Business intelligence: creating a culture of data-driven decision making

Data driven decision making is essential when working with complex social issues where the situation on the ground can change quickly.

At REACH Edmonton, Jim Zhang helps put data into perspective through his role as Data Storyteller. 

“Some examples of data tools are data mining, data visualization, business analytics, and machine learning,” says Jim. “These tools are essential for monitoring and evaluating the project to see what’s working and what’s not.”

While collecting data is an important part of providing services that meet the needs on the ground, interpreting that data is essential to making sense of what is really happening, and deciding how initiatives need to change and adapt to ever-shifting realities. 

“People have questions and we look at data to try to find the root of the problem, and the solution,” says Jim. 

REACH uses data to guide decision making for many initiatives. This helps service providers plan out resource deployment, advocate for additional resources to fill gaps, and complete performance analysis. 

24/7 Crisis Diversion is one such initiative that has been utilizing data tools to collect event data and perform analysis since its inception back in 2013. More recently, 24/7 Crisis Diversion teams have been collecting the geographic information of each event using ArcGIS mobile apps. This data is further used to track the location of events and analyse which parts of the community or city are more likely to need the assistance of 24/7 teams. The 24/7 Crisis Diversion program also tracks other information like the time of events, type of warm handoff teams provided, etc. All of the data collected by the front line teams is  used to help identify areas in the city where there are increased needs and gaps in service,  track the performance of 24/7 Crisis Diversion teams, and help teams better service Edmontonians. 

This is considered business intelligence and it  can help show whether projects are working the way they were expected to and make a better business case for continuing the work. 

While many large businesses have the capacity to hire multiple data storytellers, many organizations don’t have the capacity to hire in this specialized area. 

“For most companies they don’t just have one person they have a whole data department,” says Jim. “REACH only has funding for one person.”

But that doesn’t mean data can’t be used to help smaller organizations make better decisions based on the data they are able to collect. 

“With the help from Kris Andreychuk, who is the manager of data science and research from the City of Edmonton, REACH is able to gradually build the data analytic culture and make a difference using data science.”

The data collected by 24/7 Crisis Diversion is used by the City of Edmonton to build Community Safety Deployment Dashboard. The dashboard is a predictive deployment tool that uses demand data from the Edmonton Police Service, ETS, Community Standards, Corporate Security and the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team to put the right resource at the right place, at the right time, for a safer city.

“For other small organizations, they can always keep track of data for each event, based on their capacity. Then they can use it to do simple data analysis such as data visualizations, which can be very helpful.” 

Using data to base program and initiative decisions makes a stronger case for keeping effective programs running, and helps them pivot when conditions on the ground change, he says. 

Valuing data, as an organization, can help create more effective decision making processes, Jim advises.

“Keep track of data you have the capacity to collect, and build a culture that values data.”



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