10 tips for success with analytics, information management, and reporting projects

Launching information management, reporting, and analytics systems can be difficult. Sustaining them – and creating enthusiastic users – is even trickier.

In a series of interviews, technology leaders from several K-12 districts and universities shared their secrets for successful information management, reporting, and analytics projects. From those interviews, 10 best practices were revealed.

1. Securing executive sponsorship.

When taking on an information management, reporting, and analytics initiative, all the leaders agreed about the importance of securing strong executive sponsorship. It goes beyond just getting approval of a budget to purchase software. You also need to have executive sponsorship at the highest level – someone who fully understands the value that reporting and analytics can bring to the district or institution and has a vision for using it to transform school, program, and student outcomes for the better.

2. Identifying and involving stakeholders early and assessing their unique needs.

You will come across a wide variety of potential users, ranging from different internal users and the school board/board of regents to government bodies, media, parents, and the general public. These stakeholders can have vastly different skill sets and requirements. So it’s vital that you identify and engage these stakeholders early in the reporting and analytics planning process, view them as customers, and analyze and segment them.

3. Identifying and integrating data sources.

Next, you need to assess the data sources available to help you meet these needs. Most likely, data will be scattered across fragmented systems in different departments, schools, and agencies; they will most likely overlap or have gaps and inconsistencies. You’ll need to carefully determine the best sources to integrate within your data warehouse. Expect some heated debates, because data owners will have reasons why their data should be declared the official data.

4. Managing user expectations proactively.

Setting clear expectations is particularly important when working with upper-level managers, such as the board of regents (higher education) and superintendents (K-12), because they will expect certain things to be shown in reports from Day One.

5. Determine the best way to process and deliver each report.

Create tight, compact data jobs designed to meet specific user needs. Find out what people truly need by performing a detailed audience analysis and then scope the reports accordingly.

6. Design an intuitive, user-friendly interface for accessing reports.

Education customers like to use a portal to publish the data and reports they create. By having one, users have one place to access what they need, when they need it, and in a secure manner – without further assistance.

7. Collect user feedback continuously and act on it.

Education customers explained that it should be easy to collect user feedback through many channels and then use that information to improve the system.

8. Develop in-house IT expertise.

You want to ensure that users become self-sufficient. Education customers advise developing in-house expertise through two channels. First, during development, use software consulting services for expert, on-site assistance and knowledge transfer – particularly with people running your systems and creating reports for stakeholders. Next, allow users to augment their new skills by taking advantage of online courses, training classes, software manuals, and programming guides.

9. Empower users with training.

Some institutions use a train-the-trainer approach by identifying key stakeholders whom they can educate and turn into effective, confident data consumers. Another idea is to provide hands-on user workshops in computer labs. Regardless of the type of training provided, it’s recommended that you complement it with self-help materials, such as user manuals and data dictionaries that define value hierarchies, data elements, and more. These materials can be offered in hard copy or through context-sensitive online documentation.

10. Publicize the system.

To build your user community, education customers recommend that you take the show on the road and set up face-to-face meetings, such as lunch-and-learns, with the larger user community. Show people the portal and teach them how to use it. Bring up reports and cubes; discuss how to use them to gain valuable insights and answers to complex questions that were unattainable before. And share success stories about how their colleagues in other departments, schools, or classrooms have used reporting and analytics to improve performance and student outcomes. The goal: to educate and generate excitement about what’s possible so that the entire district or institution can become more data-driven.

The use of reporting and analytics in education is on the rise. If implemented, these 10 best practices can help other K-12 districts and higher education institutions become successful in their journeys.

Georgia Mariani is Product Marketing Manager for Education for SAS, an analytics and business intelligence provider with more than three decades of experience working with educational institutions. A 14-year SAS veteran, Mariani works with customers to share best practices, successes and recommendations that enable education institutions to get the most productive insights from their data.

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