UCISA CISG – Business Intelligence: Technology & Outcomes

Bristol, 10th February. Very good turn out, which is an encouraging start. & then into the seminar… Question: has HE moved on ref BI since the last seminar on the subject a couple of years ago? Is sector more mature in this space?

Financial Measures/William Liew/Martine Carter, University of Bristol

Objectives: better decision making; eliminate use of local systems/establish single source of truth. Theory: combination of University-wide procurement system & reporting tool will achieve the latter. Systems: best of breed, CODA Finance; SITS Students etc: aim to get cross-system reporting tool (Business Objects). Good point: central finance system perceived as black box & often incorrect due to processing lag. Solution needed to meet local needs whilst ensuring central data integrity. Datawarehousing approach. Generally speaking this is a description of a fairly traditional approach/something fairly generic that any University (or organisation!) would want.

The analysis – interviews with senior stakeholders asking them what they want/trying not to be constrained by what’s currently available. Recall going through similar exercise about ten years ago. Must be an alternative strategy. Then change of Finance Director led to change of vision – well, that can happen!

Common issue – need for all source systems to use same hierarchy for effective reporting. This is equally or even more of a problem when you try & introduce workflow that requires standard/agreed approval hierarchies into an organisation that may – quite rightly – be fairly fluid about roles/responsibilities. Would be madness to design a straightjacket.

Lessons learned – good but fairly prosaic. One conclusion: design the full solution before you start. I would query whether this is even possible – would recommend start & design the full solution as you go along, building in flexibility. May be risk – as with hierarchy definition – of designing a great big monolithic structure that constrains rather than facilitates.

Wonder if this seminar will introduce any thoughts about end-user computing/mashups/linked data?

Student Retention/David Sowerby, Bedfordshire

Traditional BI approach plus something a little different – which is? Student engagement – analysing patterns of behaviour. Mostly about analysing risks – RAG rating for student indicators, but how do we determine what risk is? Impact/decay approach to student activities ie more recent activity is more relevant – doesn’t require additional data input other than entering parameters. Comparative assessment against peer within cohort – recognises that students on different programmes/subjects may behave differently, so may not be comparing like with like. Interesting approach. Indicators – things like logging in to VLE, handing in assignments, attendance, library gate. Partnered with Solstone Plus – Oracle solution. Important point: analysis of student behaviour does not lead to automated intervention – too easy to misinterpret, interventions are manual/sensitive.

Developing KPIs Without BI Technology/Andrea Buttle & Ali Hartrey (SUMS/SOAS)

Consultant task: PI framework to support business strategy. Single page articulation of strategy – Strategy Map? (ref Balanced Scorecard methodology). Operating Model? (ref Weill et al, EA As Strategy). Leeds University Strategy Map – pretty good reference point. How do you cope with the fact that you don’t have performance management software – & does it matter? Good strategy-based approach built around balanced scorecard principles, but – ref comments on first presentation – seems a little slow/inflexible. With all the discussions elsewhere about the need to be flexible/responsive, we need BI that is flexible/responsive as well – actually, we need strategic planning & performance measurement that is flexible & responsive. Can today’s KPIs support tomorrow’s strategy? If balanced scorecard is correctly measuring performance in terms of progress towards achieving strategic objectives, then maybe – but need flexibility to measure things that we don’t know we need to meaasure yet because new strategic opportunities & associated objectives will emerge. I think I know what I mean – heading into metaphysics here, time for a break.

Why Commodity Technology Adds Up/Ian Casselton, King’s College London

Recommendations: consistent corporate data structure, common currency Finance account codes, build DW/BI solution using SQL Server & Sharepoint – commodity solution. Interesting point ref time criticality of BI in HE – related point ref Balanced Scorecard is that many HE KPIs may only change once a year – so still a relevant approach, but does it need a sophisticated software platform?

Note that this presentation  is based on a definition of DW/BI as supporting operational & strategic intelligence.

Models for approach to data-warehousing: top-down (Inmon); bottom-up (Kimball); hybrid; federated (Hackney).

Removes vendor risk? Microsoft safest bet? Oracle/IBM/SAP tools – forced to new versions/products, expensive consultancy. Questionable, & like all journeys, depends where you’re starting from.

Microsoft – ubqiquitous end-user tools? – Visio/Excel.

Why does commodity technology add up? Because it’s neither the problem nor the solution. That may be true, but doesn’t mean Microsoft’s the answer.

Value Derived From A ‘Traditional’ BI Vendor/Mike Cobham, London South Bank University

Focus = student Progression Analysis Tool (PAT).  Used external consultancy for health check. Good project, fairly traditional. Demo of tool. All very commendable.

Hard Data In A Soft World/Andy Youell, HESA.

Problem – trying to fit a single rigid data model onto an HE sector that is diverse & dynamic. Absolutely! Looking really good, must check out on UCISA website when published.


So – missing most of Andy Youell/HESA on ‘Hard data in a soft world’ which is a shame as first ten minutes looking really good, but have a train to catch – on the rest, thoughts overall? First, again thinking that I’m probably the wrong audience – presentations flipping between business (Balanced Scorecard) & Technology/solutions, but overall more at the implementation (how) than the strategy (what/why) level – describing how to solve the problem, rather than what the problem is & why we need to solve it. Second, related to the  first, would like to have seen more on the benefits that have accrued through the projects presented – but maybe not at the level of maturity needed. Third, would have liked to see something on the new stuff coming up as mentioned – linked data etc – but maybe this is beyond the remit.

So back to original question – has the sector matured since the last seminar? I think overall the answer would be no, but that might be an unfair conclusion to draw from a fairly mixed & wide-ranging set of presentations – would be useful to see more clarity in terms of a comprehensive business case for BI in HE, followed by an equally comprehensive overview of possible solutions, not as individual case studies but as a plenary activity. Perhaps this could be achieved through a facilitated workshop, rather than the usual presentational format – JISC FSD/EA work has progressed quite well with this approach so might be of value. Depends on what the objectives of the exercise are, however. & that’s me out of here.


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