Business Intelligence in Higher Education

by Arwold Koelewijn on November 26, 2010

In recent years governmental organizations are demanding more transparency on performance and financials from Higher Education institutions. Also internally, with funding becoming more difficult, the information need is increasing. This requires for institutions to focus on their  business intelligence solutions and when needed, integrate them and set up an adequate support organisation.

Business Intelligence at Higher Education is in general called Institutional Research (IR). The primary purpose of Institutional Research is to promote institutional effectiveness. It does this by providing information for institutional planning, policy formation, and decision-making within the college or university.

The information area’s Higher Education institutes have to deal with are mainly organized in four information domains:
– Education (number of students, effectiveness)
– Research (number of publications)
– Finance (exploitation, matching, external reporting)
– Personal (number of employees, absenteeism, personal costs, personal time spend on education, research, others)

In my experience, institutions have information available on these domains but often not integrated into one single platform. Sometimes the information is even divided in sub-organizations. And mostly it is on a very detailed level with reports that are mainly supporting the operational processes. On a higher KPI level the domains sometimes come together, but this is making it difficult to go MAD (Monitor, Analyze, Drill to detail), and thus losing the ability to check and verify the data.

To be able to improve the effectiveness of an institute it is important that the right information reaches the decision makers in an structured, timely, and high data quality fashion. And since the decision makers in Higher Education are not necessarily good with figures and data, it should be presented in an uniform, consistent and to-the-point way.

To meet these requirements, it is inevitable that an integrated BI platform is implemented. Only when the BI of the four information domains is integrated, it is possible to combine the information of the domains and still have to possibility to drill down to the lowest level. For higher management it will result in one look & feel, and less discussions about definitions, since on every organization level, the definitions are the same and it is always possible to go to the lowest level of detail.

In the SAP BI project at an University where I was project manager there was a central IR department to work on the integrated platform and keep the right focus. I think this has been vital for the success of the project. Without this, I can imagine it to be difficult to align the definitions and keep to the objectives of the BI platform.

To summarize: integrating the information domains at Higher Education Institutes will be necessary to make sure that the discussions on decisions in the institute will be based on figures, rather than having a discussion on the quality of the figures.

Previous post:

Next post: