Are we crawlers, walkers or Runners when it comes to Business Intelligence in Higher Education?

I was pleased to attend with JISC colleagues the recent

UCISA Business Intelligence event in Bristol In the context of current CETIS work in the support and synthesis project for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Student Life-cycle support project.

There were a variety of speakers at the event and a great deal consistency of issues raised, issues relevant to our work in CRM/SLRM. There were however also some quite notable inconsistencies.
One of the speakers described business intelligence in Higher Education (HE) as being a “mature “ area whilst another revealed when conducting an ad hoc straw poll of those attending the event (largely UCISA members ,Management and Information Systems Managers/Directors in HE) asking the audience to categorise where they believed their institutions were with Business Intelligence as Crawlers (Very much at the early scoping stage) Walkers (Scoping and pre-planning stage) and Runners (Planning and implementation stage) Out of an audience there were no runners about six or seven confessed walkers with the rest of us admitting to being crawlers, which I think is probably a more accurate reflection as to where institutions are just now.

William Liew and Martine Carter talked about Business intelligence activities at the University of Bristol which were driven from a financial measurement perspective and their attempts to integrate systems across research, procurement and student data and in their words “eliminate” local systems in order striving for the very bold ambition of“true” data for financial purposes. In their work they recognised multi stakeholder perspectives and quite honestly detailed the barriers they encountered. I must confess to having a little difficulty when one approach or one model is presented as THE model. Models from my perspective are a useful tool “A way of presenting a particular view of the world or representation from a particular perspective “too often they presented as THE view of THE organisations, it is one of the inherent deficiencies of modelling of any persuasion.

I was also very interested in David Sowerby’s presentation regarding the University of Bedfordshire’s student retention system and recognised the potential significance of this approach, in particular given the current Border Agency requirements of institutions to monitor foreign student attendance. Metrics relating to student “engagement” were presented, metrics based on consistent parameters being applied across the institution and values set against these parameters to define levels of student “Engagement” in order to flag up potential retention issues… all interesting stuff.
Some of the key points in BI implementation highlighted were:
1. Stakeholder Engagement buy-in ownership was essential.
2. The need for (process) modelling.
3. Data Quality – Bad data in Bad data out.
4. The need for meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
I am mindful that I will be attending the IMS GLC Learning Impact conference in the US in May 2010 and contributing to the Analytics discussions at this event.

I suspect our US colleagues are, using the earlier analogy, runners and they will indeed be running with Business Intelligence, although whether this is in the right direction will be the big question.

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