In just one month, Bryant & Stratton used a business intelligence tool to create a dashboard view of its operations out of previously siloed enterprise databases.

dashboard-intelligence-dataFor higher ed institutions, gathering data is the least of their problems—the stuff is coming out of their ears. The real challenge lies in sifting, organizing, and analyzing that data to produce actionable knowledge and insights. It’s a problem that Bryant & Stratton College solved in short order when it launched a dashboard-based business intelligence tool in just one month.

The for-profit college, which has 18 campuses across four states plus an online campus, wanted to use the data from its enterprise systems to help track and improve key business metrics. The problem was that much of the data resided in siloed transactional databases in several different systems. “Back in 1998, the college made the decision to go with best-of-breed applications, but we had no centralized reporting system,” said John Grieco, IT director for Bryant & Stratton, which uses Oracle EBS for its financials, Banner for its student information system, and Oracle CRM On Demand for admissions and marketing. “Our goal was to have a central repository of data with one reporting system that could take the data from all these disparate systems, join them together, and put them out in a meaningful manner.”

To realize this goal, the college selected QlikView, a tool that gives clients the ability to pull data into customized dashboards and reports—and the flexibility to slice and dice that data to create new reports as needed. The school signed the contract in mid-March 2015, conducted training in the last week of March, and had its first application up and running on April 24.

Achieving Rapid ROI

IT shops are always under pressure to show a rapid return on investment, but that pressure may be even higher at for-profit institutions. “From an IT standpoint, you have to be able to deliver a benefit very soon after the purchase—you want to make sure the college sees the value right away,” said Grieco. To that end, IT first rolled out an application for student-enrollment reporting, followed a month later by a student-demographics application. “Now our various campuses can see the enrollment numbers for our new and continuing students, and then can break them down by demographics and by academic program to get a better understanding of the student body,” said Grieco.

Not only did the new dashboard reports give administrators greater awareness of where the college stood with respect to its enrollment goals, but the savings in staff time were dramatic. “Our institutional assessment group used to take a week after the start of the semester to accumulate the information for the final student numbers—that time has been eliminated,” said Grieco. “The campuses would also work for another week on the demographic information, which the system creates automatically now. They no longer have to run a report through the system office and disseminate it to each of our campus directors, because the directors can see it all on the dashboards when they sign in every morning.”

The ability for administrators to get real-time updates about enrollment is key at a for-profit college like Bryant & Stratton, which has a recruiting period for each semester and accompanying goals. “At any point, administrators can tell where they stand against budget and where they stand against the projections for the upcoming semester,” said Grieco. “That is something they didn’t really have a good handle on previously.”

(Next page: Understanding the data)

The new dashboard also allows directors to drill down on the numbers for their particular markets, something that had to be done manually before. If the New York director wanted to check enrollment across his state, for example, he would have had to run a report for each of the eight New York campuses and then collate the statistics. “Now he simply clicks on New York State and the dashboard shows all the campuses individually and the total numbers for the state,” said Grieco. “He can get a very good handle on where he stands.”

For some campus directors, having such easy access to their numbers has become almost like a drug, especially since the data are refreshed every 15 minutes. “I keep getting complaints from campus directors that they can’t stop looking—they’re addicted,” said Grieco. “They love that real-time access, especially when they’re coming close to their goals.”

Understanding the Data

Grieco sees no reason why other schools can’t make a similar leap forward in business intelligence in a comparable timeframe provided IT has a good grasp of its data structure. “You have to know your data, no matter what system it resides in,” he said. “We’ve been creating paper reports for our users for years, so my team knew the data needed to create these dashboards. We didn’t have to scrub any data.”

As much as college administrators like the new dashboard system, the IT staff are equally pleased with how quickly they can produce information in a way that is immediately understandable to their clients. If a director needs a custom report, for example, they can prototype it, get feedback, and then build the application rapidly. “We’re actually able to make it while the director is sitting with us in the room,” said Grieco. “When I survey staff about the new system, they say they love the speed, the agility, and the versatility.”

Next on IT staff’s plate is a student-retention and tracking application to help the college better understand its students and retain them. Meanwhile, responsibility for preparing charts and graphs within the two existing applications has passed to the college’s institutional assessment group. “You don’t have to be functional IT to use and develop in Qlik,” said Grieco. “Basically, it enables more of your organization to aid in the efforts to utilize your data.”

Andrew Barbour is a contributing editor with eCampus News.

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