You don’t have to look far to understand that data is arguably an organization’s most valuable asset. The Economist declared that “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data,” while Facebook is being scrutinized over its handling of data and how it may have been used to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, many higher education institutions fail to recognize the value of the data they hold beyond their day-to-day operational needs.

In 2015, Indiana University embarked on the Decision Support Initiative (DSI). Our goal was to improve decision making at all levels of the university by dramatically enhancing the availability of timely, relevant, and accurate information to support decision makers.

Higher ed institutions produce an abundance of data from our systems of record (financial, student, HR, learning management, etc.) that are valuable to inform decision makers, but often the data is not accessible in a timely manner for the people who need it. Decision makers rely on analysts that “know the data,” where to find it, and how to massage it for the question of the day. The result? One-time solutions that must be recreated many times, based on the personal knowledge analysts have acquired, with varying results. DSI strives to put information directly in the hands of decision makers, using well-curated and documented data sources so they may make data-informed decisions.

Cultural change
Indiana University has historically had a distributed structure and culture for decision support. In most cases, units have done their own decision support using self-service capabilities against a central data warehouse. Data has been amassed from our systems of record and modeled with the hope that all the institution’s questions can be answered. In practice, a large portion of our data warehouse is never used and only those analysts with appropriate privileges are granted access, forcing us to rely on those who “know the data.”

About the Author:

Aaron Neal leads the enterprise software team at Indiana University (IU) and is responsible for decision support, enterprise systems integration, database and server administration, identity management and storage, and server infrastructure. These systems and infrastructure provide the foundation for the enterprise systems used at IU.


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