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.

SDD Speaks Out about Helping Universities Battle Enrollment beyond Dashboards

“Ask anyone in higher education you’ll hear about their intense focus on falling enrollment and retention. As these trends expand, so too does the complexity and urgency on maintaining an accurate picture of what’s going on under the surface—why students don’t enroll and why they drop out at certain points in the program”, said Bob Scott of “We spent a considerable amount of time with professionals in higher education learning how they address these issues. I can tell you that it’s not achieved with just dashboards. It requires a considerable amount of data management, reporting, distribution, collaboration and communication across departments to fully-recognize what’s happening and execute plans to take corrective action. This holistic approach was the catalyst behind our higher education guidance.”

“It’s not just big schools that are facing this complexity,” said Scott. “We’re finding the same challenges from smaller, 2-year schools that have big school problems but small school budgets. Schools like the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Southern University at Shreveport can easily describe challenges that align perfectly with larger schools that we’re working with in the US. The complexity and urgency is not unique to large, high-profile institutions.”

“Despite having more technology at their disposal, institutional Researchers that we speak to on a regular basis cite ongoing frustration with wanting tools that don’t overload users with flashy eye-candy graphics or endless feature/functionality configuration options, but instead allow users to focus on their real-world needs”, said Bob Scott. “It’s one thing to be able to create dashboards that show enrollment trends. It’s entirely another to create a system that plugs into the ecosystem and engages team members to realize what’s happening under these trends and prompt them to take preventive action before it’s too late. What seems like an obvious lesson for any technology company—put users first, not technology first—has become something of a motto for us in recent years. As a result, we’re morphing into much more than a ‘dashboard’ company—thus the added automation and monitoring layers to our offering.”

At the upcoming North East Association for Institutional Research (NEAIR) conference in Philadelphia, the team will discuss how this expanded business intelligence approach is effectively assisting institutional research departments. The gathering of IR professionals will take place Nov 8-11 at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia. Joining Bob Scott on the agenda are scheduled speakers Kati Haycock, President of the Education Trust, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, Villanova, Dr. Neil D. Theobald, Temple and Dr. Karen A. Stout, Montgomery County Community College. For more information about SDD’s Higher Education business intelligence workshops, visit

SDD Mentors Business Intelligence Students in Tackling Issues in Higher Education

This November marks another chapter in SmartDataDecision’s (SDD) history of helping both students and higher education audiences.  Bob Scott, Business Intelligence Practice Lead at SDD and past President of Bilander Group, will participate in Temple University’s Information Systems and Technology (IST) curriculum.

Bob, along with adjunct professor, Dave Kelble, is on a panel of business intelligence experts in the program’s BI/Big Data course aimed at guiding students whose long term goals include system administrators, data analysts, database administrators, and possibly one day CTOs.

The panel is exploring real-world examples which challenge the students to interpret, and create analysis from, data sets representative of business applications they’re likely to find in the workforce.

Bob’s guidance is aligned with one of SDD’s key markets for business intelligence, higher education.  He is working with the students, engaging them on the challenge of using full life-cycle data of students and courses, activities, interaction with admissions, alumni information, and more to more effectively promote the college’s ability to influence successful student outcomes.

SDD offers business intelligence workshops and consulting tailored for the unique challenges present in institutional research departments in higher education.  The company also plans to continue its higher education outreach at the upcoming Northeast Association of Institutional Researchers (NEAIR) conference in Philadelphia, where Bob Scott will present to an audience of over 400 IR professionals the latest trends in technology and process maturity for the application of business intelligence to address leading issues like enrollment and retention—a hot topic of late for institutions facing falling student numbers.

Bob also serves on the Business Intelligence Advisory Committee for Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University, supporting a program that combines elements of operations research from the computer science department and business elements from the MBA program—involving both undergrad and graduate programs.  Bob has guest lectured at St. Josephs and maintains an active connection to the university.

For more information about Bob Scott or SDD, please visit