Buzzword Bingo!

Apr 23, 2018

“Transformation” is having its golden moment as a buzzword in higher education. It sounds great: fresh, new, and exciting. In that excitement, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that transformation is a long-term venture that requires a substantial amount of change. And not just one or two adjustments, but a collection of thorough, lasting alterations that fundamentally shape an institution’s culture.

Transforming into a data-informed institution is a worthy objective, particularly in the current climate of decreasing enrollment and limited resources. However, this initiative is better undertaken before you find yourself in a dire situation, before major institutional challenges force you to overhaul how you do business. Change course when you’re five miles from the iceberg, not when you can reach out and touch it, because there is no quick fix for becoming a data-informed institution. It is not as simple as buying new software, engaging with a consultant, or standing up a data warehouse. A successful transformation involving a business intelligence (BI) project starts with a roadmap that clearly defines the goals and outcomes. What information do you want? What would you do differently if you had it? What kinds of decisions will you make? What business processes will be affected?

Answering these questions will help you build the data warehouse, but the real transformation is not simply about getting the technology in place. Using the data for informed decision making, adapting your business processes in response to analysis, and achieving campus-wide adoption of the BI solution are the true cultural changes. It’s incorporating the activity of doing rather than having—using the data and not just checking the box for having a BI tool—that brings lasting change. Investing institutional resources in a business intelligence solution and then not using the data is akin to buying a treadmill to store laundry.

Engaging with a consulting firm that brings deep expertise in both BI and higher education is an important investment in the project. Ultimately, though, the drive to transform must come from within the institution. Success requires sponsors at the highest levels that have mechanisms in place to pay attention to detail at the lowest levels. Transformation occurs from the collection of all the small changes made by departments and individuals, and even the smallest project will struggle without concrete support from leadership. Transformation requires a shared vision, clear communication with and accountability to stakeholders, and an institutional culture that embraces building on the small changes. The culture of an institution is not altered overnight, and it will not happen without leadership that is truly committed to change, and without the right people, processes, and technology in place within the organization.