How RNL Replaces Spreadsheets with A Real Database

Ruffalo Noel Levitz, LLC (“RNL”) is a research and consulting company with expertise in enrollment and fundraising management for colleges, universities, and nonprofits. The Iowa-based business has 2,100 employees across five locations around the U.S. Some of RNL’s most notable achievements include raising $2 billion in institutional and financial aid for campus partners, generating $1 billion in philanthropic commitments, and partnering with over 3,0000 institutions in its 40-year existence.

RNL’s Legal and Contract Department turned to Kintone after they ran into issues managing their customer data in Excel. Laura Hurt, Legal/Compliance Administrator, explains what finally broke their reliance on Excel and why they chose a visual-programming tool like Kintone over more traditional software solutions.

Excel: designed for one, used by five 

Excel’s spreadsheets are built for one, but that didn’t stop our five-person team from trying to make it work for more. And for awhile we thought we had it figured out. We would have one person open the sheet and input their data, and then save and close it so someone else on the team could do the same afterwards. But in order to avoid accidentally logging in while someone else was in the sheet, our team members would wait for hours to add their data. We even had people logging at night just to make sure they could input their information without interruption. It wasn’t a solution, and it was creating more problems than it solved.

“We would regularly lose data and have to input it all over again, wasting our team’s time and energy.”

The Excel sheets we input the data into were also massive, making them difficult to sort and filter. They also crashed a lot. We would regularly lose data and have to input it all over again, wasting our team’s time and energy. 

A spreadsheet is not a replacement for a database

We eventually came to the conclusion that we needed a database to manage and store all our information. Part of our work involves creating forecast reports as well as summary reports on upcoming deadlines or outstanding work. We rely heavily on data to create these and the ability to sort and filter information to do this is accurately is paramount. 

There were three key things we wanted in a database:

  1. A way to preserve our data integrity and put an end to software crashes
  2. The ability to streamline and speed up our reporting processes
  3. A way for multiple users to modify or access the data at any given time

Finding a solution that could keep up with the demands of our work

When we first started looking for a new database, we asked other departments what they used, but none of their solutions met our requirements. We did consider developing a database from scratch at the onset, but it wasn’t feasible: none of us had any extra time in our day to dedicate towards managing such a project. So we turned to Google and looked for easy database solutions that met our needs. 

It was at this stage we learned about Kintone. Kintone immediately appealed to our sense of efficiency: it didn’t require us to download anything to use it, it could convert Excel spreadsheets into workable apps in minutes, it was able to turn our data into pre-populated forms so we no longer had to spend time managing mail-merge documents, and it was more affordable than most database solutions out there. 

 

It also featured a very cool drag-and-drop editor that allowed us to create and modify any applications we made without requiring us to code. This meant any apps we created we could quickly update or change ourselves without relying on others.

Finding a partner to oversee the development process

When we initially met with Kintone, we made it clear we had limited time to build the solution ourselves. So Kintone introduced us to Calabash, a partner of theirs that could help build our database while getting us familiarized with the product.

One thing we wanted in a partner was one-on-one attention, and Calabash delivered that. We felt like their only client during the entire development process. 

Our work with Calabash was nothing short of fantastic; not only did the company help us clean our data before uploading it to Kintone, they also helped us rethink our entire data workflow from scratch. Just because you take your data into the cloud doesn’t mean you need to keep the same workflow you had when you were using spreadsheets. Otherwise it’s just the same process as before, only under a different name.

Calabash worked with us to make sure we avoided that trap. Their team has extensive experience in process-driven solutions, and they used that knowledge to help us devise new workflows that really matched the data we wanted to report on. 

In the end, Calabash also gave us what we wanted most: a beautiful custom platform that did everything we wanted without requiring us to take time away from our own work to build.

Work at RNL is different now

Everything is easier with Kintone. Each of our team members uses the same data differently, and Kintone’s code-free customization capabilities means we can each build apps specifically for what we need without impacting the data we all need to do our work. The centralized platform also means we can continue to share and build off each others’ results, which is a huge advantage.

Everything is easier with Kintone.”

Reports are almost instantaneous. We can filter to view things like “outstanding requirements” or “upcoming deadlines,” as well as run metrics for future forecasting reports, at any given moment. We no longer have to run a “find” filter or try to gather all the documentation from a spreadsheet (only to have it crash on us). Real time updates are a very real and wonderful thing in Kintone.

One thing that still surprises me is just how fast the entire process was. We went from spreadsheets to a fully functional database in Kintone in four months. The speed of which we were up and running far exceeded our expectations and helped us make sure we were incredibly efficient in our software switch.

Kintone was a perfect choice for our needs, and Calabash was excellent at helping deliver the platform how and when we needed it. I don’t think we could have worked with a better team or gotten better results than this. 

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