Scouts Canada blazes trail in membership data access
For most of the 19 years that Tom Obright has been with Scouts Canada, the results of the September-to-November recruiting drive were not available until August of the following year.
Not exactly real-time reporting or even right-time reporting.
The nine-month lag in processing and reporting on data meant leaders couldn't perform basic analysis, said Obright, director, information management for the Scouting organization. For example, Scouts officials were unable to see the results of recruiting by postal code to know what percentage of boys and girls in a geographic area were getting an opportunity to join local Scouts groups.
"That could result in a lot of kids in an area not getting the Scouting experience," he said.
This will not be the case during the fall recruiting drive, as Obright and his colleagues at Scouts Canada have overseen the installation of a centralized database system with Web-based access to membership information.
The new system replaces a client/server membership management system installed in the early 1990s that relied on data from 27 different regional databases and included paper-and-pencil processing. The new system is based on Microsoft SQL Server 2000, with Siebel MidMarket Edition 6.2.3 running on three HP servers. For reporting and analysis, Scouts Canada has selected a Web-based tool from Databeacon Inc. (www.databeacon.com), Ottawa.
Borrowing a concept from the Web document management world, Databeacon employs what it terms a "data publishing architecture" to quickly download data and the tools to view it onto an end user's PC desktop.
The result is that users are able to view and work with data in a cube, in much the same way they view a PDF document using the Adobe Reader, explained Nathan Rudyk, vice president of marketing at Databeacon. The important difference, he added, is that Databeacon downloads its BI tool onto a user's desktop as a 600K Java applet, so there is no need to install a program. Unless the user makes a deliberate effort to save it, the applet is gone with the RAM when the PC is shut down.
The advantage, noted Rudyk, is speed; because the data and the tools needed to view, slice and dice it are on a user's PC, it is not dependent on the database server. It doesn't even require an ongoing connection to the server.
Instead of getting reports every three months, Scouts officials across Canada can now access the information they need in seconds. The ability to offload the analysis onto an end user's PC greatly reduces the load on the HP servers.
Local Scouts leaders can now selectively generate mailing lists targeted at parents and children in their local area, said Scouts Canada's Obright. Meanwhile, officials in the main office can track this fall's recruiting across Canada without having to ask the IT staff to generate the reports. This not only allows them to pay special attention to areas where recruiting may be lagging, but also ensures that uniforms and services such as insurance are sufficient to meet local needs, he added.
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Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.