Data Governance in Higher Education

Data governance in higher education is an interesting topic.  Most colleges and universities operate in a decentralized nature to support the various functions of their business.  Consider student records (registrar’s office), student accounts, financial aid, admissions, financial affairs, human resources, advancement, facilities, etc.  In larger universities, decentralized operations are further compounded by multiple campuses and disparate physical/geographic locations.

As data are more prolific in our day-to-day jobs, and big data are ever-increasing, what role does data governance play in the current and future strategy of a higher ed?  It should play a major role.  But, how?

Data Governance

I recently listened to Notre Dame’s data governance strategy on   Mike Chapple, Sr. Director of Information Technology Service Delivery, had some interesting insights.

In this interview, he discussed 5 key pillars of Notre Dame’s data governance strategy:

  1. Quality and consistency
  2. Policy and standards
  3. Security and privacy
  4. Compliance
  5. Retention and archiving

He also discussed the use of tools such as the RACI matrix to help steward various data governance processes.  All of these topics are relevant – and challenging to centralize.

We’re undergoing a similar effort at Georgetown to address some of these areas and to create a “BI Center of Excellence”.  We’ve engaged Gartner to learn more about the broader higher education landscape and to glean best practices.  This will become increasingly important as we roll out Workday Financials this July.  I look forward to these discussions and the opportunity to help better structure reporting operations and data governance in a central operation.

What is your organization doing?  Where does reporting/BI fall organizationally within your university?  Under the CIO, CFO, or Provost?  Or, do you have a neutral reporting/data governance organization that serves everyone?  Or, do you have reporting centers for each campus that report organizationally into a broader reporting unit?

These are some of the questions that we are trying to answer as we design the future state of how reporting and BI are handled at Georgetown.  If you are a member of HEDW, they just released an informative data governance survey which includes data from about 25 universities.  As we progress further down this path, I will post further about what was ultimately decided to support Georgetown’s efforts.


The Power of Timeliness

My team at Georgetown is tackling a large upgrade of Ellucian’s Banner Operational Data Store product.  You’re probably already wondering what this has to do with timeliness.  Ironically, we haven’t been timely at all in keeping pace with Ellucian’s software updates on this product.  When I stepped into my current role, I made a commitment to get all of our software products upgraded to the latest version.  This is important to not only to get support/maintenance benefits, but also to take advantage of the latest software features – many of which positively impact our business.

Ellucian ODS

This large upgrade that we are completing for Ellucian’s ODS product further exposed the benefit of timely and responsive team collaboration.  To give you a sense of the magnitude, this upgrade impacts over 400 reports across thousands of users.

  • To better collaborate, we setup a Google Spreadsheet, which enabled the team to perform collaborative testing in real-time.
  • From an IT perspective, we documented all of the reports that we wanted the end-users to test by functional area.
  • We then assigned points of contacts in each functional area to test that collection of reports.
  • Feedback, errors, and successes were all tracked consistently in the Google Spreadsheet.

So – where I am going with all of this?  The point of the article was to talk about timeliness.


I’ve seen this in other cycles, but we noticed that the testers that performed their testing early actually received more feedback and were more successful in their efforts.

  • By submitting feedback early, it enabled my team to more quickly respond. In some cases, we had time to screen share with the users.
  • My team was also timely and provided quicker responses to these initial pieces of feedback. This was due to bandwidth.  The had more flexibility to respond earlier in the testing cycle.
  • As a result, the teams that submitted early feedback received more iterations withing the same testing cycle.  This made their efforts more successful overall.

Ellucian ODS 8.4.1 Testing

There is a lot of meaning behind the old adage, “The early bird catches the worm.”  In this case, it had a direct correlation to the success of testing.

In many other cases, timeliness and responsiveness can also have a positive impact on:

  • Employee morale
  • Customer satisfaction
  • And, if you’re in the commercial world – profit

Enhance the way you do business in the cloud with Intuit’s Quickbase


My recent experiences with Intuit’s QuickBase product led me to write this article.  I found it to be a great tool for project management – and beyond my needs, several departments adopted it as a means to build custom, cloud-based applications.  Here are a few quotes from my former team.  I’ve also reviewed the application on TrustRadius for any of you that may be looking to purchase.

