Another Semester Spent Waiting for Buy-In on Your Dashboard Vision?

Everyone agrees that business intelligence (BI) in Higher Education is a big draw. We’ve been talking with a lot of institutional research (IR) departments over the last year and everyone sees the benefit of centralized data, automated reporting, distributed dashboards, better forecasts of student outcomes and finances, improved collaboration, and trusted data behind the decisions! (What’s not to like?)

Yet, everyone also feels the pain of still doing things the old way and missing the boat on this crucial need. You’ve been talking about this for a while and you’re not moving forward – and it’s frustrating. How can you get this train moving?

For all of the support we hear about the problems and solutions when we talk to IR professionals, we also hear of a lack of progress to ‘get off the dime’. And before long, there goes another semester without progress. Why is this?

Do any of our observations sound familiar?

  • The problem is nebulous, and therefore hard to ‘sell’ to whoever has the budget. IR generally does not have freedom to purchase.
  • The problem is scattered, and while IR is in the best position to pull it all together, they generally do not have enough authority to drive decisions – and must get a lot of buy-in from people above them or in other departments. They struggle with this.
  • IT is driving the train since everyone believes that this is a technology project (it’s not!, IT should certainly be in the middle, but this is a business project – period!)
  • Colleges think this is a big project, and they can’t commit spare time or money for a big project, so they continue to struggle along – with ever more requests and ever fewer resources.
  • Colleges start by looking for software rather than by prototyping with tools they already have, this puts any benefits off to the distant future and omits the people/process work that’s needed.
  • Colleges don’t typically have experience running a big project as an institution, and don’t know how to ask for or use outside help.
  • Colleges don’t really know what they want exactly out of a BI investment, or what a KPI is, or how they’ll use them when they get them in their fancy dashboards.

But how to get started?

If IR could just get the provost to see the vision that IR sees – a “college control center” where all the data is available, trusted, up to date and useful and that truly measures success and highlights steps to be taken to improve – then there would be no stopping it.

We see that success in BI projects is driven by a few key factors that are not technology and usually do not get on the list of requirements that IT puts together. They include good collaboration, clear business benefits and goals, deep attention to data quality, transparency, automation, and my favorite – change management. These are hard to describe, define and measure and so colleges often don’t take steps to address these, and projects either go nowhere or go down the wrong roads.

Our Suggestion

Pick small, manageable problems that need solving in the short term and contribute to success in the long term, and have IR put a team together to solve them. (SDD) has found that a good outcome from a low-hanging fruit project has dual benefit:

  • A problem gets solved, or at least improved.
  • And—perhaps more importantly—a team has a win. Next Problem Please? Instant incentive to move forward.

SDD delivers many focused workshops on executing key components of a “college control center” BI solution—any of which will help get you closer to your ideal vision. All other parts of your BI strategy essentially depend on these building blocks. We offer these as options for you to consider as a way to quickly and inexpensively get momentum and progress at one shot. Check it out.

We’re all in this together. Let us know how you’re coping and how you plan to avoid another semester of waiting.

Focus on How You Make Decisions, not Dashboards

Or maybe we could have said “Ask not what your business intelligence can do for you, ask what you can do for your business intelligence.”

Why do we start here? To get you thinking about how you’re trying to solve problems with your business intelligence approach. Right now, you might be actively looking for a new BI platform to solve your data visibility problems. That’s good. There are many good platforms to choose from out there in the market. We can suggest a few if you want guidance (but we’re not here to sell you software).

One word of caution if we may: the problem is not always the technology. Let us explain.

We work with many companies to help them get more out of their current business intelligence tools and technologies. For example, we’re helping many universities and colleges in higher education learn better ways to visualize, collaborate and respond to issues around their assessment, enrollment, graduation rates and so on. When we start working with a university, we guide them through an auditing process called STEP (Student Engagement Profile). This lets us learn what’s working and what’s not—and helps us make informed suggestions to the university on how to correct some low-hanging fruit problems that can make big differences quickly. We’ve learned a lot from speaking to all of these institutions in the last year. The common theme is that the problems you’re trying to solve won’t always be solved by piling on more technology!

Many of you are doing well with your current technology. You have clean trusted data centrally in place, excellent interaction between IR and end users, automated and self-serve reporting/analysis, and some approach to modelling, alerting and planning. In fact, most of the schools we spoke to are doing these things very well, or well enough.

The real problems are what you’re doing with the technology. Don’t focus on making nice dashboards (that’s the easy part). Focus on making the RIGHT dashboards, and sharing them, and getting buy-in and trust of the numbers, and—most importantly—recognizing trends and approaching problems and taking responsive action as a group to correct or prevent these problems. That’s that hard part—and it’s not about technology. It’s about people and processes.

Ask yourself how well you’re able to achieve these indicators of success:

  • Good collaboration, change and priority processes
  • Good data governance
  • Broad use of data
  • Good feedback loops
  • Established data dictionaries
  • Good communication and balanced authority between departments

Solving these problems is not as easy as buying more logins to Really getting your entire business intelligence approach to work well for you means learning how to collaborate, share, decide and respond as a group. These are the challenges we’re seeing in the higher education space alone and why we’re able to play an important role in helping guide universities—step by step—through a clear process to correct these issues.

So, we challenge you to ask whether you’re doing all you can as a team to get the most out of your existing BI technologies. With careful step-by-step guidance, you can address these problems in a matter of months and be a stronger, more responsive organization—all without needing more technology. offers step-by-step workshops that guide organizations through establishing and improving processes, workflow, use of tools and technologies, collaboration and decision-making to drive toward best practice implementation of business intelligence. For more information about these workshops please visit and contact SDD to learn how they can contribute to your team.