HEDW Forum and Conference – Another RBI Perspective

TCU Implemented PeopleSoft in the late 1990s. Phase two of the PeopleSoft project included plans to implement a data warehouse.  We finally kicked off phase 2 – the data warehouse – in April of 2018! That has allowed us to see a lot of products and concepts come and go.  BI and Analytics in higher education has definitely risen from the “trough of disillusionment” into the “slope of enlightenment” and “plateau of productivity” as Gartner says. The HEUG has helped TCU work through many of these PeopleSoft RBI issues over the years. Recently we became aware of another organization called HEDW – Higher Education Data Warehousing Forum - that has helped TCU think through many of our extra-PeopleSoft BI and Data Warehouse questions.  I was able to attend my first HEDW conference this last spring and came away very impressed with the presentations, people, and organization in general. After gushing a bit to the RBI workgroup, someone suggested I blog about that experience (grumble). 

The HEDW Forum and Conference (https://hedw.org/) has been around since 2003. I’ll let you check out the site yourself rather than regurgitate their goals and history, but what I found at the conference (hosted on the beautiful campus of Oregon State University) was people that were both struggling and on their way to solving the same BI problems we were experiencing at TCU. 

  • How do we build a data warehouse?
  • What is a data warehouse?
  • Do we need a data warehouse?
  • Why do our data warehouse efforts keep failing?
  • How can we convince the administration to help us fund a warehouse?
  • Can we build a data warehouse and analytics platform by ourselves?
  • What is data governance?  How do we do it? How do we maintain data governance?
  • What analytics, reporting, and visualization tools are people using today? What cool things have they done with those tools?
  • How do we migrate our warehouse to the cloud? 
  • How do we maintain our on-premise warehouse when our ERP and SIS migrate to the cloud?
  • Do modern tools make classic warehouses obsolete?
  • What is next in BI and Analytics?
  • How do you pronounce Hadoop?
  • How can I use A.I. and Alexa to improve student success (I don’t think they quite answered that question – but Alexa did get this schools IPEDS numbers correct!)?

There were presentations and conversations on these topics and more.

I am frequently suspicious of small conferences and HEDW is small, being limited to about 400 participants. Small conferences are great because it feels easier to meet people, but I am wary of them because there may not be the magical mix of experts and beginners to achieve critical knowledge mass. However, there were people all along the maturity scale. Perhaps the most comforting message was that even the experts acknowledged – BI in higher education is incredibly difficult because of the culture and expectations of our customers.  Especially in the strictly academic zone (as opposed to easier to “measure performance” departments like Admissions and Advancement) where administrators seem to want data, have questions, want analysis – but when you start asking specifics – they don’t really know what they want to measure  nor do they make the time to help suss it out.  Cutting through that swampy morass and delivering meaningful analysis for informed data decision making was a key theme of the conference.

You may see the title of this group which includes the words “data warehousing” and think, “how old school!” But the name is simply their historical identity, which people readily recognize. This group is staying current with modern business intelligence trends while helping us lost schools that are just now discovering data warehousing 30 years later. If you are looking for a community that looks beyond PeopleSoft Reporting and Business Intelligence tools… HEDW should possibly be your next community.

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