Archive for the ‘Business Intelligence’ category

Leaving on a High

March 31st, 2010

This is my final blog post, after 7 years at UNE and Australian Higher Education I’m moving on, back to the commercial world from whence I came :-0

It has been quite an adventure, particularly the last 4-ish years doing BI/DW.  So I’m leaving with mixed emotions, really looking forward to the next chapter but also remembering the good times in this one.

It is therefore great to bow out with the launch today of the third of four major Student Retention initiatives involving BI/DW.  So far we have:

  • e-Motion – still going strong and now with v2 better than ever – check out this latest update
  • Exit Poll – a new one for us this year, finding out why students drop units so we can improve our performance next time

And today we will switch on The Vibe – an interactive, moving tag-cloud of student feedback garnered through the Student Portal (the same place that e-Motion data comes from).  This feedback isn’t specific to a Unit or a Course, it is general feedback and we can’t wait to hear what our students are saying.[kml_flashembed movie=”″ width=”425″ height=”355″ wmode=”transparent” /]

Here’s Ed, our Student Experience Liaison Officer, in the midst of the cloud doing what he does best, serving students’ interests and helping them have the best possible university experience.


The BI/DW component for this is a new development for us and James has been busying himself with ways of optimising performance so that it sits quietly in the background.  The basic process involves an ETL job that runs every 10 minutes to update the cloud based on the latest rolling set of feedback.  The feedback text is parsed, noise words and naughty words removed and weightings applied.  The weighted word list is then made available to a web portlet that munges them into a 3D Flash visualisation in the UI that spins around can be explored.  The picture above shows our Student Liaison Offier Ed, in the midst of the cloud, I’ll post a video tomorrow if I get the chance to give you a bit more of an idea.

The final Student Retention initiative is the launch of AWE, the Automated Wellness Engine.  Its something we’ve been working on for well over a year but somehow didn’t quite manage to get it finished off and promoted with everything else going on.  However, the word on the street is that more funding is coming this way to finish it off and launch it later this year.  Definitely one to watch.

So all that remains for me is to say a huge thank you to everyone I’ve had the pleasure to work with during my time at UNE and especially to you people, the readers and contributors, all of you at other universities and BI vendor and consulting companies and of course my BI team mates James and Jing and our new office friends in P&IR, all of  whom put up with all my crazy ideas on a daily basis.  I wish you all well and hope you keep the BI/DW flag flying high for many years to come – and keep using those white boards!

Take it easy,

Oscillation is the sincerest form of flattery

March 29th, 2010

Ed from our Student Support team flicked me this link the other day, it shows that Facebook are crunching the status updates and determining if we’re happy or not as a whole.


This is quite interesting and an extension of the US version which was first done in October last year.  Of course, here at trailblazing UNE, we actually did this a whole 5 months earlier, back in May 2009 when we took the e-Motion data submitted by thousands of our students over the previous 9 months and plotted it on our e-Motion Oscillation Index (I think Ed came up with that name!)


Not surprisingly the results show lots of happiness when exams finish and during orientation but less when the nitty gritty of teaching takes place and when we had some online LMS outages in May 2009.  We’ve now got almost 2 years of e-Motion data and I understand that UTS and Newcastle are now developing their own emoticon-based systems to monitor student satisfaction.  I think that is wonderful and the more we use these types of devices and techniques to support our students and help them, the better.  I’d love to know more about these systems if anyone from those or other institutions doing similar things wants to share.

Rankings, Rankings and yet more Rankings

February 7th, 2010


This is going to be one of those things isn’t it, that in spite of resistance, remains and becomes part of everyday Australian university life. We had our first foray into this rather controversial place last year when we published the mid-year Unit Monitoring results which I wrote about here and here. While it didn’t attract the same amount of comment as Gillard has received just lately with her My School initiative, enough feedback reached those of us at the coalface to know that we needed to do some rearchitecting and redesign work if we were to publish something more useful and more palatable for our academic colleagues next time round.

We’re at that point now where we can analyse data and publish the figures for the second half of 2009 and also the entire 2009 year as a set of annualised measures.  We will be making some significant changes to the back-end calculations to make them more ‘scientific’ and also to try and reduce the stigma associated with specific ranking through the introduction of decile bands. Previously we had specific unit rank at both institutional and school level as well as tertile ‘traffic light’ analysis.  Hopefully the next publication will find some middle ground between the two with broad classification of performance that is still helpful in identifying both the success stories and the areas in need of attention.

