VTCT Puts an End to Analytical Blind Spots with Qlik Sense
When you complete your secondary studies here in England, you can sit for A Level exams, which will qualify you for university. But many young people aren’t interested in furthering their academic journeys. They’d rather follow a career that requires technical and vocational training.
One of our core brand values is providing direct line of sight to a career. Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) is a market-leading Awarding & Assessment organisation offering vocational and technical qualifications in a range of service sectors. Launched in 1962, VTCT is the current market leader in the UK hair & beauty sector, and has over 2,000 approved training providers globally. VTCT’s qualifications span a range of sectors including hairdressing and barbering, beauty therapy, complementary therapy, sport, active health and fitness, hospitality, business and retail, and learning and development. Individuals who finish these qualifications go on to run successful businesses and contribute enormously to the economy of United Kingdom, and the world.
VTCT works in collaboration with a number of partners to deliver high-quality assessment, training and learning resources.
Using Data to Drive Education and Training
There’s a lot of data involved in our everyday operations. We are constantly crunching numbers so we can provide relevant training to the populations we serve. As one can image, educational needs vary greatly from one part of the world to another. When we look at our qualification development, we cannot only look at the big picture, but we need to dig further and look at the needs in different locations.
If we were to look at all our courses while only considering the overall picture, we might see a course that seems unimportant with lower enrolments than others. However, if we drill down, we might discover that it is the most popular course in several countries and crucial to a specific career path in that area. We need to consider all the pieces of data. To offer quality training courses to our providers, and to equip them with the best tools, we need to harness the power of data.
Room for Improvement
I have always had a passion for education, but I did not start my career in this field. I spent the first decade of my career in the South African Air Force followed by 11 years in the South African banking sector. Although my career was growing and I was experiencing a great deal of success, the political instability throughout the country was becoming more dangerous. I decided to move to England where my paternal grandfather originally lived. I wanted to work in a job where I could help make the world a better place; I began my new career in education working as an MIS analyst at City College Southampton.
My duties at the college included process improvement, skills funding, and reporting. I used data to analyse academic performance and to find ways we could improve the education we were providing to students. I also applied analytics to help secure government funding for our programs. This is how I came into contact with VTCT.
After our initial meeting, I started consulting VTCT on ways they could improve their data analytics. I noticed there tended to be a lack of actionable data and that the turnaround time on reports was longer than it needed to be. If it takes several days to create a report, the information gathered can easily become old, outdated, and simply no longer useful. There were some reports that were compiled every three to six months allowing opportunity for variance and errors. These errors often resulted in excess noise and an increase in customer service issues.
The added challenge with some of these reports was that they were static and contained limited data. I learned that VTCT, like many organisations, did not have a data warehouse or procedures in place for cleansing data. Everything needed to work together. After 6 months consulting with VTCT, I moved into a permanent position within the organisation to really dig in and start making some substantial improvements. With the tools at my disposal at that time (SSRS and Power BI), I automated 70 different daily reports, but it was high maintenance and clunky and no changes could be made without collapsing the complete data ecosystem.
The main challenges we faced were that too much time was spent keeping the data warehouse running, cleansing the system data, cleaning up general errors, and creating exception reports. We needed to deal with the 500 store procedures, views, and functions we used to access the data warehouse. This process could take up to three hours each day to extract, process, and organize the data we needed.
Finding the Right BI Solution
We simply could not get ahead of the data. I told my boss we absolutely needed to find a better solution. As a charitable organisation, we started by using the free version of Microsoft Power BI. As we continued to have challenges with the software, we knew we needed to invest more into modern analytics and move away from relational databases and queries that are old technology.
During this time, we looked at several different market leaders using the “Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms.” Almost all solutions that were presented to us were query-based tools, they query against one perfect data set. This would not work for us. We needed a snowflake schema solution because our data strategy requires sourcing data from 16 completely different data sources.
We had to be versatile for quick business changes without breaking the entire data ecosystem. We needed to reduce maintenance time, increase time for insights, and shorten the time required to develop dashboards from days down to hours. We need to have one source of truth so we could change the business culture to make stronger data-driven decisions.
