Jackie Njoroge is Director of Strategy at the University of Salford and a member of the HESPA executive.
The need for better business intelligence (BI) has become almost a given in the sector. Improved competitive insights and more strategic decision making are needed more than ever now that efficiency and greater student choice are centre stage.
The Green Paper on higher education in England and the Spending Review have made it very clear that these are going to remain key areas of focus for the sector.
However, as many of us are finding, the realities of achieving more sophisticated BI capability are proving far more complex. Those of us working within the planning sphere understand the fantastic potential we have to create the foundations of a more evidence-based approach. So what’s standing in the way?
We have seen huge strides in the professionalisation of the planning and management information function. However, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in realising the full benefits of this development is the historic ‘ghettoisation’ of data. The sector’s understanding of data’s potential to help HE providers develop business management systems that will help it perform better should run, like the words in a stick of rock, right throughout our organisations. We all need high-quality insights about the wider environment in which we operate to help us make better informed decisions about our courses, products and services, and to help us pinpoint potential effectiveness and efficiency gains. Senior managers need increasingly to see it as a strategic tool and engage with its potential.
For the past year I’ve been a consultant for the Business Intelligence project being run jointly by HESA and Jisc. The first major milestone from this project is the launch of Heidi Plus, which is to old heidi what the bullet train was to the Flying Scotsman. While heidi has been a much-loved and valuable part of our data and planning system for some eight years, the need for a data and analytics tool with significantly upgraded capability is clear.
Heidi Plus will make it possible for decision makers at all levels of an organisation to more easily access, analyse, understand and act on information anytime and anywhere. The combination of more detailed data sets alongside cutting edge analytics functionality should help data professionals make the case for more sophisticated use of data as a management tool.
It will both provide prepared content and enable users to get creative to generate their own insights to inform evidence-based decision making. Dashboards and visualisations have been developed to help answer the common business questions we in provider organisations face, but it will also make it possible to generate bespoke analyses and visualisations based on HESA data sets, and other sector data, to answer our own individual priority business questions. Jisc will use its Heidi Lab project to experiment with data-driven insights and features that may be migrated into Heidi Plus.
The new service differs in how users interact with data and is more flexible, with extra features including visualisations, case studies, narrative, examples of insights gained and actions taken. It aims to open up access to closed data sets provide better access and application of data. This should help us react faster and more intelligently to increasing resource constraints and assist in compliance with existing regulation, such as OFFA fair access.
As we all work through the changes needed to keep up with the demands of delivering more efficiency and more student-centric service delivery, we need to be focussed on maximising the value of our management information and raising awareness of this powerful asset. We now have big data, but with big data comes big responsibility to make sure we generate insight and not simply more data.