Crawl, Walk, Run – Steps for Managing and Leveraging Data

  • Innovation and disruption
  • 10/5/2022

Key insights

  • Take a critical look at how data is moved through your institution — and explore targeted improvements.
  • The first step to effectively managing data is integrating disparate data sources.
  • Keeping data in a central warehouse makes it vastly easier to organize, access, and manage.
  • Self-service reporting supplies decision makers with specific insights on demand.

An effective data strategy may be more attainable than you think.

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In our previous article, we outlined the risks of relying on manual processes for administrative activities throughout higher education. When people handle data — finding, moving, integrating, standardizing, or typing information — with their own mouse and keyboard, it can have negative effects that may reverberate campus wide.

Those risks compel colleges and universities to take a critical look at how data is moved through their organization — and explore targeted improvements. The important thing is to identify manual processes where improvements are both feasible and meaningful. Focus first on areas that can have the biggest impact, such as a process that consumes outsized amounts of time, staff, and other resources. Or it could be a process that makes new opportunities possible, like improving data analytics to learn more about student success.

For colleges and universities striving to manage data, start by developing a few use cases. Then develop a practical, sustainable, and scalable roadmap for making those use cases a reality.

Crawl — Identify disparate data sources

The first step to effectively managing data is to identify and integrate disparate data sources. The average college depends on multiple software systems to handle much of the same information. Huge amounts of input go into moving identical data (like student addresses or payment information) from one system to another, often involving plenty of spreadsheets. The issue of siloed information grows more prominent as schools expand their footprint and adopt an increasing number of software as a service applications.

Data integration techniques can vary, depending on the disparity, complexity, and number of data sources involved. Some systems offer a native integration, others use an application programming interface. In both cases, previously siloed systems gain the ability to share data with each other. Instead of spending hours moving data manually, it now takes just a few clicks. Some information may even transfer automatically, in the correct format, to the preferred location.

While integrations are an excellent start, they can also be limited and prone to problems. To harness your data’s true potential — and significantly reduce manual processes for managing it — that data needs to all live in the same place.

Walk — Build a data warehouse

A data warehouse is the centerpiece of any modern data strategy. As the name implies, a data warehouse is a repository for all (or most) of the data a college collects and utilizes. Rather than being stored in separate systems and connected through integrations, like a series of hubs with narrow pipelines in between, a data warehouse stores everything together.

Keeping data in central storage makes it vastly easier to organize, access, and manage. After a data warehouse is set up, many manual processes become expedited or irrelevant. However, it’s also a significant undertaking — both in terms of technical requirements and change management. And while it streamlines a mountain of manual work and unleashes the full potential of data, there’s a crucial step yet to complete.

Run — Enable self-service reporting

The point of manual processes and the purpose of a data warehouse are the same: to help decision makers make informed choices backed by evidence and objectivity, rather than guesswork and bias. A data warehouse keeps data in an integrated and organized state, ready for analytics. What’s missing is a way to supply decision makers with specific insights on demand. Without this, vital information remains locked away in the data warehouse, and people rely on the IT department to supply reports.

Mature organizations, inside and outside higher education, enable leaders at all levels to run their own reports. In addition to having a data warehouse, they have tools that make reporting accessible to all. They supply people with dashboards that highlight key metrics and update in real-time, providing the pulse of organizational performance.

With the combination of self-service reporting and data-driven dashboards, leaders have the means to answer tough questions, solve intractable challenges, and understand their institution like never before. It’s a transformative capability — and it’s the end goal of any effort to better manage data.

How we can help

Identifying use cases, developing a roadmap, and seeing it successfully through each phase will likely require a data engineer, a business intelligence specialist, and someone that understands your internal data architecture. CLA’s digital team has the technical proficiency to help plan and execute a data strategy that can deliver a high ROI on a short horizon. We understand how to guide a data strategy towards maturity and equip a college or university to manage data on its own. Fill out the form below to learn more.

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