Quickbase allowed our professional services team to fine tune our delivery processes, reduce delivery time, and ultimately improve our margins.

We felt more connected as a team due to the workflow and notification capabilities.  We felt in-sync!

Quickbase allowed us to quickly adapt and keep pace with our ever-changing business.

I felt more empowered to write my own reports and see data the way I needed to in order to run my business unit.

The flexibility of Quickbase’s platform allows for almost limitless use for the product.  If you are considering a similar tool (i.e. SalesForce), here are a few features that we enjoyed.  Disclaimer: I do not get paid in any way by Intuit.

  1. Get started quickly with best practice templates.  My favorite?  The Project Management template.
    • QuickBase provides numerous out-of-the-box templates.  On many occasions, we thought up a concept and then realized that Intuit already had a template available that solved 75-80% of our needs.  We were then able to quickly customize this template to build our “custom” application.  It was simple to add fields, modify forms, etc.
  2. Easy-to-use reports, charts, and graphs.
    • Not only is it easy to setup reports around your data, it is also easy to view and modify the data directly from your report.  The QuickBase platform allows you to drill into the data from the reporting elements.  You can then use ‘Grid Edit’ mode in many cases to directly edit the data that you’ve drilled into.  This assumes that you have the appropriate access to that data, of course.

  3. Control access easily through customizable roles.
    • Access and security is sometimes an afterthought.  Quickbase allows you to setup custom roles and then secure that data that resides in your application tables down to the data element.  You can choose the basic functions of view, add, modify, delete.  This flexibility allows you to setup complex security in your application to reflect the unique needs of your business community.  You can also nest roles for individuals that may be in more than one.

  4. Easily add custom fields to support your business need.  There are a variety of data types which you can select.
    • Be it a custom application, or the customization of an existing QuickBase template, it is tremendously helpful to be able to add custom fields to your application.  This is done easily by the ‘Add New Fields’ feature.  Intuit has made it really easy by predefining a number of logical data types.  You can even use their scripting language to create a derived or calculated field.  Personally, I’ve found that calculated fields come in extreme handy.  In terms of project management, I’ve used calculated fields to determine the variance between two dates.   This helped me to analyze how long a certain activity was taking to complete across several projects.

  5. Subscriptions and notifications are a powerful way to keep your users engaged and target communication to them at the right time.
    • QuickBase has an excellent built-in feature to handle notifications.  These are helpful when setting up complex workflows.  They are also very nice for prompting users to take action on particular pieces of data when it has changed.  We were able to reduce our delivery timeframes by notifying different functional groups when activities were completed ahead of schedule.  This had a direct impact on our business and helped us to achieve better margins.

Don’t take my word for it.  Quickbase offers a free 30-day trial (no credit card data required).  Sign-up with your email address and let me know what you think!  In the trial, you’ll have the ability to use all of the features above and get a look at the available templates.  If you’re looking to build a pilot ‘business case’ for your boss – this is the spot!

Considering BI? Follow these 10 steps for success!

Business intelligence.  It consistently ranks as one of the top priorities in various CIO and IT surveys.  In January 2013, Gartner conducted an executive program survey of over 2,000 CIOs.  I’ve listed the top 10 business and technology priorities from the survey below.

Top 10 Business Priorities Top 10 Technology Priorities
  1. Increasing enterprise growth
  2. Delivering operational results
  3. Reducing enterprise costs
  4. Attracting and retaining new customers
  5. Improving IT applications and infrastructure
  6. Creating new products and services (innovation)
  7. Improving efficiency
  8. Attracting and retaining the workforce
  9. Implementing analytics and big data
  10. Improving business processes
  1. Analytics and business intelligence
  2. Mobile technologies
  3. Cloud computing (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS)
  4. Collaboration technologies (workflow)
  5. Legacy modernization
  6. IT management
  7. CRM
  8. Virtualization
  9. Security
  10. ERP Applications

SaaS = software as a service; IaaS = infrastructure as a service; PaaS = platform as a service
Source: Gartner Executive Programs (January 2013)

That said, it is a known fact that many business intelligence (BI) projects fail. Are you planning to implement a BI and analytics program? Maybe thinking of big data?

