Interview

BI Today: More than Just a Big, Fat Report

Curtiss Barnes puts higher education BI in perspective

Campus Technology: As we head into a new decade, what’s important to higher education IT leaders? I know there’s a very broad spectrum of things you could mention relative to Oracle’s portfolio and customer base, but if you could pick a central idea, what would that be?

Curtiss Barnes: On a global basis, it’s the idea of education as critical to national competitiveness… And at the highest level for institutions, it’s the analytics, the things that help an institution think about its competitiveness relative to other organizations in a dynamic education marketplace.

CT: Is higher ed ready for the business intelligence tools and strategies they’ll need to do those analytics?

Barnes: It really should be. And we’ve got a number of threads that we’re pursuing along these lines. It’s great to be a technology provider, but without a common practice, without an understanding of what technology really means for the enterprise, there’s not a lot of tooth to it.

You know, often when we sit down with a higher ed customer, they want to talk about their reporting strategy. They may even still think of business intelligence as the reports that come around in the mail cart, the ones they asked for two weeks ago. But the reality of BI today--and this is certainly true in the commercial space and I think it should also be true in higher ed--is the idea of real time information. As an executive in higher ed, you have a dash board set up for you… It’s the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before you leave for the day.

CT: Are you seeing this real time BI now taking hold in higher ed? What’s the picture looking like?

Barnes: Yes, we’re now seeing very good examples. Fortunately, we’re looking at great traction with a number of our customers. And I think what’s interesting is that while higher education is certainly ready for business intelligence, historically it’s been the domain of the IT team. So, often it’s been analysis taken to an nth degree, as opposed to information truly geared for executives. As an executive of a higher ed organization, you need your information right here and now, and you shouldn’t have to wait two weeks. And you need to have some ad hoc capabilities to go out and drill down into data yourself.

One of the most fascinating things over the past two years in particular is that a lot of organizations implementing ERP systems for the first time are standing up an analytics tool right at the beginning of the implementation. Hobart and William Smith Colleges will make a perfect example. It’s a small school, and they were trying to go through a transformational project with IT. The good news is that, two years later they’ve done that very successfully. One of the things that they did which had an impact on the entire organization, was to put up Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE), our dashboard technology. One of their data sources was 17 years worth of admissions data--admissions was the first PeopleSoft Enterprise application they went live on during their sequence of implementation. They basically rallied the entire admissions organization around this tool, which allowed them to see, for the first time ever, what was going on day by day. Where they were used to green sheets, now they are able to stand it up and click through a set of drill downs on the screen. This was configured using their historical data and whatever changes they went live with on admissions. So now they have real time information on their current admissions cycle. And this is an example of something that’s becoming a common practice.

CT: You were mentioning the idea of BI information relative to other institutions. Where does that fit in here?

Barnes: We are working on an interesting project around just that with the HEUG, the Higher Education User Group. Oracle has partnered with the HEUG on a benchmarking survey. One of the objectives is for our customer base to collect an aggregate set of data, on key performance indicators, so that customers can see where they sit on a range of KPIs. Then, they begin to understand how the industry behaves at a macro level. Not until an organization does this can they actually say, “Applying ‘x’ technology does ‘this…’“ We’ve talked about ROI for some time, and some organizations are very good at putting stakes in the ground and saying that they’ve achieved a certain ROI, or value. But with an aggregate set of data, across multiple institutions, you can actually point to where your organization stands in a normal distribution.

CT: Who is actually aggregating the data, and what do you think will be the most valuable impact for responders?

Barnes: To do the analysis we are partnering with the HEUG, using an Oracle toolset. Probably the most impactful objective is to present each organization that responds with a report that establishes their performance within the context of the aggregate. This gives organizations the ability to say, “Here’s how we can improve our performance in these categories,” and it helps them make clear decisions.

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