Silos have long been the bane of organizational effectiveness and, more recently, emerged as an obstacle to successful data analytics programs. That’s a concern on college campuses, where institutions use tools from Splunk, Microsoft and others to improve student retention, increase operational efficiency and support a variety of other goals.
Colleges can eliminate obstacles — including silos — that undermine the creation of a data-driven culture and will be better positioned to reap the benefits of digital transformation. As higher education leaders pointed out in a panel discussion at EDUCAUSE recently, data will play a big role as digital transformation initiatives move from idea to implementation.
Increase Conversation to Reduce Data Silos
Several factors contribute to the creation of silos. In higher education, where academic departments, schools and campuses may operate independently, data often resides in individual fiefdoms without the benefit of cohesion or sharing. In many cases, resulting silos are an unintentional consequence of legacy systems and established processes, which likely were not designed with data optimization in mind. Sometimes, however, these types of silos may be perpetuated by individuals who fear the loss of control over data and are therefore reluctant to facilitate easy transfer and sharing.
The best way to reduce silos is to increase communication and transparency. Institutions can increase collaboration by providing more staff training in data analytics and by hiring or engaging experts. By far, one of the most effective solutions is to prioritize conversations about data, getting stakeholders into the same room and onto the same page to help initiatives move forward.
Cultural roadblocks can be even tougher to resolve than logistical challenges, such as getting data into a format that allows for analysis. But they are critical. Without a data-driven culture, it is much harder for institutions to pursue data initiatives strategically. And that strategy is where the real potential of data exists. According to Miriam Greenberg, director of education and communications for Harvard University’s Strategic Data Project, the best programs ask the right questions and deliver the information users actually need to achieve their strategic objectives.
Strong Data Governance Supports Long-Term Success
Institutions should create clear data governance, a broad umbrella that can help to define and guide where data lives, how it is collected and who has access. As the University of Notre Dame’s Business Intelligence Manager Chris Frederick explains, strong data governance helps to eliminate some of the conflicts that can arise in data initiatives. Getting there, he notes, may take trial and error: In Notre Dame’s dataND program, it took at least one false start before the institution opted to bring in a data steward who could help facilitate agreement among stakeholders.
Strong governance is also important because institutions often encounter a lack of consensus on what the goal of a data program should be. A survey of 200 higher education leaders found the desired outcomes of such programs often vary depending on the leader’s role on campus. Provosts, for example, tended to emphasize data analytics that can drive student retention and degree completion, whereas presidents, CFOs and CIOs sought to focus on learning outcomes. Without alignment on priorities, data programs are at risk of being pulled in different directions.
Data Is Key to Digital Transformation Strategy
When EDUCAUSE released its Top 10 IT Issues list in October, data emerged as a major theme. Most directly, leaders cited the creation of a data-enabled institution and of data management and governance. But data also is central to other issues on the list, such as student success, privacy and sustainable funding. Data integration and significance will only grow more important as institutions pursue digital transformation initiatives, including those that seek to take advantage of the Internet of Things.
As digital transformation in higher education matures, it will become even more critical for institutions to have effective governance, strategies and culture to support data initiatives. As David Frumkin, IoT digital business solution architect with CDW, notes in “The Digital Transformation Insight Report,” “Regardless of industry, learning how to leverage digital transformation and implement it correctly is helping organizations do more with less, work faster and more efficiently, and improve the way they work — as well as the experience they provide.”
This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.