Here are a few lessons learned that will put you on the path to success:

  1. Ensure executive sponsorship from the start of your project.  This may seem like a simple thing, but ensuring that the executives stand behind your project is critically important.  Before the project starts, lay out the business plan, create budgets (operating/capital), document key stakeholders, and setup a governance structure.  Keep these executives apprised of progress throughout and ensure they see the business value that you are providing.
  2. Understand your current software agreements – and choose the right software/database platform for your organization.  Many people ask me – what is your favorite BI software/database platform?  My answer is that is always depends.  It depends on what contracts your company already has in place.  It depends on the skills and expertise of your staff.  It depends on the budget of your project.  The net is that there are a variety of really good BI tools on the market.  To name a few – Microsoft, Oracle, MicroStrategy, IBM, Teradata, etc.  For a small scale rapid BI implementation, consider cloud-based tools such as Intuit’s Quickbase.
  3. Be inclusive during requirements gathering – don’t design in a bubble.  IT departments often get frustrated with business users as they feel that they can get the technical solution in place much more quickly without the business users involvement.  While this is probably true, if you don’t get critical buy-in from these business users – your initiative will ultimately fail.  The business users need to understand that the system will support their needs and requirements.  This is also critical when you get to the decommissioning phase (item #9 below).
  4. Employ a professional services team to help you.  This is not necessary, but in my personal opinion, I feel that it is tremendously helpful.  Your staff may or may not have dedicated time for the project.  Bringing on a few technical consultants and a project manager can really help to drive the project forward.  In addition, they hold an objective opinion and can help facilitate communication and decisions among departments.
  5. Don’t overlook security.  Security is often over-engineered in BI projects.  Please remember that BI projects don’t need to have ERP-level security.  You may consider bringing the security up a notch in order to gain better performance.  During your design, you may also identify that the users of the BI platform may be power-users by nature.  The platform doesn’t have to be available to everyone.  You may consider allowing a greater level of access to a few number of “power-users”.  This will depend on your specific deployment, but make sure you plan to discuss security early in the project and don’t leave it as an afterthought. 
  6. Document data definitions and ensure buy-in of that definition across groups.  Data definitions can be the most challenging part of a successful BI project – particularly if you have multiple groups involved and they each have their own definition of one piece of data.  This is a tedious process, but be diligent in working through definitions for your data and particularly for any calculated fields.  You may consider software packages that help you to manage this workload (i.e. Informatica’s Business Glossary)
  7. Keep it simple for the end-user and consider a portal.  Presentation is also important.   In a recent implementation, I used Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 and its Team Site capability to disseminate reports and data by department.  We used team sites for the various departments and a public site to bring all of the departments together.  Consider building a portal similar to this for your end-users.  This makes the report/analytics delivery seamless and easy.  In an ever-growing mobile world, ensure that the portal is mobile capable.  Your users will want to access data when on the go.
  8. Allow for collaboration, but in a controlled environment.  Control the data model and only expose elements that have been approved by your data stewards.  Allow for power-users to create their own reports, but do it in a controlled way.  Expose approved data models to them.   Keep the report creation controlled to departments so that you can keep the solution clean and tidy.  You may even consider a workspace for the custom reports/analytics so that it can be separated from the standard content that is developed and available with the platform.
  9. Decommission old reporting solutions.  During go-live, don’t forget to decommission the legacy reporting solutions.  If you do not, people will continue to use them.  Caution:  if you decommission them, you’ll need executive sponsorship (item #1) and also assurance that you’ve captured the requirements from this system (item #3).
  10. Constantly innovate and evolve your new platform.  Don’t let the platform go-live and become immediately stale.  Engage the end-users and have a constant feedback loop established with them.  Get them engaged to have them help you innovate and build additional content that will better serve their community.  Hold a user-group for key power users so that they can collaborate and share lessons learned.

