About Surf Life Saving NSW
Good things sometimes happen by way of happy accident. That was the case for Surf Life Saving New South Wales which, after asking Lancom Technology to look at an integration issue, instead engaged the service provider for assistance with a Business Process Automation solution. The resulting delivery of an automation ingesting Excel data and outputting to Microsoft Power BI has given Surf Life Saving NSW immediate access to crucial information helping it run better, in the process contributing to improved beach safety across the state of New South Wales.
Surf Life Saving New South Wales is an Australian not-for-profit community organisation that promotes water safety and provides surf rescue services across the state. SLSNSW strives to create a safe environment on beaches and coastline through patrols, education and training, public safety campaigns and the promotion of health and fitness. The organisation has over 77,000 members and 129 clubs across the state.
Matthew Ingersole, Surf Life Saving NSW CIO, says the organisation operates in a federated model with Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA). “We rely on SLSA for various data such as numbers of rescues, membership records, club reports, reporting education units of competency, patrolling members, patrol hours, etc. We receive this data through a series of Excel files – Comma Separated Values – and over the years, we’d developed a series of nested spreadsheets that takes this data and presents it in graphic format.”
The data contains details of the Surf Life Saving NSW’s 129 clubs, 77,000 members, and 20,000 patrolling members. And it is pretty important, Ingersole explains, because from the data flows insights and decisions directly affecting beach safety in his state, and everywhere else across Australia where tourists and locals enjoy leisure time. From membership lists, ‘patrolling members’ are identified as those available to contribute time on the beach, and allocations and schedules created assigning individuals to duties while keeping records and reports.
“There had been many changes over the years with the result that some of the data might not be accurate with human errors creeping in, as data was literally keyed from one place into another. With changes to the system in terms of the database schema, modifying the data sometimes happened, leading to potential further accuracy issues.”
The other big issue was a simple, yet obvious one. “Manually loading and checking data is tedious and takes a long time. And it’s downright unpleasant ‘busy work’, not the sort of thing contributing to a pleasant work experience,” Ingersole laughs.
When Surf Life Saving NSW checked in with Lancom on an unrelated integration project on its finance systems, the solution provider instead noticed and engaged on the data exchange issue. “They were quite open that their expertise lay elsewhere and they couldn’t help with the finance thing. However, they most certainly could assist with PowerBI reporting.”
Ingersole says it hadn’t really occurred to his team that there was a better, faster and more effective way. “PowerBI is one of those free tools where it’s just kind of there and until you really use it, there isn’t a clear idea of what it can do. Certainly, in our case our people didn’t really appreciate the capabilities. But when Lancom suggested an automation of a process we recognised as unwieldy and unpleasant, we were intrigued.”
Beginning with a discovery of Surf Life Saving NSW’s systems and processes, Lancom soon moved on to scoping and a quote to build a dashboard using Microsoft Power low code/no code tools with the creation of custom dashboards. The automation ingests data automatically from parent Surf Life Saving Australia, then presents all key facts and figures in Power BI for easy consumption by Surf Life Saving NSW’s staff members.
“We found the Lancom team exceptionally easy to work with and they quickly produced a functionally complete solution. But probably the greater value than even that, is their people performed a capability uplift, alerting our people to the possibilities Power BI offers. That’s stimulated a whole series of new dashboards we’ve self-developed, along with an evolution of the originally delivered dashboard. It’s really lifted data use within our organisation,” Ingersole reports.
Automating a data processing function and then presenting information in visually appealing and easily understandable ways has multiple advantages for Surf Life Saving NSW. On a functional level, Ingersole points out that there is no longer any chance of ‘fat fingering’ data inputs. The removal of the onerous task of manipulating data means more satisfying work, with the individual previously responsible for data processing now enthusiastically focused on creating, enhancing and optimising analysis and presentation.
In terms of organisational impact, he says accurate and immediate data contributes to safer beaches, because the visual dashboard delivered by Lancom offers ‘traffic light’-style alerts to areas requiring attention. “We can immediately see where we might have staffing issues or shortages. There’s an improvement in accuracy, as we no longer need someone in the middle interpreting the correct formulas or adding tabs to spreadsheets, so there’s confidence in the data,” he explains.
The elimination of ‘busy work’ means more time to think about what the data says, rather than merely working it over. This has led to the elimination of some elements of the dashboard, and the introduction of other new sections. “We started questioning whether some of the data was even useful; in some cases the answer was ‘no’. You can produce all the reports you like, but if they aren’t used by anyone or don’t perform any specific function…well, what’s the point?”
Perhaps most importantly, though, Ingersole says Lancom’s delivery of an affordable solution with a payback estimated to be as little as several quarters in terms of manpower saved, is the capacity uplift. “We’ve become a more data-driven organisation. We’re doing better work, more interesting work and can identify where issues are with, for example, patrolling capability gaps. And we can do more with data as Lancom has showed the way with an openness to sharing knowledge and skills which has effectively transferred the capability to our team.”
It’s also made Surf Life Saving NSW something of a trailblazer in the federation. “When we demonstrate what we’ve done to the other states, it’s an ‘a-ha’ moment. And that’s quite satisfying,” Ingersole smiles.
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