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Business Intelligence

If you still watch TV with commercials, you may have seen an ad recently talking about using data to improve your business—the bakery that mined its sales data to discover that people buy more cake on rainy days, for example. Everybody’s talking about “big data” and “data science,” basically applying sophisticated analytic techniques to large datasets. And one of the things they’re doing is predictive modeling—using historical data to make predictions about the future.

The fact that every campus has a human resources department could lead to inefficiencies within large university systems. Or at least that’s how officials at the University of California saw it. The system is consolidating routine payroll, benefits, leave management, and workforce administration functions from across 10 campuses at a single location near the Riverside campus.

Have you heard about the analytics revolution in higher education? Ready or not, it’s coming to your institution—if it isn’t already there. Whether you work in an academic, business, IT, marketing, or web office, the data-driven movement is slowly but surely making its way in to the hearts and minds of top executives faced with serious strategic and financial challenges.

Think this is just wishful thinking from the higher education online analytics evangelist I’ve become over the past two years?
Educause begs to differ.

What kinds of collaboration tools are being used by higher ed administrators for more efficient execution of projects these days? Here are a few examples:

Students, staff, faculty, and alumni are frequently in need of support for special projects, curriculum collaboration, and technology. Helpdesk solutions for IT administrators have been widely adopted among larger institutions to streamline IT support. But, with tight budgets, there’s a need for a streamlined, collaborative workflow that allows staff, support specialists, department heads, administrators, and professors alike to be more productive, in a shorter period of time and with less staff.

Even for smaller colleges and universities, managing personnel records is often onerous. Now imagine having to do this for thousands of full-time and part-time faculty, sprawled across 17 schools and colleges. This was exactly the situation facing the staff at the University of Southern California (USC) Office of the Provost. By 2005, the Provost’s Office was drowning in mountains of paperwork and struggling to become more efficient.

The workplace shouldn’t feel like a scavenger hunt, where you’re constantly on the prowl trying to locate this document or that contract. And yet many college and university employees spend countless hours doing exactly that. There are better and more cost-effective ways for staff to spend their time. 

“Colleges and universities are always looking for ways to be more efficient, and there are lots of strategies they’re employing,” says Bill Dillon, executive vice president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). The membership organization, based in Washington, D.C., represents more than 2,500 colleges, universities and higher-education service providers.

Loyola Marymount University’s dreams and ambitions included the $64 million William H. Hannon Library, which opened in 2009, thanks to campaign donors, and houses more than 500,000 volumes.

A couple of years into the initial, silent phase of Loyola Marymount University’s fundraising campaign, Dennis Slon stepped into his role as senior vice president for university relations and the chair of the board of trustees confided something about the campaign’s $300 million goal. The previous campaign had finished in 1997 and raised $144 million. So when the board first discussed more than doubling that goal this time, “there was a lot of intake of breath,” Slon explains.

Higher education costs are skyrocketing at a rate much higher than inflation. While states have drastically reduced public university budgets, those universities are constrained from raising tuition costs appreciably. Add to this the fact that higher education is a labor-intensive enterprise, and you begin to understand the dilemma in which we college administrators find ourselves.

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