The Email Swirl & Face-to-face Meetings

Just write an email, right?  Document your meetings.  Follow-up with colleagues.  Disagree.  State your opinion.  Get corrected by your colleagues.  State your opinion again.  The cycle almost never ends well.  Have you found yourself in this situation?

This is common business email dialogue and I’ve seen it in every organization.  My question:  is it productive?

I’m writing this article because I observed this behavior within my department several days ago.  The two parties that were involved became so emotional in email that it almost ruined a working relationship.  My answer to this problem?  I asked both of them to meet with me together and in-person.  Stop the email.  Start the in person dialog and work through the issue professionally.

What happened?  Initially, both parties let off some proverbial steam.  In the first few seconds, it felt that tensions were high.  After I had each party discuss the business issue from their perspective, I restated their opinions from my perspective.  I felt that I had to moderate a bit.  Then, a funny thing happened.  Since they were now listening to me (a third party), they started to realize that they were in alignment on the issue, but had been miscommunicating via email.  Now, here’s the funny part.  These two individuals sit no more than 20 feet from each other in the office.

So what’s my point?  My point is that email is only one form of communication.  There are so many benefits to building relationships, holding in person meetings, and using the RIGHT type of communication at the right time.  Email definitely has its time and place.  I love a well written email as much as the rest of us do.  But, before you write that 3rd email response on the same topic, consider meeting the individual in person.  Picking up the phone can also be just as effective.

Before you write me off as old fashioned, here are some of the benefits that I observed from face-to-face meetings:

  1. Relationships, by nature, allow team members to hold each other accountable.  No one wants to disappoint a close colleague or friend.
  2. Read body language
  3. Learn more about each other and the business issue(s) that are at hand
  4. Collaborate and establish trust
  5. Involve other team members that may be able to add to the discussion or help to solve the problem

Here are some statistics from a 2009 survey that Forbes conducted.  It gives you a nice overview of the perceived in-person meeting benefits of others.

Follow the Leader

My wife stumbled across these cute ducks today after a rain storm in D.C.  As I looked at this picture, I drew a parallel to business leadership.  Maybe I was thinking “follow the leader”?  Then, I found myself thinking about the leadership team within my organization.

In business, leadership can be much like these ducks.  Let’s take a look at the parallels that I drew:

  • Leadership:  Many of these ducks will become the leader one day.  It is important that they learn how to follow a good leader.  In some cases, you might learn what NOT to do from a bad leader.  Both can be effective.
  • Development:  Each of these ducks will require nurturing in order to see their full potential.  In this case, it is probably survival, but in business isn’t it also?  Employees require development, training opportunities, and assignments which will allow them to reach their full potential.  Professional development is also a key factor in retaining good employees.
  • Organization & Process:  These ducks travel in a line.  Perhaps this is for safety and security?  Good business leaders need to establish clear process to ensure clear responsibilities and deliver effectively.  If one duck goes rogue, it could endanger the entire group.  Think Snowden and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Take a look around at your leadership.  Are you leading, or are you being led?

Get Organized and See Results

I’m often criticized for being too organized.  I’ll blame it on my PMP!  Since I get so much grief about it in the office – I thought that I’d share why I feel that organization is important.  Most people get it.  And, most people appreciate having at least one team member that is organized.  Ok – wait a second!  My closet doesn’t look like this…so don’t run away yet!  Although, wouldn’t it be nice if my closet looked like this!

This post is not just about being Type A.  It’s about the productivity that can be gained by being organized – and maybe a few tools that will help you.  These tools can help if you are organized (like me) or trying to become more organized.

As a starting point, here are some quick thoughts about the benefits of organization in every day business:

  • Meeting time is well spent and productive
  • Timeline expectations can be realistically set and negotiated with C-Level executives
  • Team members are held accountable for their responsibilities
  • Communication is improved
  • Metrics can be defined to determine if a project is on track as compared to its original baseline
  • Scope creep can be identified, mitigated, and managed

In this brief post, I found myself wanting to add more to this list.  There are many more benefits to being organized, but the above list is a starting point.

