While some higher education institutions have been successful with a wide range of reporting tools, many others struggle with the same tools. We feel it is because institutional reporting problems are usually not a technology problem. It is a problem that comes from issues in communication, organization, culture, collaboration, data knowledge, shared knowledge, and not having a data governance framework in place. This blog post will discuss best practices and what to do to achieve successful reporting.
No matter what software applications you are using the demand for data continues to rise. There is a greater need for sophisticated analysis. And there are more consumers for the information including those in institutional research and business offices as well as faculty, students, regulatory agencies, executive management and auditors who require precise answers to their questions. Success of reporting tools still depends on data knowledge and shared understandings. The static, traditional report has almost vanished as information consumers demand dynamic data views, models, extracts and integrations.
Here are some best practices to satisfy increasingly demanding institutional reporting needs, no matter the reporting tool or data governance solution used:
- Define the purpose of each report by asking the question “why”. Asking “why” helps to determine “what”. Think ahead. What further questions will be generated by the report? Defining the true need of the requestor and anticipating further requests saves valuable time in handoffs.
- Develop a process for report requests. They should be consistent and repeatable for all similar report types, include all needed information and be relevant to functional and technical users.
- Document the functional and technical definitions of the terms on a report. Be very specific when you define terms. Documenting allows everyone to be on the same page, thus saving time and frustration.
- Eliminate confusion with transparency across the institution. Place definitions and report specifications in a central location that is easily shared and accessible to all users.
- Create an institutional knowledge base. Institutional knowledge is organically developed, one question at a time. Get the information to those that need it.
- Implement data governance. Establish data governance policies and practices. Build a culture on the importance and care of data.
- Assign data stewards or data owners in functional areas who officially define data dictionaries, assist data users and create policies on data access, security and standards for data quality.
- Collaborate with other schools and departments. Get involved in communities. Avoid duplication of effort and promote reporting consistency among peers. Save money by sharing work across the institution.
Technology can assist in successful reporting. There are many collaboration tools in use today; wikis, Google docs, SharePoint, content management systems, Word/Excel documents, shared network drives and ticket request systems. Instead implement a data governance solution like the Data Cookbook which provides a framework for data governance. You need a solution that gathers information into one place and allows for the creation of workflows. The Data Cookbook helps with submitting data requests (such as new reports), documenting definitions, collaboration and transparency. All necessary for successful reporting.
As information demand increases at higher education institutions, Institutional Research and Information Technology departments need to work together. Traditionally, these departments do not report to the same person until they reach the President. While providing complementary skills, they operate under different assumptions and work toward different goals. Departments working together has nothing to do with technology.
People have a natural fear of change. Change requires disruption, sacrifice, and dedication even when there is a need and desire for improvement. So, start small when implementing reporting change. Work on the people issues first. Get buy in. Educate on why the change is necessary. Managing change has nothing to do with technology.
Don’t assume that technology alone solves your reporting issues. Focus on the people, policies and processes and implement technology to assist. Get a solution that creates a framework so that successful reporting and data governance can be achieved.
IData has a solution, the Data Cookbook, that can aid the employees and the institution in its data governance and data quality initiatives. IData also has experts that can assist with data governance, reporting, integration and other technology services on an as needed basis. Feel free to contact us and let us know how we can assist.
(image credit StockSnap_DO1KKRFQMB_Reporting_Not_Technology_Problem_BP #1025)