Enabling Those With Disabilities to Live More Fulfilled Lives

Enabling Those With Disabilities to Live More Fulfilled Lives

The UK risks missing out on a vast array of untapped talent by failing to adequately employ more people living with disabilities. There are a number of roadblocks to addressing the problem but managing the complex journey from treatment, to rehabilitation, to training to employment is critical. But modern cloud enabled tech data working alongside specialist non-profit providers is closing the gap.

In the UK, 4.6m of the people matching the government definition of disability are classed as economically active. Of those, 324,000 are unemployed. That's 6.9% - nearly twice the 3.8% national unemployment rate.

When the economy fails to capitalise on this potential, everyone loses. They miss out on a productive and enthusiastic potential workforce, while people with disabilities miss out on a vital source of economic independence, autonomy, and self esteem. Something has to change.

Charities understand this. That's why the UK Charity Commission counts almost 20,000 of them dedicated to helping people with disabilities. These organisations are driven by human interest rather than the bottom line. They deal in real human outcomes, not revenue. They trade in personal potential, not profit.

Getting people living with disabilities the jobs they need and deserve is an uphill struggle. It means rehabilitating and preparing them for work. It involves training and in many cases giving people living with disabilities valuable voluntary experience in the charitable organisations themselves. This all involves a value chain including donors, paid staff, and volunteers. Underpinning all of this is funding. Charities may not be propelled by profits, but fundraising is a crucial component in paying for care, training, and mentorship.

The government helps with grants for charities as they help people living with disabilities on their journey to the workplace, but it rightly expects value for its money. It wants to ensure that its investment drives positives outcomes. Outcomes are also a currency for charities, who want to ensure that they're serving their client base well.

This need for auditability and accountability makes reporting a key part of the charitable process. In turn, that makes data a critical asset. Unfortunately, in many cases they rely on legacy on-premise technology, often built up over time, that stores data in different software applications, formats and siloes. This leaves them with a fragmented view of an already tangled data set and creates disconnected workflows which place an administrative burden on already hard-working delivery staff and volunteers.

This was the problem facing Leonard Cheshire, one of the UK's most venerable disability charities. It began with an inspiring story, as former RAF serviceman Leonard Cheshire nursed a dying man in his home. Others began turning to him and he expanded his activities, setting up more homes for people living with disabilities around the UK. Today, the charity has nearly 6,000 employees and 8,500 volunteers, and operates internationally.

Drowning in data

Leonard Cheshire operates a range of programs to help get people living with disabilities into work. One example is Change 100, an annual graduate-focused employment programme for people with disabilities. It supports this event by advising employers on how to support employees with disabilities. It also mentors candidates by understanding their needs and matching them with employers. Other initiatives assign case workers to people living with disabilities, helping boost their confidence and improve their interview skills as they work with job centres to find a position. They offer support if customers don't get the job, and provide ongoing help for those that do gain employment. Support is also available for employers to help them during the early stages of working with disabled employees.

The organisation also collaborates with the Bank Workers Charity to support people living with disabilities in the banking industry and their carers, offering personalised support via telephone and email, and home assessments in some cases.

Leonard Cheshire's workers are committed to caregiving work, but must provide evidence of that care to satisfy funders and support ongoing activities. In the past, that meant capturing individual assessment forms and entering information about their interactions with disabled customers into a patchwork of spreadsheet and documents each day in a process that could take up to two hours. While important, that process didn't add value to their work which in turn hindered fundraising and volunteer co-ordination.

Worse still, the data spread across those spreadsheets and Word documents was difficult to collate for accurate, comprehensive reporting. This created a series of data islands that affected every aspect of Leonard Cheshire's operation.

Tech for social impact

This challenge is driving an entire technology subcategory known as tech for social impact that helps to solve these unique problems for charities. QUANTIQ, which began working with Leonard Cheshire in 2017, has been helping the charity to rethink its enterprise applications and platforms including data gathering and processing from the ground up.

One of the clearest benefits for the charity was in streamlining that time-consuming documentation process. By using Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Platform technology to create mobile apps for case workers, we were able to move the documentation office from the document to the road. Leonard Cheshire's workers were able to easily document their work on-site in real time with the client.

Written in Microsoft's Power Apps, the various applications are fully integrated with the organisations’ ERP system and can work without connectivity, which is especially useful for Leonard Cheshire workers in developing countries. Users can see the care programs that a customer is assigned to and can drill down on their activities. They can process questions and enter answers directly on their mobile devices, entering both pictures and text. When they regain connectivity, the apps automatically sync the data to the cloud. This eliminates duplication and reduces the chance of human error when entering data after the fact. Perhaps most importantly, it cuts manual administration for care providers and increases delivery capacity by up to 25%.

