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What was the project?
The focus of this project was to find the best way to feed data back to Launch Housing staff in an engaging, accurate, up to date and verifiable way. As an organisation providing high quality housing, support, education and employment services to thousands of people across metropolitan Melbourne, we were conscious of the power and insight contained in the data we collected daily. We were also keen to shift organisational culture from data as merely compliance to a place where meaningful data became a useful tool to inform practice and advocacy.
Prior to investigating data visualisation and real time analytics we had invested a lot of time in key areas:
- Consolidating Launch Housing Client Management Systems to allow the most consistent and standardised data capture possible.
- Development of a data warehouse able to pull data for the source systems nightly.
Why did you need new technology for this project (what was the value add, what were the deficits of other software/programs?)
Engaging data visualisation was not something we could achieve with software Launch Housing had access to. Without additional investment we were pointing an Excel workbook at one of the data warehouse tables.
We could build Excel charts using this method but there were 2 main drawbacks:
- Excel can’t handle really large data sources and would crash or take considerable time to load, and
- Multiple users could not access the information at the same time.
We looked at Tableau and Microsoft Power BI. We were keen to go with a provider that was intuitive to use and encouraged collaboration. We made the decision to go with Tableau about 3 years ago, at the time Tableau was hands down the best solution.
The roll out of Microsoft Office 365, including tools like Yammer and MS Teams, has started to level the playing field. But Tableau is still the most powerful and intuitive data visualisation software available because:
- It’s extremely straightforward to set up with a high level of ongoing support. They encourage customers to stay in touch and get the most out of the tool. Basically anything you can dream up Tableau can do.
- Tableau allows simple intuitive spatial mapping and packed bubble visualisations that I’m not sure are possible with Power BI.
- You could view Tableau as Peter Gabriel and Power BI as Phil Collins.
Here are some considerations especially for the not-for-profit sector:
- A strength of Tableau is it’s designed to allow and encourage users to ask their own questions of the standardised data sources. Our experience is culture change can take a long time and to get an organisation to a stage where users are confident and in the head space to take advantage of this may take a while. After 3 years we’re well on our way but not quite there yet.
- Power BI offers very affordable subscriptions especially for not-for-profits.
- Consider researching other options to find the best fit for your organisation. Another option in this space, for example, might be a software package called ‘Looker’. They are receiving good reviews at the moment however I’m not sure about their pricing.
What was required to implement the new technology (resources, IT structure, training etc?)
Tableau Desktop – allows the one off creation of visualisations. They can be published to Tableau public where they can be shared on social media or embedded in news articles etc.
Tableau Server – requires IT to install software on a server. This process was straightforward and highly supported by Tableau.
Was it cost effective to the organisation?
Tableau have some really interesting templates that allow an organisation to collate how much time is saved by an organisation when data collation and reporting is centralised and trusted. When viewed in this way the implementation of Tableau was very cost effective for the organisation and the benefits continue to increase as our culture becomes more data-informed.
What was the biggest outcome or improvement?
The most obvious improvements have been the automation and visualisation of mandatory reporting (DHHS Service Delivery Tracking, HEF and PRAP reporting). Launch Service Delivery Tracking alone has around 60 individual reports feeding into it monthly. The standardisation and automation of this process has moved the organisation from a reactive to reflective position.
Could you list any relevant links to training and resources to help people find the technology?