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BI team paves the way for data-driven decision-making

By Emily Rushton

Making informed business decisions can be difficult and complex, and having the data to support those decisions is an invaluable part of the process. But what do you do when the data just isn’t available?

“The challenge we have right now isn’t even doing the analysis. It’s simply getting the data,” said Tom Howa, associate director for Business Intelligence (BI) within University Support Services (USS).

Howa is leading the University’s BI initiative, which aims to transform raw data into meaningful information that can be used to make informed business decisions.

“Realistically, from a long-term business intelligence initiative perspective, we want the program to be holistic – where the BI group is supporting the strategic initiatives of the University,” said Howa.

But the first step is actually gathering the data, which has proven to be challenging in the past.

Howa and his team have started pulling PeopleSoft data into a separate data warehouse, where it’s restructured to be more understandable to the end user. The data warehouse also provides the ability to run reports based on a user’s specific requirements.

“That’s been the first part – growing the reporting structure at the University so that business decisions aren’t being made from a 6-month-old report,” said Howa.

The current user base is comprised of representatives from each college, but Howa hopes to expand to the student advisors next year.

“It’s good to start small,” said Debbie Rakhsha, USS director. “Then those users can be the primary contacts that really learn the tools, and in turn can help their deans.”

Howa agreed. “It’s really that train-the-trainer concept that we’re going with, because each of the colleges is so distinct,” he said.

Right now, the big focus is on student data – who the students are, what majors they’ve declared, what classes they’re taking, how they enrolled, and so on. The next step will be adding graduation data to the mix, which will allow each college to capture an accurate retention ratio.

“That’s really what it’s all about, is the retention of students,” said Howa.

While the project is still in its early stages, some colleges have already been able to make use of the data when deciding on class sizes and number of class sections to offer in a given semester.

It’s also been helpful in marketing efforts. “We’re now able to see demographics and where the majority of students are coming from,” said Howa. “Colleges can market to different geographic areas, or focus on diversifying their student population.”

Howa’s team also plans to roll out a dashboard feature that will present the data that’s been collected and analyzed in a more concise and understandable way.

“We’re trying to make the data available to the people who need it to make decisions,” said Howa. “The deans are expected to make data-driven decisions, and this is the way they can actually get the data to do that.”

Last Updated: 4/13/21