I called up Qlik Partner Differentia Consulting and arranged a demo of Qlik's latest technology. They answered my questions and showed me how simple the backend was to create visualisations against versatile data models at incredible speeds. After looking at QlikView and Qlik Sense—two of the company’s BI solutions—I opted for the latter. offered the visualization and e-mail report functionalities I needed.
One way Qlik impressed me was with their low-pressure approach to sales. Unlike other vendors, Qlik didn’t require us to sign up for expensive introductory trainings. Left to my own devices, I went to YouTube and watched tutorials for best practices to maximise my product experience. It was relatively simple to get started using Qlik Sense. It was within no time at all I had a proof-of-concept dashboard. My new, comprehensive dashboard had five sheets and it replaced 70 query-based reports. This was staggering. It was so much faster than Power BI. By eliminating the lag, Qlik Sense got us working at the speed of thought.
Driving Change and Saving Money with Qlik Sense
Three months later, I had expanded and optimized data sets, and we had six different Qlik reports that offered timely and near instantaneous information. I’d also reduced the time needed to extract, process, and organize our daily reports from three hours to fourteen minutes. Finally, these reports were far more dynamic and offered far more valuable insights into our data. For the first time we could see what was supposed to be in the data but wasn’t there.
For example, if we want to move sales staff or change regions to better support customers, we can plug the numbers into a Qlik dashboard and compare the new scenario to our present reality. We can do predictions, costing, and a whole lot of other amazing things. We don’t need to simply wonder “what if we tried this?” We can actually look at a model and see what our results could be before we make the change.
In addition to saving time, Qlik Sense has saved us a lot of money, too. Using its visualization tools, we were able to rethink and redesign the way we allocated resources to our learners and our instructors; this has resulted in a £380,000 cost reduction.
Accounts receivable is another area that saw tremendous improvements because of Qlik. The ability to process financial information in real time and see a day-by-day breakdown of payments due, has allowed us to better manage the way we deal with late payments. As a result, the amount owed by overdue accounts has dropped from £500,000 to £100,000 a month.
At the time we started using Qlik Sense, our share of the market was 6% behind our main competitor in our core sectors. Two years later, we now lead the market ahead of our competitor by 9%. We can attribute our growth to the ability to refresh of all our data at least daily. We can see how all of the data is interconnected throughout the business in one place. We now have our one source of truth.
Qlik Sense has also helped us to integrate the datasets from two companies we recently acquired. We simply needed to line-up the fields of our internal database with the same fields in the databases of the companies we were merging. With a press of a button, all this new information was available in all of our existing reports. It was that easy.
The Cherry on Top of the Perfect Cake
The cherry on top is . When we first started using Qlik Sense people were excited. It changed our data reporting. Staff would spend time digesting reports and getting insights. They would check back daily to see what conditions in the data might have changed not wanting to miss important updates. When we implemented NPrinting it saved individuals time by reducing the need to manually check reports daily.
When conditions change, or set conditions are met, staff can automatically receive a report with the updated information. Now they only need to worry about the reported data when there’s an actionable change that has happened. Additionally, staff have the ability to create bookmarks within Qlik Sense, and that then allows me to recreate a distribution report through NPrinting. We can also take components from completely different reports and put them into one distribution report.
Qlik Sense is critical to our business. It is the Swiss Army knife of BI. It does the work of several applications and four or five analysts. Qlik Sense now controls the collection, cleansing and reporting of all our data. We continually have serendipitous moments through our application of Qlik Sense that has changed the business culture to lead and guide through data decisions. I can’t imagine life without Qlik Sense; it would be even harder without both Qlik Sense and NPrinting.
My final piece of advice: use the excellent learning platform . It is always up-to-date and extremely well documented. YouTube tutorials, like the ones I used to build my proof-of-concept report, only cover so much. They’ll help you get started, but as you dive into Qlik Sense and its many possibilities, you’ll want to learn everything you can. Think of the Qlik Continuous Classroom as expanding your dataset.