“We don’t use Orbit”
It’s a phrase we sometimes hear from Apteco end users who have tried to create new dashboards within Orbit, one which immediately pricks ears up at Sequoia, and one which we’d love to help users overcome. In this blog we will outline some of the usual blockers that we come across and give pointers on how to overcome them so that you can get the most out of this powerful and ever-developing tool.
If these sound familiar and you are struggling to achieve your Orbit dashboard aims, we’re happy to devote some free time to help get you going, get in touch with us here.
The “we don’t use Orbit” phrase usually stems from one of three places:
1 “I tried it out but couldn’t do what I wanted”.
2 “We have alternative dashboarding software, so we don’t need to use Orbit to create dashboards”.
3 “It’s just dashboards, right?”
“I tried it out but couldn’t do what I wanted”
Starting with the first comment, if Orbit is (like the rest of the Apteco software) easy and flexible to use why do we also have people saying that they tried to use it and they couldn’t get what they wanted out of it? This generally relates to two versions of the same scenario – data preparation.
At the simplest level this boils down to thinking about what you want to present on a dashboard, and ensuring your data looks fit for purpose. A dashboard should be simple and clear to read without lots of fuss and ambiguity. Chances are that much of the source data which people want to utilise on a new dashboard is detailed, split across multiple fields, and contains some irrelevant values for the intended purpose. Remember, this may well still be the case where a lovely, categorised data model has been created, as a degree of detail must be maintained to allow for flexible usage, potentially across many other applications.
However, this is still definitely the most common point at which consideration of what data to use goes out of the window. It’s unlikely that any dashboard which is just built from the raw data loaded to FastStats is going to fully provide the intended outcome, and it’s certainly where most dashboard abandonments seem to occur. Apteco software has decades of use across thousands of users where new or revised data has been created within the FastStats database to fit any number of use cases. The data engineering capabilities within Apteco, coupled with the ease and speed of creating derivations and aggregations, provides the ideal place to consider how dashboard data should first be prepared to ensure that a clear and concise presentation of the key data and metrics is achieved.
Also remember that if the same dashboard layout is required for different subsets of the database (such as different rehoming centres, event participation, or shops) then a single dashboard with appropriate filters can achieve this. Importantly, this not only gives users one place to go to view the information…it also means there is only one place to update if any changes or additions are required.
There is, however, a second level of data preparation that is harder to cater for, and that’s where fundamental changes to, or within, a data model may be required. This could be to create an entirely new table of values or results, or could involve amending and rebuilding joins between tables, or even changing the centricity of the data model. Where this level of data derivation is needed, then it’s likely that either an extension to the current FastStats data model is needed, or a secondary sidecar style FastStats database may be required. This is typically, therefore, where a deeper view is needed to establish the most suitable approach. The key takeaway here though is to maintain an open mind and to utilise the best tool to deliver on the requirement, rather than trying to shoehorn a solution into place.
“We have alternative dashboarding software, so we don’t need to use Orbit to create dashboards”
So, what about that second comment?
It may well be that an organisation who uses Apteco does also have PowerBI, Tableau or other BI tools. If anything, it’s becoming increasingly common as migration away from legacy fundraising CRM systems to the likes of Microsoft Dynamics takes place. In such a scenario, organisations are becoming more focused on what they may be able to utilise within that same ecosystem.
One thing that we advocate is ensuring that whatever tools an organisation uses, they read their data from the same well-structured source. In many cases this isn’t just what is in the fundraising database but may be a combination of data contributing to a single supporter view, with recognition of like for like individuals, and well categorised behavioural data associated with each of these entities. Having this common data source for a set of downstream applications ensures that each of them gets the same information from the same place, and that queries return equivalent results across each application. This leaves users with the ability to maximise the core capabilities of any application consuming this data, rather than trying to work out why they get different results from different products.
Using PowerBI (or similar) to create formalised, standard dashboard suites within such an environment is clearly a good use of this application. However, whilst it provides dashboard users with the ability to interact with the data, segment and slice it based on published dimension filters and so on, it’s generally harder for a user to perform a train of thought flow through their data, or to base their exploration on something that doesn’t exist in the underlying data model. Given the effort and care in building such a data model, it’s also likely to be something well controlled and managed, with formal processes and procedures governing any changes or additions.
So, what happens if a user wants to try something new, to explore the data in a different way, to utilise a series of tailored measures and dimensions, or create and share dashboards based on these activities? That’s where the use of Apteco Orbit provides the flexibility to explore, evaluate, and create with speed and ease.
As the nature of the Apteco environment is the ability to query and devise new aggregations and derivations of the underlying raw data, users of Orbit can be the first stage of exploration and creation of new and useful data metrics. As the interrogation of data and creation of new information can be undertaken at pace, Orbit is a quick way of visualising and sharing quick insights about specific supporter groups, campaigns or activities that help drive tactical decisions around your communications programmes. Where any findings emerge that are more widely useful, these can still be planned into the core data model to feed the variety of applications which may also benefit. Such additions to the core data model may perhaps then feed into a library of formally managed, strategic dashboards delivered via tools like PowerBI alongside, and it is this compliment of tactical and strategic use which sees multiple tools working cohesively to the best effect.
And all this still goes alongside the fact that Orbit can be used to deliver dashboards in its own right, with all viewer interaction completely free of charge and managed within the existing over-arching Apteco environment.
“It’s just dashboards, right?”
And that last phrase… “it’s just dashboards, right?”
There’s a common misconception that Apteco Orbit is just a tool to create dashboards because that’s largely where it started. An important factor missing from this view is that Orbit is, in fact, designed to be the main web-based user interface for the Apteco software…that means not only interactions in FastStats and PeopleStage but also the management of the FastStats database design, combining multiple legacy applications into one user interface.
The delivery of the functional breadth of the software within a web browser relates to a clear expectation of modern users wanting to be able to manage and use their data (securely) from any location and on any device. Orbit can already deliver much of the campaign and analytical capabilities of the full Windows version of Apteco, and fortnightly development sprints and releases are quickly expanding these features.
So no, it’s not just dashboards, it’s a fast-growing set of capabilities with all interaction unified within a single web browser. And those fortnightly sprints mean there’s always something new to check out.
In summary, get your data right and carefully prioritise and define your use cases, and you will be well on the way to getting the most out of Orbit. We’ve seen many penny-dropping moments where some context and guidance has opened the potential for big savings against otherwise manual production efforts.
As mentioned at the start, if you think there is more you can achieve by getting to know Orbit better, get in touch and we can offer a free session to get you on the right tracks.
Author: Matthew Tamea, October 2023 © Sequoia-Insights.com