At the 2019 Enterprise Summit, higher education IT, business and finance, and institutional research professionals gathered to explore the future and the promise of analytics. This third in a series of three blog posts discusses the importance of governance, collaboration, and communication to an analytics future.
The 2019 Enterprise Summit: Analytics brought together professionals from the areas of IT, business and finance, and institutional research to explore the promise of analytics and how collaboration across the enterprise can advance institutional analytics strategy. The Enterprise Summit was co-hosted by EDUCAUSE, the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) with support from a program committee comprising members from each association.
Three primary themes emerged from this year's event:
- The importance of data and the urgency of analytics
- The impact of analytics on the higher education workforce
- The importance of governance, collaboration, and communication as keys to an analytics future
This is the third in a three-part series of blog posts summarizing each theme's issues and recommendations.
Don't Go It Alone
In their general session at the Summit, the presidents of AIR, EDUCAUSE, and NACUBO spoke about their collaboratively developed joint statement on analytics titled, "Analytics Can Save Higher Education. Really." Their presentation made it clear that analytics is not something that can be done by one department or one part of the institution. It takes a coordinated cross-enterprise approach.
Data analytics can be a catalyst to solve institutional problems, but not when silos stand in the way. Establish a team approach with an unrelenting expectation for collaboration across colleges, departments, and divisions of all kinds.1
The first two blog posts in this series looked at the urgency of analytics and its increasing effect on the higher education workforce. In this blog post, we consider the importance of using cross-enterprise effort as analytics initiatives are established. Summit presentations and discussions called out the importance of governance, collaboration, and communication as keys to successful analytics endeavors.
Governance: Focus on Stakeholders
Analytics initiatives are typically built with the expectation that the information they produce will be used widely by many different groups for many different purposes. It's helpful to the initiative's success if those multiple stakeholders can be represented through governance efforts from the beginning of the initiative, as well as throughout implementation, to inform planning and decision-making. Having stakeholder involvement in planning and decision-making contributes to their buy-in and commitment to the analytics effort, making it more likely they will be happy with and take advantage of the results.
EDUCAUSE research has shown that institutions are concerned about whether faculty would embrace the analytics system, learn to use the system, and see value in it.2 One way to increase that engagement is to give faculty a seat at the governance table.
Additionally, as analytics initiatives get underway, colleges and universities will need to make decisions about how to allocate resources to sustain and grow analytics. Not everything can be done, and these decisions about what to do and what not to do can be difficult. As one summit presenter, San Cannon, Chief Data Officer at University of Rochester, said, "Everybody gets a say but not everybody gets their way."3 Having all of the appropriate stakeholders participate in that conversation through a governance process is necessary for making resource decisions that ensure the analytics initiative addresses the goals set out for it.
A good governance process that aligns analytics with the strategic goals of the institution will help people understand that the work of analytics is for the greater institutional good. It's important for people to understand that data governance isn't something that is being done to them but rather is being done for them.
- Develop a governance structure that helps build trust between units and departments that might not typically work together.
- Include groups that are connected to your specific analytics goals. Consider including students, faculty, senior leadership, and academic leadership, as well as staff from IT, business and finance, institutional research, and student affairs.
- Include individuals from a variety of data functions such as data stewards, data managers, and data users.
- Encourage data sharing. Help stakeholders understand that data is an institutional strategic asset, not something that is owned by a particular department.
- Use governance to develop common data definitions and standards.
- Measure governance progress. Set governance goals and keep track of progress toward them.
Collaboration: Analytics as a Team Sport
Effective analytics requires participation across a wide swath of the college or university. Data is housed in multiple systems on premises and in the cloud, and it is often managed by multiple departments. Different areas of the institution have different needs for the information that can be gleaned from all of that data, and the best decisions are made when data from those multiple areas are combined and analyzed in ways that answer questions related to institutional challenges. Doing this well is a multifaceted challenge that can only be addressed by breaking down silos and through collaboration. The challenges higher education is facing cannot be addressed if we work in silos. Shared ownership and shared accountability are required.
- Start with people who already champion collaboration.
- Get others on board by connecting the analytics initiative with the institutional mission.
- Collaboratively develop a shared vision of how the initiative will advance that mission.
- Start small and focus on a real business problem to acclimate people to working together. Find something that is broken and can be fixed easily in order to gain a quick win and show success.
- Foster mutual trust by bringing people together to work on a common project.
Communication: The Final Analytics Key
The type of cross-enterprise collaboration required for a successful analytics initiative demands effective, consistent, and intentional communication. Senior leaders from IT, business and finance, and institutional research can help analytics succeed if they focus on relationship building through communication. Simply giving stakeholders data is not enough to ensure their engagement and understanding; it's important to communicate with stakeholders throughout the entire analytics process. Effective communication paves the way for a shared view of everything from the development of a data dictionary to the application of analytics in high-level campus decision-making. An intentional focus on communication will help the many players on the analytics team understand their roles and the impact of their work in relation to the team. And when the analytics stakeholders act as one team, they act with a shared vision, using shared resources to move forward together in service of the institution's strategic direction.
- Be intentional about communication. Build a communications plan that includes all analytics stakeholders.
- As your analytics initiative gains momentum, engage with campus leadership through communication efforts that help them understand the initiative's goals and its connection to institutional strategy.
- Don't stop. Communication is not a one-and-done thing. Make communication a regular part of your analytics efforts.
- Listen and adapt. Building an analytics initiative can be a grueling process, but the inclusion of many voices through communication helps smooth the way.
Working Together to Make a Difference
Analytics has the power to help higher education tackle some of its biggest challenges. Colleges and universities have access to vast stores of data from the numerous systems that run virtually every aspect of the institution, but putting the need for informed decision-making together with the available data in a way that results in useful analytics can be harder than it seems. However, it's work that can have an enormous impact on the health and future of our institutions. Colleges and universities can leverage analytics to address important institutional challenges, but to be successful, multiple stakeholders need to work together through an effective governance process, close collaboration, and intentional communication across all areas of the institution.
- Susan Johnston, Christine Kelly, and John O'Brien. "Analytics as a Team Sport: the AIR-EDUCAUSE-NACUBO Analytics Statement," (presentation, 2019 Enterprise Summit: Analytics, Long Beach, CA, April 2019). ↩
- "Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS), EDUCAUSE, n.d. ↩
- Sandra Cannon, "PowerTalks: Best Practices in Collaboration" presentation, 2019 Enterprise Summit: Analytics, Long Beach, CA, April 2019). ↩
Betsy Tippens Reinitz is the Director of the Enterprise IT Program for EDUCAUSE.
© 2019 Betsy Tippens Reinitz. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.