Higher Learning: A Case for BI in Education
By Stefanie Hoffman
Business intelligence and analytics solutions can be applied to any industry with multiple sources of untapped, uncontrolled data to create structure, find value and achieve ROI.
Just as in the private sector, the same benefits can easily be applied to the education industry. In fact, thousands of educational organizations, from secondary schools to colleges and universities, are investing in BI solutions to conduct routine functions once relegated to administrative spreadsheets or the IT department.
And these days, it’s easier for education personnel to take advantage of BI tools. According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant survey, an increasing percentage of non-IT users are leveraging BI software. Of the 1,364 respondents, only 38.9 percent identify themselves as pure “IT,” while 20.8 percent list themselves as a “business user” and 40.3 percent say they have “blended business and IT responsibilities.”
The statistics are underscored by Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson who writes in a recent blog, “More BI will move into the hands of end users, [while] IT will learn not to fight it or risk becoming irrelevant. It’s all about getting things done.” That holds true for the education sector, constantly tapped to provide more focused services and increase student performance, but with limited resources, rising costs and ever shrinking budgets.
Case in point: Schools struggle to graduate students, which requires identifying salient sociological and economic trends that impede student progress. But it also means not letting students slip through the cracks. That’s where BI and analytics software, such as IBM Cognos, can come into play. Altogether, BI can be used in three main areas: academic success, operational improvement and financial performance.
BI can outline strategies for student achievement, such as performing institutional research. BI solutions can also be used to achieve a 360-degree window of insight into numerous student and teacher variables, while facilitating a macroscopic view of schools and districts through economic, performance and demographic lenses. BI tools allow student performance and curriculum to be tracked against tests, classes, schools, campuses and geographies. It allows administrators to identify and address student challenges to resolve problem areas and preempt hurdles. And BI can be used to benchmark teaching practices by identifying best practices and finding areas of teaching success that can be replicated.
Like other industries, the education sector needs operational improvement, although it looks different compared to corporate counterparts. For example, areas of improved operations could include the ability to better compile and report student progress to stakeholders, while managing and correlating data designed to reach federal levels. Managing the student lifecycle, streamlining multiple forms and locations of student data, and tracking critical metrics like headcount, results, reputation and spending are also examples.
But what about value? The education industry is facing more pressure to show financial returns on their investments. BI can be used to manage budgets, from individual projects to comprehensive regional spending. Tasks such as tracking finances and payments and locating assets are ways education organizations can achieve higher ROI.
But BI can be used to determine and track other financial metrics, which include keeping tabs on the cost of achievement, allocating appropriate expenditures and driving fundraising efforts – endeavors that will only become more critical to the education sector over time.
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