It’s Time for Institutions to Embrace Enterprise Student Analytics

Higher Education institutions have long been the classic example of organizations with disparate departmental reporting solutions, which can produce inconsistent metrics. Institutions have done their best to deal with these inconsistencies – often by relying on a couple of key resources to generate most of the reporting and analysis at the department level. Not a bad solution, except that it results in users who are frustrated with their inability to access information on their own and whose requests for new reporting content are often met with delays. As each department strives to resolve its reporting challenges and free up the bottleneck, a tactical investment in several different reporting tools is often made, further complicating the BI landscape. 

Enter the new Era

However, that was then; this is now. Over the past year I’ve been seeing a change in the willingness of colleges and universities to invest in a more strategic approach to reporting and analytics. To some extent, this has been spawned by Oracle’s creation of a prebuilt BI Application called Student Information Analytics (SIA), which provides the foundation for an enterprise data warehouse and BI Analytics solution for institutions that currently run PeopleSoft Campus Solutions. Sierra-Cedar is now assisting several of our clients, including Penn State University, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Chicago, down the path of enterprise student analytics.

Besides consolidating the business intelligence reporting solution across departments, this approach provides an integrated view of Recruiting, Admissions, Student Records and Student Financials. SIA automates the ever-desired Admissions Funnel report, and enables seamless drilldown into the supporting details. Every institution that I’ve ever worked with views this as extremely important data, not just for analyzing the current semester admissions but also for historically looking back to track the background of successful students who have graduated.

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Optimal Reporting with SIA

One of the root causes for challenges in reporting solutions for colleges and universities is the belief that all of the reporting needs to come directly from the operational data. Operational databases are designed for capturing detailed transactions. These systems, such as PeopleSoft Campus Solutions, tend to have hundreds of tables. This makes them too complex for most power users to utilize for ad hoc analysis. It also produces poor performance for important data-intensive analyses such as year-over-year comparisons and trend analysis. An optimal reporting strategy will separate reporting that truly needs to be operational real-time reporting run directly over the operational system, from analytical solutions that can take advantage of a data mart or data warehouse approach that optimizes data storage with analytical reporting as the focus.

The Oracle prebuilt Student Information Analytics (SIA) application is a great starting point, particularly if an institution is new to enterprise BI solutions. SIA provides a foundation data warehouse across all of the student-related data sets and includes the data extract, transform, and load processes to automate the loading of required PeopleSoft Campus Solutions data into the data warehouse. It also has an 

extensive metadata model of reporting subject areas and pre-defined calculated metrics such as 4-year graduation rate, as well as over 100 prebuilt reports and dashboard pages for considered use. 

There are several benefits to implementing an enterprise approach to business intelligence, and leveraging the SIA solution is an ideal way to initiate this process at an institution.

  • BI tools implemented over a well-designed data warehouse enable users across the University to create their own ad hoc reports, as enterprise tools today are drag and drop oriented and do not require SQL skills or database knowledge.
  • There is consistency with terminology used in reporting and calculated metric definitions.
  • The Institution will only have to license and support one BI tool, which is much more efficient not only for cost but also for required IT support resource skill sets.
  • The IT team’s workload for report generation will be greatly reduced, as it becomes more focused on data quality and performance, allowing more power users to work with reporting and analytics.
  • An enterprise solution will include a data warehouse approach, which fosters ease of use and optimal performance that allows for quarter-over-quarter comparisons and long-term trend analysis.
  • Security is handled from a central location, which can be applied to both the dashboard/report level, as well as the data level.
  • The central storage of data provides one version of the truth for consistent reporting and is an ideal foundation to meet the ever growing regulatory reporting requirements that higher education faces.

An enterprise reporting approach will involve more upfront work, but the benefits will permeate across all departments as the solution gets rolled out to a large user base. BI is an iterative process, and additional reporting areas, such as HCM and Financials, can be added over time. Given the importance of Student related analytics, the Oracle Student Information Analytics BI solution is a great place to start. Leveraging consulting assistance with an initial implementation is a great way to accelerate the process and train the institution’s internal team on how to implement these solutions.

About the Author

Greg Vlahos has been consulting for 29 years, with the majority of this time focused on data warehouse and business intelligence solutions.  His experiences have covered the entire process from guiding Clients on their strategic BI Roadmap, down to designing and developing data warehouse and data load processes for optimal business intelligence solutions.  Greg currently runs the Sierra-Cedar Oracle BI and Enterprise Performance Management practice.  In his spare time, he will either be enjoying time with his Family or competing on the tennis courts.

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