An effective BI solution is both informed by, but also itself informs, the institution’s strategic plans. Both sides of this relationship are essential: the former to ensure that the BI solution continues to represent a positive asset to the institution, delivering genuine and relevant benefits to it; the latter to provide the evidence decision makers need to make the right long term, strategic decisions.
Ensuring your BI solution is aligned with your strategy
As the experience of the BI project shows, there should be a multitude of ways in which you can trace a clear line between the agreed strategic priorities of your institution and the potential offered by your proposed BI solution. For example:
- The University of Manchester’s project to establish a business intelligence system to support the collection, analysis and management of estates management statistics (EMS) data… in support of its prioritisation of sustainability and carbon emissions management as one of the key goals of the University’s strategy
- The University of Bedfordshire’s project to demonstrate how the adoption and enhancement of a student engagement system (SES) can support and enhance institutional decision making in an institution where student engagement, in particular, is viewed as an important antecedent to student learning and achievement, as well as to institutional success
- The University of Glasgow’s project to more effectively classify research efforts and expertise in an institution that requires them to identify and deliver research that meets funder priorities, fosters inter-disciplinarity, and makes achievements more widely available to a range of stakeholders
These are, of course, only examples, and ones specific to the institution’s concerned, but in being so help illustrate the key point about specificity and the value of directly aligning your BI solution with unambiguous strategic goals. The range of such goals may be broad, encompassing everything from widening participation to knowledge transfer, but thankfully so too are the data sources which can be incorporated into a BI solution and the answers it can be designed to address.
The University of Glasgow’s Espida tool represents an effective tool enabling you to present an objective and quantified assessment of how well aligned a proposed information management system will be with your institutional strategy. It takes a Balanced Scorecard approach to the comparison of strategy and solution and provides an easy to digest summary of the level of alignment and may well be of use in this context.
As well as offering a direct contribution to specific strategic objectives, the very nature of BI means that it also has an important role to play in allowing any institution to monitor progress against its strategic objectives: whatever they may be.
Assuming the right data is incorporated within your BI system it will provide an effective means of constantly monitoring progress against agreed targets, replacing the need for periodic manual information gathering exercises.
Influencing strategic direction through your BI solution
Ensuring your BI solution is supporting your strategic planning processes is one thing, but its influence can, and arguably should, be more proactive than that, having the potential to actually change the direction of the institution’s overall strategy through the delivery of empirical data about the performance of the institution.
All strategic plans need constant monitoring, not only to see how well you are progressing against them (as outlined above) but also to ensure that the targets you have set and the priorities you have identified are still the right ones. The data provided through your BI system can help identify – hopefully at an early stage – whether the targets you have set yourself are unattainable, perhaps requiring strengths or assets which the institution patently doesn’t possess.
Aspiring to become a research intensive institution and setting ambitious goals in this regard is all well and good, but if the data regarding research income and the success ratio of grant applications continues to show a continuing downward trend it would pay to listen to what the data is telling you. Further analysis of the data may well help to identify specific factors causing this poor performance which can be addressed, or alternatively may suggest that a fundamental reassessment of this strategic direction may be wise.
This scenario hints at the difficult position that those responsible for BI may find themselves in: the need to speak the (potentially unpopular) truth to power. It is perfectly conceivable that the performance data contained within the BI solution may demonstrate that a pet project is not working, or that a strategic priority is not going to be met. The temptation to manipulate the data in order to neutralise the ‘bad news’ or downplay the problem is a natural one, but one that needs to be avoided. Far better to acknowledge the truth implicit in the data and to take measures accordingly.