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Raise Your BI IQ

How to evolve institutional business intelligence

Marco CestaroMarco Cestaro is the data warehouse administrator in Information Technology Services at Ithaca College (NY). During his six-year tenure at the college, he has been responsible for the design, implementation, and support of an institutional business intelligence (BI) suite, which includes Banner Performance Reporting and Analytics from SunGard Higher Education and the Oracle BI toolset. In addition to the administration of the underlying technology, Cestaro has overseen the development of a BI training program, taught classes, provided end-user support, and facilitated reporting groups. Here, he offers a 10-point checklist to guide your institution's BI strategy.

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[Editor's note: Business Intelligence sessions at the upcoming Campus Technology 2007 conference in Washington DC, July 30-August 2, focus specifically on BI in the higher education context. Be sure to check out M02 - BI and Data Warehousing: Powering Better Decisions in Higher Ed and T04 - Jump-Start Your BI and DW Initiatives: 60 Minutes of Solutions, both presented by the highly regarded BI expert Ora Fish of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Register online by June 22 for early bird savings.]


Start at the top.

  • Gain upper administration's support for BI as early as possible.
  • Remember: Grassroots efforts normally don't address institutional policies.

Create a well-defined strategy.

  • Keep it simple! Start with a single statement as your foundation.
  • Articulate what you are trying to accomplish.

Identify the target audience and its needs.

  • Who are you trying to serve?
  • Ask how they use information to support decision-making.
  • Always remember: It's not about you!

Focus on what people need to accomplish, not on the technology.

  • End users were not hired to open Excel files or create Word documents.
  • It's the processes and decisions that count, not the enabling technologies.

Conduct a report fit/gap analysis.

  • Dust off your business process analyses (BPAs) or create new ones.
  • Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) based on critical objectives from the BPAs.
  • Then... Fill in the gaps!

Steward your data.

  • Make sure everyone is using the same definitions.
  • Garbage in, garbage out--but one person's trash is another's treasure.
  • Establish a formal group that meets regularly to discuss the topic of managing data.

Have everyone access the same source of data.

  • Centralize data in a common format, documented with metadata.
  • Utilize an operational data store (ODS) to provide a stable view of formatted data.

Put easy-to-use reporting tools in your users' hands.

  • Move IT away from the role of providing reports.
  • Standardize on an institutionally supported set of reporting tools.

Draw upon the experiences of those who've been down the BI path.

  • Don't reinvent the wheel.
  • Look outside education for inspiration. Other industries have BI experience to share.

Communicate to change the culture.

  • The most difficult challenge that BI creates is the requirement to involve everyone, from presidents to administrative assistants, in creating useful information.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate--with everyone.
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