In this time of economic turbulence, Business Intelligence (BI) initiatives stand out for their potential to improve overall college performance for a relatively modest investment compared with other enterprise level IT projects.

This is achieved through better use of a key college asset: its data. It is this information that holds the key to future success. In order to achieve success, one needs to unlock the secrets that lie within the confines of the central college database. In essence, the data needs to work for us.

In simple terms, BI is the catalyst for making the right data available to the right people at the right time fostering a culture of data driven decision making. It is a means by which an organisation can interpret its data to derive insights that are critical in making informed business decisions at every level by utilising specialist software and technologies designed specifically to gather, store, analyse and provide access to data.

BI is the catalyst for making the right data available to the right people at the right time”

Although BI has been around since the 1960s, it is only in the last decade that BI has become mainstream with a strong trend in finding ways of making it more available, easier to use for the end user and accessible from mobile devices. It has become possible to generate data driven reports, visualise data in any number of ways, conduct ad-hoc queries and in depth analyses as never before.

However, there are a few key points to consider before implementing a Business Intelligence initiative:

1. Central repository. Consolidate your data into a central data repository which is separate from your main college database. This needs to be kept up-to-date.

2. High quality data. Any insights gained from a BI system will only be as good as the data that feeds it. If the quality of the data is poor, any output will not be worth the paper it’s printed on. Users will lose faith in the system and find alternate ways of getting the information they need.

3. Start small. The majority of large BI projects fail due to sheer size and complexity. Implement a solution for a key business area and build on it. That way you will be able to see results in a shorter timescale.

4. Make it meaningful. The goal is not merely to generate more reports and pretty graphs. The data needs to be meaningful and suggest an appropriate course of action. This means working in collaboration with the key business areas within your college to understand what data is important to them

I think the message here is have realistic targets and clear communication is essential at all levels but with BI technologies offering such potential to succeed for little investment…can we afford not to?

Stephen Parry is the Information Systems Development Team Leader at the Colchester Institute of Further Education