another challenge the Foundation will need to address is how to share the data to ensure a common understanding.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Any opportunities and challenges identified may lead the Wells Foundation to considering a centralized data processing and analytics data mart that will map the raw data into a common, consistent format and structure, as well as support other analytic tools that will provide additional capabilities. These potential future changes need to be based on the Foundation personnel gaining more experience and developing focused requirements for further analytics development.
Although there may be future developments, this volunteer engagement from Centric has provided the Wells Foundation the ability to explore their data and answer key questions that were previously difficult to resolve. In addition, it has provided an opportunity for GroundWork Group to serve its clients better.