How cool is Petfinder‘s new supply and demand tool? It gives us direct info about what people in specific locations search for when using Petfinder. It is intended to help overburdened agencies identify locations where their animals may be in demand. It is a great idea and will become more beneficial as it is refined. The tool is hindered, however, by the same handicap that keeps our sector from ever achieving a truly comprehensive understanding of itself: the lack of any universal, uniform data standard.
Like most of the data sets and dashboards available to our industry Petfinder’s Supply & Demand Dashboard is siloed and proprietary. While Petfinder does use APIs to pull data, the dashboard itself is hosted on Petfinder’s website and does not integrate with shelter management software. This severely limits the tool’s potential usefulness and prevents it from becoming a game changer. This same problem has hobbled other attempts to solve some of our most pressing problems.
No insult is intended towards Petfinder or the tool’s developer. They are working in the reality of a data fragmented sector. The fact that they, or anyone else, can make any sense of our data is somewhat of a miracle (ok, not a miracle, some really smart people spend a lot of time doing it). Our sector runs on a growing handful of shelter management software (SMS) programs (not to mention the significant number of agencies running on paper). These are proprietary software programs with their own data formats, processes, and definitions.
Each SMS has its own strengths and weaknesses, and various reasons agencies chose one over the other exist. Competition has spurred some innovation in the business, and most SMS programs are significantly less clunky and obtuse than they use to be. However, general interoperability between the programs has remained elusive.
Having dozens of data formats, definitions, etc., has made it nearly impossible to efficiently develop industry-wide tools that could facilitate lifesaving. One critical area where a data standard could help save lives is in transport. Our current transport process is resource intensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. By adopting a data standard, we could take tools like Petfinder’s Supply and Demand Dashboard to the next level, integrating the data at an animal level, facilitating connections, and possibly building a true “Amazon of Adoptions” with an integrated process from inquiry to delivery. On the backend, we could eliminate countless trips of half-filled vans and significantly reduce the paperwork and processing burden. The money saved through efficiency gains can go right back into additional lifesaving.
A data standard will also make aggregating industry data and trends much more efficient and effective. This will drive better and more responsive decision-making and make monitoring program effectiveness significantly easier.
Developing and implementing a data standard in Animal Welfare will be a technical and political challenge. However, it is a crucial, life-saving step that must be taken. Contact us for more information.