26 December 2015

Business Intelligence in the Non-Profit Sector

Beyond any shadow of a doubt, a sufficient amount of correct, relevant, concise and up-to-date information is a key input in any decision-making process. This not only applies to profit-driven organisations but it is also relevant for the non-profit sector.

For instance, in a non-profit organisation, having access to membership information of good quality and in an efficient way is of utmost importance at the moment of defining membership strategies. Furthermore, good information is also crucial when it comes to translating strategies into tactics and, subsequently, turning the latter into action on the operational landscape.

Let us discuss a real-world case. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a not-for-profit professional membership association founded in 1969 for the project, program and portfolio management profession. It is headquartered in Pennsylvania, United States and it has almost 300 local Chapters all over the World.

I joined PMI in 2012, while I was preparing for the PMP certification exam. Firstly, I participated in conferences in PMI Buenos Aires Chapter and, when I moved to Paris to attend the second year of IT4BI Master's Degree studies at École Centrale Paris, I joined PMI France Chapter and I started working with them as a volunteer.

PMI Chapters use a system called "CRS", which provides detailed information about their current and prospective members. This includes not only contact data but also details about the fulfilment of the continuous learning and growth requirements set forth by the PMI certifications programme.

Notwithstanding, the required level of information granularity undoubtedly changes at each organisational level. Detailed information is useful on the operational level, but tactical and strategical levels certainly require more aggregated information. Most importantly, from a Data Quality perspective, accuracy, consistency, completeness and uniqueness are always aspects that pose opportunities for improvement in any transactional or analytical database.

With those ideas in mind, we gave birth to the Membership Management System, trying to take advantage of the benefits that Business Intelligence has been delivering for years in different types of organisations all over the World.

In particular, our system makes use of "Extract, Transformation and Load" (ETL) processes to clean, homogenise and enrich the information that originally comes from the CRS system. The refined information may later be explored in a wide variety of analytical ways, thus setting the grounds for delivering the strategical, tactical and operational information that any PMI Chapter needs as far as membership is concerned. This is done in a convenient "self-service" way where users connect to a centralised server instead of exchanging files, posing advantages regarding information freshness, security and efficiency.

Some of the key features and benefits of the system include, but are not limited to:

  • Visualisation of data in both detailed and aggregated ways.
  • Possibility of assigning members according to the Chapter’s regionalisation strategy (e.g. branches).
  • Display of targeted data according to each user’s needs, filtering by company and branch if necessary.
  • History tracking of the evolution of personal and certifications data.
  • Easy navigation through categories such as "PMI only members", "Chapter members", "Non-members", "Joined last month", "Certified last month", "Expired this month", "PMP", etc.
  • Enrichment of personal data with certifications data.
  • Calculation of derived fields (e.g. Industry, PM Professional level, etc.).
  • General corrections (e.g. renaming a company after a merger).
  • Individual corrections (e.g. changing the affiliation data of a person when CRS data is outdated).
  • Merging data from current and prospect members.
  • Standard capitalisation of names, surnames, countries and addresses.
  • Splitting of merged fields.
  • Possibility of flagging people who have expressed they would not like to be contacted.

You may have a look at the design of the solution in this document.

To sum it up, this is not a rocket science technology and there is still a lot of work to be done in order to be able to take advantage of the maximum potential of the solution. However, this is an example of how Business Intelligence can also help non-profit organisations.

The server-side part of the system we developed is totally open source and it is based on free software tools like Talend ETL and MySQL database server. As a result, it does not imply any licencing fees. The only requirements for the implementation is to have a server with network access to install the solution and to have spreadsheet software available on the end-users' computers.

We are aware that the solution not only covers the needs we found in PMI France but it could definitely be considered as a great asset by other international chapters and we are in the process of sharing it. We are currently implementing it in PMI France and in PMI Montreal. We are also collaborating with a private company in the United States who have shown their interest for potentially extending this system to some of the other 120 PMI Chapters they serve.

Do you have any story of Business Intelligence in the Non-Profit Sector? Feel free to share it!

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