Like all housing providers in Australia, Launch Housing is required to supply data to the government for industry-wide reporting. Before they implemented The Infoxchange Group's Client and Case Management System, they were managing multiple legacy databases with client duplications across systems. This made answering the simple question “How many clients did you see over the last year?” impossible.
Shaun Feely, Data Analytics Lead at Launch Housing says, “Things were a lot more siloed back then. And then we had a merger, which made all of our data even more complicated.”
Staff time and effort spent on manual processes was a large overhead.
“We were constantly stitching together reports, and you might have one database that says country of birth is 'UK’ and another that says 'England', so we had to map all that manually.” Shaun says.
Maintaining multiple systems, many of which were third party tools, was also costly. Launch needed to go back to the developers every time the government made changes to reporting requirements.
It became clear the organisation needed more sophisticated and efficient methods to store, report on and utilise their data.
Like with many successful IT projects, Launch Housing chose The Infoxchange Group's Client and Case Management System by evaluating it against many others on the market and found it would fit their needs best and in the most cost-effective way.
They began consolidating their data into the new system in a staged approach in collaboration with the team at The Infoxchange Group:
- Firstly, they ran a proof of concept to test their assumptions without too much investment.
- They then moved their main database into the new system so they could start using it to create the highest priority reports.
- After a year of testing and learning, they moved all their data across to the new system.
However, there were still some limitations. In particular, the need for unique identifiers for all records, which created an overhead in needing to match records manually to create the more complex reports.
The solution to this was to create a data warehouse, with APIs that automated reporting on the most important and useful data each night.
The organisation now has 34 reports which are pulled into dashboarding tool, Tableau, for easy consumption by staff. This has reduced the need for manual effort to create mandatory reports to almost zero.
“We’ve had a couple of different iterations of (the system) and it’s evolved and changed into something that really works. And that sounds like a given, but it’s not – it’s pretty special,” says Shaun.
Digital transformation impact
One of the biggest impacts of transforming client information has been the creation of a data culture in the organisation.
“When you get your data in a more solid state, you can have more interesting conversations about it. It’s created a culture where data has changed from being a necessary evil, something we have to do for government, to something that’s really valuable to everyone in the organisation”, says Shaun.
Launch Housing has also managed to bring the whole organisation along on the transformation journey by asking workers what they wanted the system to do from the outset.
“I am a social worker, so I came to this role remembering how annoyed I used to get with the client management systems I used to work with. You need to really understand what’s important to record, and the simplest way to record it, rather than force users to fit what a default out-of-the-box systems allows.”
Another key benefit has been cost savings. Shaun knows, through his experience with other systems and through the evaluation they did at the start, that the organisation wouldn’t have been able to achieve what it has using other systems because it would have cost too much.
“There were all these over-promised and half-realised smaller client management systems developed by for-profits who promised and charged the earth,” says Shaun.
Security-wise, there have been huge gains. There is single sign-on for the system, so staff use the same login as they do for the rest of the Launch Housing network. This makes it much more secure than the multiple, smaller databases the organisation had before, where staff had to remember different passwords for each system. It’s also browser-based, so people can log on from home which made it easy to continue work as usual when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
With the start of lockdown, sadly there was an immediate increase in clients seeking housing support, so it became even more critical for the organisation to be able to report quickly with information about where new clients were coming from and what their needs were.
“We were able to use all of the infrastructure we had put in place to provide dashboards for frontline staff and the CEO, straight away,” Shaun says.
Advice for other not-for-profits
We asked Shaun what advice he would give to other not-for-profits looking to use technology to better manage their client data. This is what he told us:
- Work out what you want to use your data for and why. There might be 40,000 things you think you need to need to know, but what is the one, key report you need to provide as a priority to the funding body or board?
- Once you’ve identified one, work out where the data comes from and work backwards from that before you even think about the technology.
- You may need to invest in some expertise. We had a data architecture company give us pro-bono consulting for about a year and also have a programmer work with us a couple of days a week. You don’t need someone who wants to get experience, you need someone who knows what they are doing and can smash it out. Shaun thinks this is where the Digital Transformation Hub could play a role. If organisations can’t afford to employ someone, they may be able to go to the Hub for expert advice once they have done an assessment of their requirements.
- There are often challenges in not-for-profits because the strengths and personality traits that draw people into social work are often the polar-opposites to those that draw people into data and IT. Launch Housing has managed to continue to grow a data culture across the organisation through reframing how staff think about data – moving away from mandatory compliance towards organisational insight and impact.