Paul Rowley, head of information services and performance at Havebury Housing Partnership, explains the implementation of performance management software and its impact on the organisation.
Historically, the production of our quarterly performance reports was very labour-intensive due to the data collection methods involved, with the data typically out of date before the report was even delivered to those responsible for managing service areas. This meant that there was little scope for improving services through proper performance management.
As the organisation matured, it became clear that performance management was the key to improving both tenant satisfaction and bringing value for money efficiencies to our operations. As part of a restructuring project in 2008, a performance management function was introduced as part of the information services team.
Consistent reporting data
To facilitate this, we looked at a number of performance management solutions and chose Covalent on the strength of its functionality and ease of use. As part of our Covalent implementation, it became clear that we would need a consistent source of reporting data rather than taking data directly from the core application databases. This would also allow centralised reporting rather than individuals generating their own reports which were inconsistent. However, the core application databases, which were being used for reporting, are deliberately structured to improve the operational performance of the application rather than for effective reporting.
We started to look for solutions to this issue and identified data warehousing as a key technology to help us achieve our goal. Having looked at various offerings, we realised that a system from an external supplier would be prohibitively expensive so we chose to develop our own data warehouse using Microsoft SQL Server 2005. The advantages were that SQL Server is a commonly-used platform and we had existing in-house knowledge. SQL Server includes all the necessary tools and technologies, which along with very competitive licensing terms for housing providers, made it the obvious choice.
Data warehouse development
One of Havebury’s IT analysts was assigned the task of building the necessary parts of the data warehouse solution. This consisted of a well-structured database to store data extracted from the core application databases, a process developed in SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) to extract, transform and load data from the core application databases to the data warehouse, and a SQL Server Analysis Services Cube to support online analytical processing (OLAP) and multi-dimensional queries.
During this development process, it became clear that a tool to automate the transfer of report data from the data warehouse to the Covalent application would deliver improved data accuracy and consistency as well as saving considerable time. We could see the positive implications of this automation tool and being unable to find an existing solution on the market, we decided to develop our own tool with the help of a Covalent web service.
Key performance indicators
This tool allows Havebury to define queries for each performance indicator (PI) and upload data results for those queries into the PIs within Covalent. One of the unexpected benefits of this level of automation is that team managers are free to create large numbers of low-level PIs which are then rolled-up to form high-level KPIs. This hierarchical approach to PIs allows anyone to see the performance of individual elements of the business.
As we rolled out the data warehouse and the automation tool, the implementation process forced us to examine in detail the definition of each PI and its underlying query. This highlighted a number of business process problems and long- standing assumptions which were no longer compatible with our approach. It also highlighted a number of data quality issues which had the potential to affect our performance figures.
The organisation is more comfortable with the new approach delivering more consistent reporting as well as having the data available more quickly. Havebury’s board is now used to receiving the standard Covalent reports and more employees feel involved in the performance management process.
This is still a ‘work in progress’ and the enthusiasm of managers to use these tools and manage performance more effectively means that we have a full action plan, itself a good indication of how well the organisation has embraced performance management.
The data warehouse, the Covalent application and the automation tool have given us food for thought in terms of how we improve processes and data collation in other areas of the business. For example, the satisfaction surveys function has been transferred into the same team as performance management and information services which has given us the opportunity to integrate survey data into the data warehouse for reporting through Covalent. In addition, we are deploying Office 2010 to our users during 2011 and this will allow the widespread use of the OLAP cube using Excel 2010 for ad-hoc reporting.
Reflecting on how far we have come since 2008, we have benefited greatly as an organisation through a focus on performance management and by developing the tools to support that. There is now a greater emphasis on managing performance rather than merely collecting data and we have been able to challenge ourselves to improve the service that we offer to tenants.
Paul Rowley is head of information services and performance at Havebury Housing Partnership.