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The analytics journey is not for the faint of heart

We learn much from spectacular success but we learn even more from failure. Such is the case with the use of analytics in both the public and private sectors. Education is no exception. Most education organizations believe that having data/information and technology are enough to become an analytics-driven organization. But that will only get you so far. Often missing and what contributes to a souring of the use of analytics is the lack of an analytics process and culture within the organization. These are critical for the success of any analytics journey. There are three things you have to know:

1. What you're measuring

2. Why you're measuring it

3. How are you're going to act on the results

That's why it's so important to know and understand the strategic goals of the organization. The success or failure of those goals will decide whether or not the senior leadership of the organization can claim success or failure. The organization's strategic goals determine the direction the organization heads and the investments made. They also define the key performance measures for each part of the institution.

So how do you start? Here is a step-by-step approach:

1. Focus on the biggest and highest value opportunities.
This means you want to spend time on the most critical goals, those that roll up to the institution's strategic goals. For example, a strategic goal may be to reduce first-year attrition by 15% over a 3-year period. That goal would be influenced and impacted by many different parts of the university: student recruiting, academic programs, student advisors, etc., each with their own set of goals and objectives that "roll-up" to the larger goal.

2. Start with questions, not with data.
Most organizations fail because they say "We have all this data, let's start measuring." Measuring what? You have to know what you need to know before you can measure it. Start with the questions. The answers you need will define the data that's necessary to get them.

3. Embed insights to drive actions and deliver value.
We're doing all this measuring of results but what are we going to do with it? By collecting measurements without taking action on them, you prevent the organization from improving, and that is ultimately what we want. You need to use this collected wisdom to take action, drive change and improve results.

4. Keep existing capabilities while adding new ones.
It's never an "either/or" situation but an "and" situation. Don't rip and replace something that's working. Improve it, modify it, enhance it, stretch its capabilities. But also don't be afraid to bring new technologies and new ways of thinking about the challenges.

5. Develop a long-term analytics plan.
Think toward the future. Think about how analytics will transform the organization. Dream of things analytics may be able to do. It's not far-fetched and once people have had a chance to use analytics and understand how powerful they can be, they start to imagine other ways it can be used. Having a strong "analytics center of competency/excellence" helps to drive that strategy forward and realize better results.


Robert Dolan, Jr.
Business Analytics, IBM