As they strive for better outcomes and more comprehensive, accurate reports, it's important that charities treat data in the same way that they treat their clients; with care and continuity. Data needs nurturing and development as it makes its own journey through the organisation. The basis for this data stewardship is a monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) framework that organised Leonard Cheshire's data assets. This framework governed everything from data capture to the monitoring and reporting requirements for the charity, its customers, and its funders.

As part of its journey, data from mobile apps like the individual assessment app feeds into Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement, a Microsoft application dedicated to the three tenets of customer relationship management: marketing, sales, and customer service.

Solving the segmentation problem

This holistic approach to data helps charities as they track and manage their interactions with people living with disabilities at all times of their development. This is a more nuanced, challenging version of what businesses in the commercial sector know as the customer journey. In regular companies, customers follow a well-defined route from initial interest through to purchase. Companies gather data about those customers to better target them with messaging in a process known as segmentation.

Things are far more difficult for a charity working with people living with disabilities. It still needs to map the customer journey, but in this case the 'customer' is the disabled person that it's trying to help, and the journey is far more complex, involving stages including rehabilitation, care, training, and attempts to gain employment. It must map the customer's journey through all these stages from first referral to last contact.

Segmentation in the charity space is even more complex because people living with disabilities rarely stick to a single role. It's common for people with disabilities to volunteer at various points. At other times, they may become paid workers for the charity. They also often donate goods and financial services. This makes segmentation difficult for charities, and that's before they even begin to tackle finances. How do you value someone's time when they donate it as a volunteer? It depends on how many hours they work, on what, and on their skill level. It's a herculean challenge.

Managing a data waterfall

Most charities' existing IT systems don't support this level of complexity, and neither did Leonard Cheshire's, which is why tech for social impact, driven by Microsoft technology, played such an important part in its transformation.

Leonard Cheshire uses Dynamics 365 to manage data about people living with disabilities, covering all the roles and activities that they might experience while working with the charity. QUANTIQ worked with the Leonard Cheshire team to structure that data so that it could be used in different ways. It used the Common Data Service (CDS), a data enablement structure that Microsoft developed with industry partners.

The Microsoft CDS provides the operational foundation of information for Leonard Cheshire, replacing the fragmented array database files that it was using before. QUANTIQ’s solution also escalates this further with the deployment of Microsoft Customer Insights application which can ingest data in any format from disparate sources and feeds it into a giant data lake in Microsoft's Azure cloud. This is able to pull data from more than just Dynamics, tapping sources including Leonard Cheshire’s social media and online platform engagements.

That unified information offers the charity a full 360-degree view of the customer for the first time, so that it can understand all interactions and the outcomes produced. This also lets Leonard Cheshire ask specific questions for reporting, such as how many activities a customer engaged in overtime and what the commercial value of volunteer hours was for different types of activity and volunteers for example.

This mastery over its data allows the charity to mine its data for new insights. It can interrogate data to help raise donations or volunteer time, for example, by learning about what drives donors and volunteers based on their past activities. It can learn how to better deploy the resources it has by analysing performance.

It also helps the company automate what it already does using tools like Power Automate, which is part of the Microsoft Power Platform. This automates workflows and communications, notifying people of events in other systems and freeing up workers' time for other things.

The cloud is a key asset in this transformation. The power of Microsoft's cloud-based systems brings new efficiencies to IT that enable charities to manipulate these complex data sets in ways that they couldn't before.

These projects are just rolling out across Leonard Cheshire at the time of writing as QUANTIQ builds on our existing work overhauling the company's care management and finance systems. Our work with this charity sets the scene for a broader initiative that we hope will bring tech for social good to more organisations in the disability sector.

Many of the 20,000 charities that work with people living with disabilities are far smaller and have fewer resources. QUANTIQ began this initiative with Leonard Cheshire to maximise its impact, but we envisage a trickle-down effect as we repurpose our intellectual property using Microsoft's cloud-based tools and services to help these smaller organisations realise their own goals.

Just as charities are about more than just pounds and pence, technology is about more than just bits and bytes. Its real value lies in the difference that it can make to individual lives. Many of the people living with disabilities that Leonard Cheshire serves will never see the complex technical processes that slice and analyse their data and enable the fantastic people that deliver care and support to spend more of their time doing just that, rather than managing administration tasks. They won't be privvy to the data-driven decision-making processes that assign them to a case worker or recommend a particular training activity. But when they arrive for their first day at work, proud and filled with confidence, dozens of digital moving parts will have played a part in making it happen. That's the true value of tech for social impact.

If you’d like to learn more about how our QUANTIQ experts are transforming organisations with Microsoft Technology, contact us today.