I use a few tools which I thought may be helpful to highlight for others too.  If you haven’t run into Levenger already – I find them an incredibly helpful resource for these types of things.

  1. Levenger Circa Notebook – Neat notebook from Levenger that allows you to add, move, and subtract pages which utilize their circa system.  As your notebook grows, you can buy larger discs so that it holds additional pages.  They even have nifty dividers if you’d like to separate out different projects.
  2. Action Method Sheets – These sheets have changed the way that I take notes in meetings.  They are  great for capturing next steps.
  3. Project Planner Sheets – These sheets are great for when you are initiating a project and brainstorming about the potential project activities and next steps.  As you work with the team, you can jot down your prelim project plan in these sheets before you spend more time on transposing it electronically later.
  4. Microsoft OneNote – If you prefer to work on your computer, Microsoft OneNote is a great tool to capture meeting notes, organize your thoughts, and document action items.  You can setup different pages for different projects or different meetings.  It also integrates with Microsoft Office and has a built-in screen capture tool.  If you are an Outlook user, Microsoft OneNote integrates with Outlook meeting requests.  This can be handy if you want to quickly insert the name of the meeting and the meeting attendees into your notes.  If you are the meeting organizer, this can also help you to quickly take attendance as individuals come into the meeting room.

Of course, these are just a few of many tools that could jump-start your organizational efforts.  What do you use?  Please share!

Benefits of Social Collaboration = Productivity

How do you build a sense of “team” within an organization?  It seems like such a simple concept, but politically and organizationally it can be a very difficult thing to accomplish.  Many start-ups have an immediate sense of team.   Employees are engaged and always extremely busy.  Over time, workers start to work remotely and the culture lessens.  Then, many get acquired.  The acquiring companies often “forget” about the old company culture and suddenly begin transformation efforts to bring the start-up into the corporate fold.  The irony in many of these situations is that the corporate culture is less than that of the start-up.  But, they just wanted the customers anyway, right?

Even if you are not a start-up, how does your organization build, and more importantly, maintain a sense of team?  Does social media play a part?

How can you get your team that looks like this:

Credit: InformationWeek

Image via InformationWeek

To look more like this?

I have worked for several organizations and I have seen corporate social media tools work fantastically.  I have a preference toward a tool called Yammer (which is now owned by Microsoft).  However, there is a proliferation of good social media tools that may be able to perform a similar function.  A relatively new Charleston, SC-based company, Sparc, has a product called Sparcet.  Unlike Yammer, they focus almost solely on recognition and employee engagement.  Intuit, a company known for Quickbooks, has a neat product, Quickbase,  to spawn DIY custom apps which promote productivity as well.

Here is a quick look at these tools:

Image representing Yammer as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Regardless of the tool that you use, evaluate to see if this makes sense for your organization.  It may even lead to the formation of a Social Media Team.

Recently, Georgetown University’s CIO, Lisa Davis, announced a key development from University Information Services on our Facebook page.  Socially, we visited students waiting in line for the Georgetown shuttle across D.C.  The development that was announced was the ability to check the next GUTS (Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle) via our mobile application.  Interactively, our mobile app will show the shuttle en route so that you are aware of the location and how long to wait for the next one.  This was a big success and helped to celebrate our accomplishment internally.  In addition to the fun photos, it engaged the community and brought more attention to the hard work of our department.  More attention = more adoption.  More adoption = better success.

So, don’t take my word for it.  Here are a few benefits that others have stated about the use of social media as a team collaboration tool.

