The process took hours and hours each month — vital time that could help save a person’s life — and it was because of this that we decided to embark on a data transformation journey.
Anthony Nolan Key Stats
Department: Business Intelligence
data pipeline points created across 4 internal divisions
data visibility with self-service reporting
migrations now accomplished 20x faster
Automating the assembly of disparate data to help drive efficiencies in donor onboarding
In the UK, approximately five people start looking for a matching donor every day; that equates to more than 2,000 people needing bone marrow or stem cell transplants annually. As Franky Stephenson, head of business intelligence at Anthony Nolan explains, “Historically, we have had to rely on Excel to compile all the disparate data elements from our data lake to onboard a potentially lifesaving donor onto the stem cell register, and to understand how the donor would be moved through to donating their lifesaving stem cells when requested by a transplant center. This process took hours and hours each month — vital time that could help save a person’s life — and it was because of this that we decided to embark on a data transformation journey.”
Implementing a data-led approach to achieve insight for action
Managing growing datasets and ensuring regulatory compliance was top of mind for the charity as it investigated potential technologies. Stephenson was introduced to the Alteryx Analytics APA Platform when a spare Alteryx Designer license became available. In her own words she, “Tried it for a week, laughed with exhilaration, then got to work.” The subsequent deployment of Alteryx Server has been part of a 5-year data strategy framework which Stephenson has spearheaded with three key directives:
- Data management
- Insight for action
Prior to Alteryx, the original uncoordinated team of four business analysts at Anthony Nolan were working in an environment lacking in data quality management and governance, which made it almost impossible to derive actionable insights. “The analysts were very much divorced from the data sources and lacking analytic tools such as stats packages and visualisation tools. They could produce very little reporting and no true insight,” Stephenson says. “Alteryx gives us the ability to pull huge datasets from disparate sources and very quickly aggregate to achieve instant meaning. I could almost hear the light-bulbs illuminating as each person realized the insights they could derive as a result.”
As an example of automation that produces meaningful business insights, Anthony Nolan uses 5-year age grouping to categorize donors on the register. Before Alteryx, when someone wanted to run an analysis on the age groups, they would have to manually recode in Excel. Each analysis would be slightly different and produce varying results. With Alteryx Analytic Process Automation, the age groups are categorized in a fraction of the time with consistently accurate results. This efficiency gain allows the analysts to interrogate combined factors such as age-group of donor at sign-up, how long they have been active on the register, and how many donations they have made to generate a much fuller picture of the rate at which stem cells are donated; this information has helped to launch targeted interventions by category and expose age groups to focus on for specific campaigns.
Stephenson fondly refers to the data warehouse at Anthony Nolan as a “data shack” and all regular processes running on that data are known as “shack-planks.” Performing shack-planks in Alteryx takes the heavy lift out of business-critical processes such as data quality checks and allows automated alerts to be sent to the relevant business owner when a problem is identified. Programmed fault identification and swift remediation prevents the continuous investment of funds into legacy systems; a decision which was crucial to the success of an innovative data-led strategy.
To gain executive buy-in for a data-led technology strategy, Stephenson stayed true to the Anthony Nolan core value; patients are the center of everything. “Being patient-focused is a directive driven by humanity and that will always be central,” Stephenson says. “However, when you look at what we achieve here, it starts with genetic samples from different people, rendered as data, and compared, to seek out matches. Successful matches lead to more data being shared in the organization, internationally, which hopefully leads to a tissue donation to help a patient in need.” This journey is summed up poignantly as Stephenson adds, “Quite simply, we are data.”
Empowering teams to incite change through fast and meaningful insights
The charity’s vital mission has left little time to dwell on technology successes as they occur, but Stephenson enthusiastically describes the joy in being able to proactively crack open a complex statistical exploration with Alteryx which would have historically been deferred due to lack of staff or capability. Achieving these seemingly small and quick wins has led to 70% of data at Anthony Nolan now housed and 50% under data quality management.
The wider business has created 12 data pipeline points across four internal divisions and are now able to ask for previously unprecedented outputs such as multivariate analyses, AB testing, and complex data migrations which are achieved in 1/20th of the time. Being a charity based in London makes talent attraction a constant challenge; the combination of people who are both led by a core mission and empowered to make a difference through the use of a fast and intuitive data platform is a huge factor in job satisfaction and retention of staff, according to Stephenson.
If highlighting the deep connection between patient and data secured confidence in the initial plan, continuously visualizing that connection strengthens the data culture at Anthony Nolan. This is achieved by publishing regular reports to the Tableau Online Server and enabling company-wide visibility. Using the Alteryx Gallery to publish pseudo-anonymized outputs supports self-service line of business data consumption, whilst adhering to the sector’s strict regulatory requirements.
Alteryx gives us the ability to pull huge datasets from disparate sources and very quickly aggregate to achieve instant meaning. I could almost hear the light-bulbs illuminating as each person realized the insights they could derive as a result.
An enduring digital transformation journey and a shared mission
So what's next? It is easy to underestimate the scale of IT operations at a charity like Anthony Nolan, but the business data aggregations from fundraising transactions, sample testing, search and selection, volunteer management (and the list goes on) are all underpinned by complex and often legacy systems which can be a challenge to manage as part of a transformation project. Stephenson is now embedded in the digital transformation journey from within IT, which is integral to the success of the data strategy in maximizing effectiveness and efficiency at every step. Anthony Nolan has made complementary investments in their technology infrastructure, bringing together DevOps and DataOps as the heart of innovation at the charity.
In addition to partnering effectively across the business, communication has been crucial in the success of a strategy, which is four years into an initial five-year plan. Stephenson made the decision to concentrate efforts on the teams who wanted to demonstrate big leaps forward and focused on communicating success outwardly through results. “You have to start where you stand, take a step forwards and reflect on every step of the way,” Stephenson says. “Keep the end goal in mind and choose the path which aligns best to that. My goal was always to achieve well-groomed and governed data as that would give us the chance to uncover insights. The analytics alone are not the key to success, it is the combination of analytics, good-quality data, and people’s capabilities which produced insight for action.”