Back in 2015 the Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) identified several long standing analytics blindspots, meaning it was struggling to resolve some major issues faced by its thousands of students and instructors.
VTCT is a professional training body based in the UK which relies heavily on data to deliver high-quality assessment, training and learning resources to learners and trainees around the world. In 2015 it turned to analytics vendor Qlik to go after these blind spots and replace them with deep insights into user needs.
Data-driven market share
Prior to implementing Qlik, VTCT's market share of the vocational training sector trailed its lead competitor, City & Guilds, by four percent. Two years later, it had moved ahead of them by nine percent.
Sean Bruton, business intelligence architect at VTCT gives much of the credit to the data-driven decision-making powered by Qlik’s associative engine.
"Our competitors must be on Power BI, because they keep dropping and we just keep climbing," Bruton tells Computerworld UK during the Qlik Connections conference in Dallas this week, taking the opportunity to throw a dig at the rival business intelligence product from Microsoft.
The QlikSense visualisation tool has already helped VTCT save £380,000 by offering insights into how to allocate resources to learners and instructors, according to Bruton. It also helped VTCT process financial information in real-time and better understand late payments, cutting overdue fees from £500,000 to £100,000 a month.
It has also allowed VTCT to bring together its vast array of data to find ways in which the organisation can better assist students by creating that all-important single view of the customer. Support staff speaking to students on the phone can use the insights the tool provides to tailor their help to individual needs.
"Everybody there has access to the data, so while speaking to a customer they can pull up the data and address the issues that maybe they're not prepared for and get into the real crux to see what is going on and come up with a plan to address it in real time," says Bruton.
"If you able to get insights from your data and walk away thinking, they've got my back, I can move on. I don't have to go cancel my course and lose interest because it's obviously going nowhere. That's what is important about having those insights: real time, all the data in one place, one source of truth, and in multiple dimensions."
Qlik also helps VTCT improve its training programmes by analysing specific issues, such as why people with learning disabilities are not taking certain qualifications and investigating ways in which the course could be made more accessible for them.
"We will research that, because we want to make sure that each and every person has the chance to line up a job and improve their lives," says Bruton.
Moving to Qlik
Bruton spent the first decade of his career in the South African Air Force and then 11 years in the banking sector before switching to business intelligence in education, when he took on the job of senior management information systems analyst at City College Southampton. His work using analytics to secure funding for the college brought him into contact with VTCT, which he then started advising on its use of data.
He noticed that the organisation took so long to create a report that the information would sometimes be outdated before the reports were ready, and that some of them contained limited data.
Bruton experimented with Microsoft’s Poor BI data visualisation tools and Server Reporting Services (SSRS) report generating software, but the system proved clunky and time-consuming to use. The experience convinced Bruton that the relational database needed to be replaced by a modern analytics system.
He explored a number of tools, but the SQL query-based tools lacked the versatility to analyse a large volume of data from numerous different sources. Bruton initially thought Qlik was out of VTCT's budget, until he discovered that the company offered discounts for non-profits. He then arranged a demo of Qlik and was impressed by the simplicity and speed with which the platform could create visualisations from complex datasets. It convinced him to choose the vendor ahead of rivals Domo and Tableau.
It quickly cut costs and unearthed new insights. It has also reduced the time needed to extract, process, and organise daily reports from three hours down to fourteen minutes.
Another big plus of Qlik for Bruton is the support that the company provides.
“With Microsoft, when I logged a call in the past, I'd get escalated and escalated, and nothing would happen, and I'd get so frustrated that I was still stuck," he says. "With Qlik, it doesn't matter how big we are or how small we are. They look after us. They spend time with us, and we get a lot of support.”
VTCT has also implemented Qlik NPrinting to create reports from the data, which are then automatically distributed across the organisation, which has reduced the time spent on manually checking reports, and Qlik GeoAnalytics for location-based insights. The insights could even help communities deal with the impact of Brexit.
"We can look at mapping where we can see that different areas have higher fail rates to understand if there's something going on by asking questions and then assisting those learners better," says Bruton.
"We also look at new ways of looking at sectors to see what's happening in the economy and where certain sectors and businesses are closing down - because of Brexit, for example - and we can see the population demand there and the kind of industries that are needed for them to survive, and we can then create qualifications for those sectors as well."