As institutions begin to review their strategic objectives after the events of the last several months, a few critical changes come into view. If there were ever a time to ensure that the technology and people that support institutions are flexible and agile in their approaches to solve problems, this is the time. We have seen a wave of uncertainty come over higher education, in a time that was already deep with existential questions coming from inside and outside institutions.
If we lay on top of the COVID-19 situation all the demands placed on institutional data from an organizational level—enrollment projections, multitudes of budget scenarios, and a continued focus on student success—actively managing the institutional data is imperative. On many campuses, data is sprawled across the institution and often is effectively unmanaged. Recent efforts to better secure data have caused increased scrutiny about where data is stored, how it is used, who controls it, and how it is secured.
Another critical activity for most institutions is cost control. Are your data stored in multiple places, in multiple formats, on multiple servers? How might an integrated, holistic approach to the physical management of the data reduce costs? What platforms might you retire?
The Tambellini Group is engaged in a broad research agenda around the topic of data management, including the specific disciplines of reporting and analytics, data warehousing, integration, and data governance. To implement a broad stewardship and management program to secure, organize, and take full advantage of the value of the asset that institutional data represents, all these interrelated topics should be addressed in a comprehensive data management program.
A full data management program, integrated from executives to analysts, can provide broad benefits to an institution.
As you consider how to improve the overall state of data management at your institution, there are several components to the program that are critical. They are interrelated but distinct.
Each of these activities can be overwhelming on their own. Together, they can cause high stress amongst the data analyst and technology community. The roles involved in this effort, in the best-case scenario, go from developers and analysts, to front-line business management leaders, to institutional research, to executives, including presidents, provosts, CIOs, CFOs, and deans.
As with any effort with such a broad reach, different tactics can work for different types of organizations. Tambellini encourages an open conversation among leaders and practitioners, experimentation with new technologies, and time for learning about these topics before a strategy is set. One method that has shown promise is to find a small set of critical questions to use as a pilot. These questions should be actionable and ongoing. For the pilot to be successful, senior leaders have to agree that the outcome of the pilot will be used to make a set of data-informed decisions and that they will rely on this source together. Then the underlying structure can be built around just this set of data, from the data sourcing, cleansing storage, and analysis, in conjunction with data stewards and data owners.
Another activity that can help get a data management program started is to convene a group of data owners and data stewards. This group can start the process of inventorying what you have and how it is managed, creating or consolidating data definitions, and mapping out the movement of data across your campus. This can be a very revealing exercise and can build or augment the relationships between these areas that have roles in data management.
These actions start the process of change management, signaling to the campus that a change in the way data is managed has begun. They can be augmented by developing a set of principles regarding data management that these programs are built around. One principle that sets a tone for change is the notion that data is an institutional asset. Data may be managed in different parts of an institution, but the institution retains ownership. This principle begins to break down barriers between data silos and can start the cooperative process required for success.
As 2020 progresses, Tambellini will be producing research on these topics. We believe strongly that these are efforts that are critical at any time but are especially critical as you prepare for large projects in the coming year. Creating a robust data management program can ease the burden of making changes to your environment and build meaningful outcomes to improve the performance of the entire organization.
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