Many of these are taken from Yammer’s website under “Customer Success”:

  • Strengthened employee collaboration. From executives in headquarters to stylists on the floor, personnel use Yammer to share experiences, questions, and answers.
  • Nearly real-time process improvements. Westfield has used insight gleaned from Yammer feed to improve everything from computer training to gift-card programs.
  • Savvy leveraging of mobile devices. Employees can access the network when they’re away from their desks, posting real-time updates on happenings at shopping centers.
  • More satisfied customers. As more employees and retailers tap into Westfield’s network, they’re influencing events and policies to improve the shopping experience.
  • Better information sharing. Staff use Yammer as their forum for sharing business content, including articles from publications such as The Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
  • Comprehensive collaboration. The network unites response agents in the field with claims processors at headquarters, who can tap in on any device.
  • A more effective social intranet. Yammer integrates with Nationwide’s key applications, including SharePoint.
  • Improved productivity. Better information sharing and the crowdsourcing of ideas means faster responses to business and customer demands.
  • A stronger corporate culture. The network helped transform a widespread employee base into a more tightly knit workforce focused on customer satisfaction.


Technology Crowdsourcing: What do you think?

I’ve recently found a few good product comparison sites and have written a few posts/reviews for them.  This type of crowdsourcing  will become the future of the initial phases of procurement, but it will not replace the expertise of organizations like Gartner and Forrester.  Not only are these sites a brilliant idea, but it keeps the vendors honest.  Think of your personal life.  Do you use YelpAngies ListTripAdvisor?  I do – and I can only imagine that technology crowdsourcing sites will continue to grow.  What do you think?

Here are a few that I’ve recently discovered.  I hope that you find them as helpful as I did!



Improve your sales pitch with these 5 tips!

At Georgetown University, we are in the RFP stage for a number of key IT projects.  This week, I sat through about 6 different vendor presentations in response to our requirements for these projects.  It was amazing how much each presentation, and the people presenting them, differed.

This is brief, but here are my take-aways and recommendations:

  • Be human.  Mix in some humor and rotate presenters.  I’m not talking about cheesy jokes, but keep the conversation light by mixing in witty humor.  No one wants to listen to a presentation that drones in monotone.  Take every opportunity to connect with your audience personally.  Don’t be afraid to mix in a brief story from the day-of to show that this presentation is geared directly to the audience.  I observed that it is also nice to rotate presenters as this helps to naturally break up the presentation and make it more engaging.  Some groups had up to 4 presenters during an hour-long presentation.
  • Demonstrate with examples and make it real.  People like to understand that you’re an expert in the solution that you are providing.  Make your examples as real as possible.  If you don’t have a direct example, mock up an example from the requirements for the project.  Help the audience understand how you are going to help them and break the solution down.  Visuals are always a good idea.
  • Be transparent about some of the key challenges.  No one is perfect.  Seeing a number like 99 or 100% always raises my eyebrows.  We don’t live in a perfect world.  Be open and share challenges from past experiences.  Help the audience understand your experience and how you would work to mitigate these risks and challenges.  You rarely see a 99.99% up-time guarantee or success rate.  And, even when you do, it seems like more of a marketing plug.  Just ask Amazon about their failure on Christmas Eve that sent Netflix users in a fury.   The point here is not to slam Amazon.  Amazon is a great company with fantastic services.  The point is that no one is perfect.  I bet they learned from that Christmas Eve mistake and have measures in place to prevent it this year.  If you were a company similar to Netflix and seeking Amazon’s services, wouldn’t you want to know how they addressed that issue and the preventative measures that they have put in place moving forward?
  • If possible, show the solution.  We all love PowerPoint, right?  I like PPT visuals and pretty charts and graphs, but I also want to see where the rubber meets the road.  It is great to see something like workflow presented in PowerPoint, but it brings an entirely new dimension to the presentation when you can show how the system handles workflow in real time.  If you’ve done your homework, you can align these demo “bursts” with the requirements in the RFP.  I realize this isn’t always possible, but it is a very nice touch!  If you are scared of internet connectivity, pre-record the demo bursts and save them on the local laptop.
  • Be interactive.  We had one vendor actually video conference references during the presentation.  Not only was it great to connect with someone that is in our position, but it was helpful to hear them talk about the solution and how it has directly benefited their business.  In other sessions, we enjoyed engaging conversation and impromptu requests to provide a requirement and the vendor would demonstrate how that requirement would be met in the solution.  This goes so much further than talking about the “possibilities” in the solution.  Take action….show us!