Getting Your Data System to Play Well with Others

Posted on August 5, 2019 | in Uncategorized | by Taj Carson

Data integration isnt always a high tech solution. Sometimes, its more about just combining some new cutting edge tools, with your existing data management strategies, in order to create a system that pulls everything together. (And data systems can play well with others without having to tangle with any “playground bullies”, either.)

One of our clients had a data integration challenge that we encounter almost every day. They were working with several partners to collect information about human trafficking victims throughout the county. Some partners were child welfare agencies, some were domestic violence shelters, some provided legal services, etc. All of them had their own ways of collecting and reporting on data, based on their own purposes. Our client needed information from all of those providers so that they could understand the nature and extent of human trafficking and, also, so they could report out to their federal funder about the services they were providing under their current grant.

When we started working with them, each provider had to enter data into a Google sheet. The Google sheet was a good short-term solution, as it allowed people in different locations to enter data into one place and it was free. But, this still resulted in the partners having to enter data each into their own data systems, and then enter it again into the shared system. To say nothing of the fact that some were also entering data into funder databases on top of that.

To create an easier way to manage these multiple data systems, we mapped out all the data elements that each partner needed to provide to our client, making sure we understood exactly what they needed to collect, what format it was in, and whether/how they were already collecting it in their own system. Partners were using Excel spreadsheets, Efforts to Outcomes, Salesforce, and an Access Database. While our system would allow them to connect to some of these systems (e.g., ETO and Salesforce) using an API, the partners decided they wanted something lower tech.

We then created a template in Excel that they could dump out their data from within their native systems, to then upload into our system, called Incite. In this way, whatever they needed to enter into their system AND our system could be uploaded into Incite using a simple Excel template. Then, they could enter any additional data into Incite, dramatically reducing instances of double data entry. This is just one way we customized our approach to a data system to take into account the reality of work in a complex social services sector.

At Inciter, we believe in using technology to make life easier and better whenever possible. We also believe that there are many ways to use technology not only to reduce double data entry, but also countless other sources of extra work and frustration for program staff and partners.

The reality is that most of our clients are using multiple data systems. And asking for data from partners can burden them in ways that we cant fully know or predict. By proactively mapping out the project data for the partners, and providing them a streamlined process to get their data into our system, we helped our identified client in their work, improved the quality of the data, AND reduced a source of strain on program staff across several interconnected systems. Were big fans of win - win - win situations!

Want to learn more about our approach to data integration or other data challenges? Drop us a line!