Leaving on a High

March 31st, 2010 by Rob Hale No comments »

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=”http://www.youtube.com/v/QWBcdfWDDj0″ 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,

More death by PowerPoint

March 30th, 2010 by Rob Hale No comments »

One of my earliest posts on information presentation was entitled Death by PowerPoint and talked about Edward Tufte and his well-documented dislike of the hideous tool.

I wish I’d had this image back then (to help me convince many other people since then).  If you’ve read Tufte’s views on the subject you’ll see the humour.


Author Mark Goetz created it using OmniGraffle, something I’d never heard of (is that embarrassing?) but which looks like a really cool tool if you’re creating diagrams and want them to look a bit un-officey.

Oscillation is the sincerest form of flattery

March 29th, 2010 by Rob Hale No comments »

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.

OMG, the world just went crazy

March 26th, 2010 by Rob Hale No comments »

I’m still not quite sure this is really happening, maybe its the flu jab I just had…  I was tinkering with settings for this site, specifically mucking around with widgets and thought I’d try the widget that lets me add a Google Gadget. I thought, I’ll see if there is something out there to do with BI, so I searched for BI and came up with…(giggles)…

A “7D Pie Chart for Google Spreadsheet”


This really has to be seen to be believed, so I have embedded it (admittedly right down, waaaay out of sight over there on the right, scroll down a lot). For one thing, I have no idea what 7D really means but just to give you some idea, the creators have combined the usual 3D stuff with more dimensions, size, colour, and (this is the best bit) sound! I mean it really is quite incredible, you can spin the thing around and click and it makes noises and shows stuff and you can stretch it and really go to town. But what on earth is it for?

What I find amazing is that the code necessary to achieve this must be really complicated, someone really, really smart must have sat down and worked really hard to develop this but I just don’t understand why.  It doesn’t help in terms of conveying the information and at best it is just distracting and ‘clever’.  It reminds me of my early programming days (here he goes again) when people did ‘smart’ stuff which the next programmer could never work out when a simple statement would have worked just fine.  At 3am when you get called in to fix a batch finance job you really don’t want to be unpicking ‘smart’ code.  So just keep it simple, keep the layout, the format, the colours and the content simple, just enough detail to communicate the story.

Stephen is just going to love this one 😉

Charts to go

March 25th, 2010 by Rob Hale No comments »

Last month I started playing with an iPhone application called RoamBI which I’d posted about in June last year.  Although the visualisations haven’t changed since the original release, there are now more interface options, including one that hooks straight into Cognos 8.4 and allows you to publish reports straight to the iPhone.  That caught my eye.

There is another offering, a secure hosted option where you can upload and manipulate data and push out to anyone in your organisation with a licence.  The licences are USD$99 but I’ve been quoted a 50% discount for working in a university.  At current exchange rates that is a pretty good deal I reckon.  Minimum of 5 licences but still within the reach of all of our institutions I’m sure.


So what can you do with it?  Well as you can see, I pulled some DEEWR enrolment stats down and pushed them out using the app.  The whole thing must have taken about 10 minutes.  It is incredibly easy.  I also did an impressive POC which took our Unit Monitoring data and pushed out 19 measures per unit, rolled up to discipline, school and faculty.  That’s a huge amount of data that can be viewed on demand with a few swipes of the finger.  Whether we decide to take this further remains to be seen, but it certainly offers a really good alternative to web or paper-based reporting to my mind.  You can’t really appreciate the UI from a static screen shot but imagine the above view being one of many you can swipe through, scroll up and down and tap-drill into – its very intuitive to use.

The Cognos interface may be of interest to some of you.  Its not cheap but it is a separate locally-hosted server application that uses existing Cognos security profiles and allows any Query Studio or Report Studio report to become data sources for the RoamBI views and then dynamically query the supporting database tables or OLAP data sources.  That’s pretty cool.

You can find out more at the RoamBI website or drop me an email if you want their Cognos interface documentation – its just a bit big to post on here.