Within this paper we present three examples of ‘data visualisation’ used by different Housing Associations across the UK. All three were designed to help the Registered Provider (RP) concerned to find ways to reduce costs. These examples demonstrate how data visualisation can provide quick answers to important questions. They will also hopefully encourage RPs to explore their own data in more depth and use visualisation methods to create insights that will stimulate change.

1. What are we spending?

The first infographic shows ‘at a glance’ what activities the budget was paying for. Each block represents a budget centre, department or team, and each line represent a budget allocation. The thicker the line, the greater the amount. When you hold a mouse over any of the elements (the Community Involvement activity in this case) the funding path lights up and more detail emerges – e.g. the percentage of each budget centre associated with Community Involvement. Filters break the flow of funds down by cost or material code, period, or variance. When difficult cost reduction decisions were needed this visualisation provided everyone with a common view of the budgetary structure. It became easy to spot fragmentation of spend, to relate spend to performance metrics, to see how spend fluctuated by period, and to identify where variances emerged most quickly. Agreements to act to reduce costs and commitments to deliver were quicker and less painful to achieve as a result.

2. How do we reduce our costs?

The second example is from an RP that charges out its repair services to others. At the end of the year it discovered an unexplained variance in its unbilled costs for Lifecycle repairs (the red cross to the right). This infographic was used to explain what happened. Four potential causes were identified e.g. performing a repair without approval from the Client. Costs were incurred but, because an invoice couldn’t be raised, they couldn’t be recovered. Each of the causes was counted and stacked running totals were plotted as shown at ‘A’. These led to a predicted variance as shown at ‘B’. The difference between the predicted and actual variances was so close that there was little doubt that the root causes for the variance had been discovered. Remedies for the four are now in place.

3. How do we prevent future costs?

Within the third visualisation each circle is a Tenant. The darker circles are Former Tenants who were evicted or abandoned their home. The lighter circles are current Tenants. The closer they clustered in the centre of the chart the more similar they were in terms of characteristics such as arrears, payment patterns, levels of contact with the RP, and types of behaviour. Part of a much larger chart, its purpose was to identify current Tenants, who hadn’t yet triggered any repossession activity, who were nevertheless on a path to eviction or abandonment. If they could be caught in time, and helped, a great deal of future cost could be avoided. As shown below, these were Tenants that had experienced a significant level of change in key areas such as the size of their arrears, the amount of staff time dedicated to them, the incidence of ASB, and their failure to retain contact with their Landlord. It was the similarity between these trends and those experienced by Former Tenants that had undergone eviction or abandonment that marked them out as being of greatest concern. Plans were put in place to re-establish communication with those Tenants and support them in whatever ways were necessary.

The importance of visualisation within a BI strategy

The growth in the capability of visualisation tools such as Tableau and Microsoft BI suggests that data visualisation is rapidly becoming the central ingredient in BI strategies across all business sectors. Data visualisation methods are also widening in scope. First and foremost they help to cut through rising volumes of data and to find answers to critical questions. However they are also being used to bring groups of people with different backgrounds, roles and priorities together to reach a common understanding of a problem or issue and to find solutions quickly. Organisations that present critical data visually will almost certainly be moving more quickly than those unable to at present.

Where next

We at Develin help organisations to build data visualisation into their BI practices. We have a strong track record in using visual methods to crack difficult business issues, improve performance, and forecast and plan for the future. We take a highly strategic approach to data visualisation, but we are also technical specialists able to integrate the latest visualisation technology into current ways of working and to train people in the art and science of data visualisation. If we can help you to build a stronger visualisation practice please give us a call.