After many years working with college information systems and the advances I’ve seen in technology, it still amazes me that there are vast differences in how colleges capture and use information to propel their business forward.

From my perspective, there are a few fundamental principles that would help any business to streamline their information processes and enable their users to rely on – and own – the messages that are produced.

Principle one: Only collect data once, at its source and in an accurate and timely way

This sounds fairly straight forward. However, this is the biggest challenge that commonly requires solving. It requires dedication to ensure that the information captured on courses, students, examinations, etc, is correctly represented. The best colleges have a dedication to getting this right at the data’s source and eliminate inconsistencies through robust business processes.

A critical example of this is ensuring the curriculum plan and the course file are one and the same. They must match exactly to the planned timetable so that the enrolment teams have complete information at their fingertips during enrolment.

Triangulating this information early also adds a valuable checking process, enabling incorrect errors to be eliminated easily. I have seen many course files created with generic or no dates that bear no resemblance to the way the course is being offered, it is simply a label that will be used to group enrolments.

Principle two: Collect the data in one holistic system

If that’s not possible, ensure that the data is ‘live linked’ to eliminate inconsistencies. Many information systems are made up of diverse legacy systems that have allowed data to be captured inconsistently. Simply exporting data and keeping it for a specific task is risky. It invariably does not get updated and changes rarely find their way back into the originating system.

When information is consistently produced from a source system, it is ensured to have been checked by every level of the organisation. It is the equivalent of having many data auditors cleansing the information daily. Assuming that ‘principle one’ is fairly robust, the data will be used and owned by the whole organisation.

In addition to systems integration, any processes should be streamlined and integrated to meet the requirements of the central system, without duplication. When developing a process, any connecting processes should also be considered.

Principle three: The data is always correct

A strange statement for some people to understand, but a very powerful message for senior managers to send. The principle behind this message is that you must only use centrally produced data to make decisions.

If anyone in the organisation finds data to be incorrect then the central system needs to be corrected immediately. This places the data at the heart of the organisation and enables staff to have confidence when using centrally produced data, knowing that others have also used and cleansed it where necessary.

Principle four: No decisions should be made without reference to validated information

All performance indicators and monitoring reports must be output from the central system. This again reinforces principle three and ensures that if an important decision needs to be made, the organisation has captured, used and validated that information previously. Any decision can be made without questioning, in detail, the validity of the information; as it is known that this information has already been used to run the organisation.

Michael Haworth, Senior Consultant,