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Originally published February 17, 2009
“A community college in the State of Ohio realized an additional $1.1 million in tuition/state subsidy for the 2007 academic year, the first year after its data warehouse implementation, by identifying credit students who were registered and not paid on the 15th day of the term and would have been simply forgotten in years past….all on an investment of $725,000 in a business intelligence solution.”
Comprehensive, campus-wide analytics – commonly referred to as “one source of the truth” – provide the foundation for strategic revenue and expense management strategies. This article touches on four highlights of a higher education business intelligence (BI) initiative: 1) getting to “institutional intelligence,” 2) application challenges for a typical business intelligence solution, 3) scoping business intelligence deliverables, timeframes and cost, and 4) sample dashboards for revenue and expense management.
The concept of institutional intelligence is rooted in the academic analytics that show up on standard transactional reports, metrics, graphs and projections. A single topic, such as enrollment data, has the opportunity to inform the institution about student profiles (race/gender), institutional profiles (class/college/department) or revenue potential (credits/residency/term). Because the decision-making data is frequently stored in multiple source systems, many institutions face a huge barrier when making financial and operational decisions on the same strategic goal. Hence, the trek to the “single version of the truth” is dependent not only upon having a single authoritative source with standardized calculations but also on making this view into the institution widely available to the academic and support community.
A comprehensive business intelligence solution involves people, process, technology and data. Institutional research analysts, financial analysts and IT report writers are the leading actors in developing the culture of analytics supporting your institutional intelligence. Working together, they govern the process of storing data in business terms, creating a reliable update process and providing a unified view into multiple source systems. With a process mind-set, these folks will collaborate on a data model that can accommodate the unique challenges of higher education. Several are listed here to illustrate the challenges for a typical BI application:
Few institutions have experience in BI implementations and can articulate their deliverables, expected timeframes and projected costs. With the goal of providing “take-action analytics” for the institution’s urgent and emerging issues, a typical deliverable may need to integrate student, employee, financial, and external data. The number of datasets – commonly referred to as “stars” in best practice design – will drive the timing and costs. While the design phase and initial star creation is time and resource intensive, additional stars take less than half the start-up time and are easily multi-threaded, as in the sample timeline illustration in Figure 2.
The best news may be that the BI solution is easily “projectized” into multiple pieces, creating a more digestible and affordable project. A high value pilot project allows the institution to address urgent needs while minimizing costs and risks to the project due dates. After a successful pilot phase, the institution can address emerging and strategic issues with additional data “stars” as time and budgets permit.
Finally, many institutions have no idea what a business intelligence solution will cost. Well, there’s good news on that front! The bulk of business intelligence costs have traditionally been in “tool” acquisition, with costs ranging from a few thousand to over one million dollars. With the consolidation in the market, that model is changing and higher education institutions would be best served to worry more about back-end design rather than which tool houses or accesses their data. Best practice leverages the use of star schema design as the foundation for any “institutional intelligence” initiative. With the right foundation, your tool options and price points are virtually unlimited:
Not to beat too hard on the point, here, but all higher education institutions in search of “one source of the truth” can realistically set their sights on “take-action analytics” and grow into true institutional intelligence!
Institutions deserve comprehensive, campus-wide analytics that improve institutional performance and accountability. With applications throughout the unified digital campus, business intelligence can enable your institution to:
For revenue and expense management, BI deliverables commonly include dashboards and mobile alerts. What do these look like? Some examples of actual dashboards used in the educational arena are shown in Figure 3.
Let’s discuss a final word on business intelligence deliverables and dashboards for the higher education community. Just as in the business world, higher education business intelligence solutions should be focused on “take-action analytics” based on a combination of history and forecasts. A simple data mart of historical information is no substitute for true institutional intelligence. With best practice “star schema” design to create the single version of the truth and a capable and user-friendly tool to interrogate historical, benchmark and forecast information, higher education institutions can create a foundation for strategic revenue and expense management strategies.