My personal view remains that the unit and course rankings we prepare can be and will be a vital information resource for academics, for those they are accountable to and ultimately for prospective students, their families and friends.  As usual with BI/DW, we can provide something that does the job or we can go the extra mile and produce something that really throws light on the subject and therefore enables us improve as an institution and as a service provider to our students.  No prizes for guessing what we’ll be trying to do this time round.

Colocation or Cohabitation?

January 27th, 2010


At the end of this week we will be welcoming the Planning and Institutional Research group into our current office space in the IT building.  Having the two groups located in the same physical space will hopefully ensure a more streamlined, consistent and effective delivery of information to our consumers, which can only be a good thing – P&IR also get air-conditioning, 10Gbps desktop network connections and views which can’t do any harm.

At the moment our two groups have a fair bit of functional overlap (mainly due to the relatively recent development of BI and Data Warehousing at UNE) so sitting in the same space should really help eliminate that and perhaps more importantly ensure we’re both quoting the same sets of numbers using the same source data.

Although it will be interesting to see how the colocation works – how much of Tuckman’s Storming and Forming goes on – I am really hopeful that this will be a good move for all concerned.  We’re not reinventing ourselves so no name or role changes will take place – just hopefully some positive osmosis between the two groups.  From my perspective it will be fantastic to have ready access to our Institutional Statistician who can calculate student load in her sleep (and probably does), in return I hope we can help automate some of the more mundane aspects of institutional reporting through the warehouse and BI.

Having extra people around will also make our groups more resilient and spread the knowledge and risk a little better – I’m all too aware how much corporate IP is stored in heads of people who can effectively leave at very short notice.

I recall from the recent load conference at Griffith and from conversations with colleagues at other institutions that there is no ‘perfect’ model for institutional reporting, there are certainly many different demands on such groups and these are all vying for attention in and out of the business and academic seasons – operational v’s strategic, financial v’s non-financial, current v’s forecast etc. Maybe physically locating ourselves in the same space will create a business-focussed group that can flex with the seasons but do so using modern technology, taking advantage of the significant corporate investment to date in BI and DW. Let’s hope so.

Is the Cart Still Before the Horse?

October 29th, 2009

I’m quite excited because we are currently reviewing some designs for an executive dashboard.  Now that we finally have lots of beautiful dimensionally modelled data in our warehouse with periodic snapshots going back almost 3 years, we are actually at a point where we can present some of it together in a highly aggregated manner to hopefully inform, influence and improve strategic decision making at our institution.


I first used the above slide back in 2007 at the Cognos Asia-Pacific Forum to remind people that dashboards are the veneer of a BI/DW platform.  You simply cannot sustain an integrated dashboard without the underlying atomic data and that data takes a long time to get.  The quote I read at the time still stands:

“…the worst case theme is often called a scorecard or executive dashboard. This deceptively simple application draws on data from almost all business processes in the organisation. You can’t create the entire dashboard until you’ve built the whole warehouse foundation. Or worse you end up building the dashboard by hand every day, manually extracting, copying, and pasting data from all those sources to make it work. It can be difficult to get business folks to understand the magnitude of the effort involved in creating this ‘simple’ report.” Ralph Kimball

So now that we have the data, you might think it relatively easy to create that dashboard, the one that people have been clamoring for since we started this wonderful process…

There are, it seems, an endless stream of people proclaiming what wonderful dashboards they have in their organisations but yet when you look a little more closely they often appear to be a disjointed jumble of content thrown together like one of those fuzzy felt pictures you used to play with at pre-school – lots of bright distracting pictures pointing all over the place, sort of related and sort of telling you an overall story, but then again not really.  They catch the attention for a few seconds and then, purpose served, their time is done.

It seems odd that this situation prevails, I wonder why that might be.  It certainly isn’t helped by the major vendors in the BI space who seem to believe that their purpose is to appeal to the fuzzy felt designers.

Working in BI/DW in higher education clearly means we all like a challenge and this is up there with the best I’ve had cause to think about recently.  How to effectively map the major processes of a university on a single screen, in an enduring manner, and in a way that simply and rapidly communicates an overall situation.  I’ll keep you posted…