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Efficiency Through Innovation: Improving the Accessibility and Efficacy of Data

Efficiency Through Innovation: Improving the Accessibility and Efficacy of Data
By making data available in real-time and accessible in such a way that meets the unique needs of varied stakeholders, City Colleges of Chicago have improved efficiency system-wide through data-driven decision making.
Believe it or not, the vast majority of public and private organizations across the country are structured in the same way when it comes to data … and it’s wrong.

Across all industries, the standard practice for working with data is to use relatively small groups of data specialists that provide reports and ad hoc information to everyone else. Given the need most organizations have for data, this creates a massive bottleneck where people can wait days, weeks or even months to receive information, and this in turn impacts everyone’s ability to achieve their goals. How can this be improved?

This is the question we asked at City Colleges of Chicago. As one of the largest community college districts in the country, City Colleges of Chicago educates more than 115,000 students annually at seven colleges, six satellite facilities and a culinary institute in Chicago. As you can guess, we had a lot of data, but very limited accessibility to support data-informed decision making.

Rather than trying to make existing processes more efficient, we believed it was possible to rethink the entire approach and remove the “analysis bottleneck” completely: to provide everyone with individually relevant data via fully interactive, drag-and-drop reporting — in ways intuitive enough that it could be used by anyone.

No single tool or platform that was available had everything we wanted, but a strong partnership with Zogotech, a data services vendor out of Texas, allowed us to create the functionality we needed.

In less than a year, the team created a new data system called OpenBook, which featured groundbreaking new capabilities that allowed our faculty, staff and administrators to directly work with data in real time, rather than weeks (or months) after the fact.

So, how do you build a system for everyone? It’s not just about access. In fact, that’s just the beginning.

We designed dynamic data environments that would make data actually relevant to each person and allow those with multiple roles to switch between those views of the data through a simple drop-down menu. We eliminated traditional “static” reporting and instead provided fully interactive reports where all elements could be changed with drag-and-drop simplicity. This ensures that as needs and questions evolve, the reports can be easily updated without having to go back to a developer or analyst.

Most important, though, was how to make data intuitive. To that end, we created complete online data dictionaries with full definitions, samples and notes available from within every report as well as just-in-time training videos that demonstrate how to perform specific activities and that can be viewed from within the system at any time.

The biggest impact of our tool may simply be that the immediacy of data is changing the conversation. Instead of tribal knowledge, meaningful assumptions or best guesses, the correct answers are available in moments and are actually being used to drive fact-based decision making. Analysts are easily handling twice the requests they’d previously received and are instrumental in educating others on how to accomplish more with OpenBook themselves.

We live in a world where data is increasingly ubiquitous, pervasive and unceasing. Because of this, it’s not enough to simply do the same things better. As Henry Ford is believed to have said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” There are times when innovation can be the best step forward. At City Colleges of Chicago, it allowed us to rewrite our use of data by making it truly accessible, intuitive and informative for everyone.

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