Australia's DESE adopts Qlik data analytics

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) is tasked with a broad undertaking as its work impacts the lives of every Australian citizen. Its work begins when Australian children first enter kindergarten and carries on right through secondary schooling. It even delivers the skills, vocational training and higher education that maximise employment opportunities and strengthen the national economy.

In fulfilling its goals, DESE accumulates huge amounts of data. The data bombards DESE from multiple sources, including early childhood care providers, schools, universities, registered training organisations and employment services providers. Understanding this data is essential, particularly with the risks and restrictions created by the Covid 19 pandemic so that Australia can deliver world-class education, skills and training and employment support infrastructure.

"Data is central to how the department functions," says David Pattie, DESE's First Assistant Secretary, Analysis and Data Division.

"We use it every day to influence government policy, inform operational decisions and support program management. Accurate data allows us to make informed decisions that support all Australians and to communicate with our stakeholders more effectively."

Like others in the Australian public sector, DESE has embarked on digital transformation. This includes moving workloads to the cloud and switching to an as-a-service commercial model. In doing so, DESE needed to future-proof its approach to data analytics with a scalable SaaS platform.

In mid-2021, a new licensing model was created that covered both Qlik Cloud and Client Managed (CM), designed to assist DESE in its move to the cloud.

'Preserving the continuity of the Qlik engagement was a priority', says Pattie. Hence, using the Active Intelligence platform allowed the department to take its time and pick the best deployment route depending on the data requirements, app by app. 

"The better the design of the platform, the more digestible and more intuitive that data is in closing the gap between raw data and actionable insights. That is how Qlik is helping us satisfy the immense and necessary appetite our audiences have for our data." The remodelling licensing agreement with Qlik's data analytics platform is a clear indicator of a smooth, measured move to the cloud. 

Ensuring a faster time-to-insight 

"The Qlik platform means we've been able to present contemporary data and eliminated up to a 12-month time lag. We understand today's reality," says Pattie. "Our focus is to get the best information as quickly as possible and in a digestible form."

A striking example is how DESE used Qlik's analytics platform to assemble data and integrate with real-time intelligence at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic:

DESE runs some of the largest programs in the nation, in terms of the number of Australians who are impacted. For instance, almost one million Australians are supported by employment services.

Performance and Data Development assistant secretary Louise O'Rance says: "In the past, before we had a good data visualisation platform linked to our data warehouse, we would produce vast quantities of reports that included spreadsheets and Word documents which were distributed manually. The process took a lot of analyst time preparing the data, and it would often be out of date by the time it reached the end-user."

The ability to drill down into the Qlik dashboards was highlighted at the start of the outbreak. DESE saw a large inflow of people into employment services who were out of work, many for the first time.

"In a matter of days there were hundreds of thousands of people in small communities needing our assistance. We were able to use the mapping capability combined with data about demographics to understand about people's previous employment experience to develop local community solutions," says O'Rance.

DESE was able to develop an app and share it with state governments. The app enabled states to see the number of people requesting help from local employment services each day. Local government was then able to offer wraparound support to people experiencing personal or financial crises.

Enabling collaborative data exploration 

The simplicity of the Qlik platform means users don't need to write complex code to drill deep into the data. Instead, DESE builds dashboards in collaboration with business users, data specialists and the IT team. These replace the cumbersome and time-consuming spreadsheets and Word documents used previously.

"We now provide an array of reports to our business users in a format that is accessible and meaningful," says O'Rance.

"Instead of a one-way monologue about what an individual may think is important, we now invite questions from a wider audience. The energy really changes because it becomes a collaborative investigation into what the data really means."

The result, she adds, is more informed and nuanced decision making and a more engaging experience for the user.