I Was Just Thinking…

The Generalists Path to Learning about BI & Analytics in Higher Education

Sargent Shultz from the 1960’s era show, Hogans Heros often declared,

I know know nothing,  I see nothing, I am not here  

That is my disclaimer…. I know nothing about BI and analytics.

The problem is there is this huge clammer for someone who does know something about BI and Analytics.   I often hear  the following types of questions related to BI / Analytics and Data Warehousing:
“We have tons of data in this company, but we can’t access it.”
“We need to slice and dice the data every which way.”
“You’ve got to make it easy for leadership to get at the data directly.”
“Just give me what is important.”
“It drives me crazy to have two people present the same business metrics at a meeting, but with different numbers.”
“We want people to use information to support more fact-based decision making.”
What is a poor IT director to do?  Well, we began our process of deciding on advanced analytics and BI tools 18 months ago.   Our ERP vendor Ellucian gave us a recommended training and resource list which has proven to be very helpful.  I usually whine and complain about Ellucian, but they were spot on with this one.  One of the key recommendations was to begin participating in the TDWI training.  TDWI or The Data Warehousing Institute is a geekfest of data nerds gathered discussing BI analytics and data warehousing.    Mostly it is corporate gearheads with a smattering of higher education folks.  
What I have learned about the path toward making sense of all of this is that BI Analytics / Data Warehousing offerings are immeasurably  complex with a  variety of vendor offerings and packaging which make straightforward comparisons difficult if not impossible.  When you know nothing of this topic and you are trying to be a good steward of institutional resources you have to bring some sense to all of this by reading, networking with other professionals  observing what others are doing and by testing multiple  products.  I don’t know if this is the right way to go about this, but if you are in need of a starting point to learn about this area I will give you ours.    Through all of this we have come to a set of rules  for evaluating products will generally include the following criteria   

  • Business needs
  • End user needs
  • Back end or technical needs
  • Value
  • Customer Service
  • Internal expertise
  • Collaboration

Our adventure in this arena started with a conversion of our database from Unidata to SQ with the second part of this project a deployment of Colleague Reporting and Analytics.   Things we learn from these initial steps  included:
Assumptions and observations:

  1. We have Web Intelligence but are lacking the ability to create reports from our whole data set.  CROA allows us to use only subsets.  Not one product has all the features you need to allow you to create all the reports we need ( ie some tools are better for mobile etc)
  2. CROA data is as good as the last refresh only
  3. Key users will be given live access as needed
  4. Adam Lange, formerly of Ellucian and now with Lake Tahoe Community College is a Geek Rock Star
  5. Our final choice of tools will likely not be a tool but rather the right mix of tools for the appropriate people in the organization
  6. Pervasive BI is a vision only

Our Wandering BI Journey
The next step in our journey has been  finding tools to help us tell a story beyond CROA
We began our process of deciding on advanced analytics and BI tools 18 months ago with our path and observations as follows:

  1. Initial Ellucian recommendations included attending TDWI
  2. The two primary reading resources
  3. Data Warehouse Toolkit – Ralph Kimball
  4. Successful Business Intelligence  Cindi Howson
  5. Through contacts made at TDWI we have begun to participate with higher ed BI groups such as:
    1. Northern Kentucky University’s (NKU Higher Ed BI Summit)
    2. The 2014 Conference is in April
  6. Attend every BI session at every conference over the past yearish.
  7. Develop a evaluation matrix
  8. Get a Demo of the following and narrow our choices to the top 5ish or 6ish  
    1. Tableau
    2. Domo
    3. Entrinsk Informer
    4. iStrategy
      1. Western Wyoming Community College will do a combined IR/IT demo of their experience with iStrategy/Pro Clarity/ Pyramid
    5. Pyramid
    6. Cognos
    7. Jaspersoft
    8. Halo
    9. Lumira (SAP)
    10. Hadoop
    11. SAS
    12. Infobuilders
    13. Nutrina BI
    14. Looker
  9. Share info and lessons learned
  10. Validate our work with
    1. BI Scorecard
      1. Following our attendance at one of the TDWI we determined we would purchase BI Scorecard at a cost $2995
    2. Research Analyst review  from Info-Tech Research
  11. Make Decision and Recommendation
  12. Next Steps
    1. Continue Learning
      2. TDWI
      3. Making Data Work Conference

Overall I am impressed with the product line we have looked which includes Domo, Tableau and Entrinsik Informer.   There are certainly strengths and weaknesses to all of these products. We have been scoring some of these products and hopefully in the next month or so we will have the chance to look at a few more.    If I get around to it I will share some of our observations.  Shortly I will also be sharing a presentation which was the intro for a demo we did of the three products mentioned just above. This was done for the Wyoming Community College CIO and IR councils as well as a smattering of other folks.  
That’s all for now.  Have a Blessed Christmas Season.  






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