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Data, Data, Data

By jservedio on April 27, 2018

Tim Borfitz

As one reviews Educause’s “2018 Top 10 IT Issues,” it is evident that data are front and center.

While information security is rightfully #1, three of the other top 10 issues are:

#4 “Data-enabled institutional culture. Using business intelligence and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions.”

#8 “Data management and governance. Implementing effective institutional data governance practices. The maturity levels of analytics data efficacy at the median U.S. institution are still developing.” In spring of 2017, the Data Analytics and Decision Support team was created as one of the important pillars to support faculty, students, and staff.

#2 “Student success. Includes student success data warehouse/operational data store and student success analytics dashboards.”

The representation of data through infographics, charts, and informative visualizations is now the
norm for newspapers, online journals, and written communications. These representations help clearly communicate complex information and, when properly organized, help people make better decisions. With data-informed decision making increasingly important to the people we serve, Colgate ITS has adapted by adjusting the focus of key members of our staff to provide new services.

Tooling and Staffing Up

A few years ago, Colgate undertook a detailed review of data and reporting needs. Most reporting consisted of static reports developed in Excel and distributed via e-mail. Thousands of Excel documents, each tweaked by the business unit as needed, resulted in redundant and wasted effort, inconsistent results, and a high security risk. Given this state, we looked for a solution that provides web reporting and dashboards. After an extensive review of vendors, we decided on Tableau as our web reporting, dashboard, and data visualization solution.

At the same time, we researched and held discussions on the best technology for our data warehouse — a place to store the full collection of our institutional administrative data across our many systems. The makers of Banner, Ellucian, were an obvious choice at first with Banner-specific support out of the box. However, as we looked more more closely, we realized that this option would take significant work to customize, and their offering did not allow us to access data from other systems. Since we already used SQL Server for most of our custom application development, we decided to custom build our warehouse in SQL Server.

Over the last few years, we hired a data warehouse developer, and dedicated a position to data visualization, reporting, and analytics. In spring of 2017, the Data Analytics and Decision Support team was created as one of the important pillars to support faculty, students, and staff. Recently we established a small, cross-functional working group with Institutional Planning and Research, which is co-chaired by ITS and IPR. We developed the following charge: “This team will develop procedures, standards, and best practices for accessing and exploring data. This team will develop a vision and plan to support data-informed decisions and data usage on campus, while ensuring the information is available only to those who need it.”

An Enterprise Data Warehouse

As systems have matured and an abundance of data are available, Colgate has a wealth of information worthy of pulling together and analyzing to better understand our work and to add insights as we make decisions. The creation of an enterprise data warehouse has been underway at Colgate for a few years. A centralized, properly formatted, and secure data warehouse allows cross-functional and historical reporting, trend analysis, and easy access to appropriate data and dashboards across the university. We have completed the budget and expense data mart and are currently putting the finishing touches on our admission data mart to ease reporting of point-in-time comparisons and to provide quick and easy creation of dashboards and more robust reports. This spring, we will begin the design and development of our advancement data mart, which will include some parts of the student, parent, and employee data marts. This effort will be key to the transition to the new advancement software, Raiser’s Edge NXT.


Our early ventures using Tableau included budget and expense dashboards for all budget managers and SET forms results for all faculty. Over the last few years, we’ve used the warehouse and Tableau to analyze survey results, track Alcohol Edu and Haven progress, better understand annual fund giving, reconcile web gifts, assess advancement portfolio progress, support enrollment planning, review Banner security access, provide student and employee dashboards for campus safety, display major/minor lists for administrative assistants, inform decisions on first-year registration, analyze social media trends, track computer inventory, and analyze Concur expenses.

We want to help

Over the spring and summer, we are reaching out to faculty to hear their needs, build bridges, and better define our team’s service offerings. We also will be working on a supervisor dashboard, ITS specific dashboards and key performance metrics, equity and diversity reporting, and paid family leave notifications. As we build more and more dashboards, we are working on dashboard standards and a better way to organize our Tableau sites.

While we have a fair number of projects in the queue, we are anxious to help all areas around campus that want to explore, analyze, and visualize their data.

SOME THINGS IN LIFE REALLY ARE FREE (Tableau for academic use)

Tableau Desktop is a free download for students and faculty who use it for instructional purposes. An online community exists for faculty that includes self-service learning, classroom materials, and FAQs. If you need help downloading Tableau or wan to talk about what’s possible, please contact Tim Borfitz at x 7190 or e-mail tborfitz@colgate.edu.

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