A university-wide business intelligence initiative, the Data Driven Decision Making program, is accelerating access to meaningful, user-friendly data that can mean smarter choices on topics from promoting retirement plan contributions to boosting graduation rates.
The focus on metrics, initiated by the Office of the Executive Vice President, is part of a broader “Big Data” trend in business, government and other fields that mines stored records for precise, targeted information that can provide enhanced service and a competitive edge.
The Notre Dame effort was recently highlighted in the Research Bulletin of the Educause Center for Applied Research.
“What we’re doing is called business intelligence or data analytics—how do you use, tap and unlock the data you have in your existing transactional systems so people can use that on a day-to- day basis to make better informed decisions?” says Todd Hill, interim director of Academic and Administrative Services in the Office of Information Technologies.
“What we’re trying to do is give the decision makers real-time access to that information that they don’t already have readily available to them now.”
The data is stored, but access can be time-consuming. A survey showed that people spent 80 percent to 90 percent of their time gathering data with only 10 percent to 20 percent left for analysis and decision making—rates that the new system aims to reverse by generating understandable information quickly.
“They have a lot of transactional reporting,” says Brandon Burke, business intelligence and portal manager, such as records of employees with certain characteristics. “What they didn’t have before the project was a good way to visualize that data so they’re not getting this ream of paper and a long list of people. You can make better decisions when you have data that’s easily understood.”
The technology has application across the campus. For example, in human resources, Hill says, “What if we want to know where we are growing at the University headcount-wise? Where are we having turnover? Is that turnover acceptable? Is it more pronounced in some area more than others? If so, maybe there’s an issue there.”
An analysis of contributions to the voluntary retirement plan unexpectedly revealed that women participate more than men. “Those sorts of things are important,” he says. “HR can adjust communications for more participation if they can find out the characteristics of those nonparticipants, rather than blanket the campus.”
Student data in the registrar’s office can reveal trends in choices of academic major and help prepare sufficient classes, or provide guidance that can improve graduation rates by identifying common traits of those who don’t complete degrees.
“Everybody within the University can benefit from this,” Hill says. “You can see how you can use this data quite a bit. Obviously you can use it in the financials. Are we being good stewards of our financial assets, whether the endowments or unrestricted funds?”
The program could even measure for Development whether a No. 1 football ranking increases donor giving.