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July 26, 2018

Building the Next Generation of the Homestretch Client Database with AWS

3 mins read

At Excella, we understand the power of technology and the huge impact it can make on the organizations we work with. We apply the same ethos when working with our community investment partner Homestretch.

Homestretch helps homeless families obtain self-sufficiency, stability and permanent affordable housing, often within two years. Over the years, Excella has volunteered with Homestretch to paint apartments, prepare welcome baskets for families, and provide life skills coaching for teens and adults. Our technologists have also helped Homestretch tackle technology challenges and modernize their tools and systems.

In 2016, when Homestretch needed a new client management tool Excella stepped in to help. The resulting AWS cloud-based solution improves Homestretch’s data reliability and accessibility, in addition to providing the tools for better analysis and reporting that position Homestretch for growth.

Outgrowing Microsoft Access

Reliable access to client data helps Homestretch serve the families in their program. Client success data and effective reporting also help Homestretch promote the program’s effectiveness and secure future funding.

By 2016, Homestretch had outgrown their legacy, Microsoft Access-based system. Data from Microsoft Access was inconsistent and much of the information had to be manually entered, making reports difficult to create and maintain. The system was also susceptible to failures and data loss and was rapidly reaching maximum storage capacity. Finally, as the system was only accessible in the office and Homestretch team members often work in the field with clients, important client information was not captured in a timely manner.

Modernizing with AWS

Working with Excella, the team created a responsive, AWS-hosted web application to replace the legacy Access-based desktop application. The team leveraged Docker for testing and deployment, and created a React-based front-end and a Django REST API back-end, powered by a PostgreSQL database.

The team used a Git version control platform (hosted by GitHub) to easily collaborate and prevent errors. Performing Continuous Integration through Codeship, a hosted continuous delivery service, allowed the team to build and automate deployments from GitHub to test and production environments upon successful builds.

Test and production architecture used AWS’s Elastic Container Service (ECS) for container management, with an Elastic Load Balancer (ELB) for load balancing and uninterrupted service. The team set up a PostgreSQL database on Relational Data Service (RDS).

PowerBI was also set up to improve reporting and analysis of trends and client successes.

Ready for the Future

The choice to move forward with an AWS-hosted application ultimately increased security, reliability and accessibility of information, in addition to the overall integrity of Homestretch’s data. Often, the real power of technology is the simplicity it affords – by eliminating unnecessary work and making the tool more functional, Homestretch can spend more time making an impact on working families and less time worrying about their data.

Christopher Fay, Executive Director of Homestretch, highlighted the impact of this work, noting, “Data is important to Homestretch in our mission to equip homeless families to achieve self-sufficiency. They say, what gets measured gets improved. What Excella did for us, in building a database that captures all the right information in a way that is easy, thorough and smart, was simply amazing, and will help us continue our quest to provide the very best services for homeless families in the nation.”

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