Robust Integrations Deliver Data Denouement to Higher EdPaige Francis | Associate Chief Information Officer, University of Arkansas
One of my favorite words I recall using while completing my undergraduate program here with the University of Arkansas’s Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences was denouement.
(1) The final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work
(2) The outcome of a complex sequence of events
I still use it from time to time (as favorite words for me are like gold) and I thoroughly enjoy challenging myself to embed them in atypical situations. If you look at the history of technology in business since its inception, with all the advancements and improvements, we are currently at an interesting fork in the road. Choosing the correct direction at the fork will lead us to the data denouementwe seek: Measurable and successful business outcomes via targeted, data-driven decision making.
Physical to Conceptual
The physical network, integral to the use of technology, transformed over the past decade from a magical mystery computing transmitter to something as common as indoor plumbing (defined now as sheer utility). It’s no less important than it was when it was new, but it’s no longer something to fight for. Instead, the physical network today is an assumed pipe that powers everything we do. Checkbox checked, we all have or are close to finalizing a solid network and we recognize that without it everything stops.
While the discussions on the network itself slowly declined, the rise of business systems and access to those systems increased from a whisper to a roar. With more and more technology leaders enjoying a seat at the table, IT is now (or should be) plugged into the mission of the business and fully aligned with the strategy and all plans leading to long-term vision. We’ve gone from one-stop-shop Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) business systems to hordes of best-in-breed one-off systems, now back to ERP all-inclusive systems—only this time they are in the cloud (I’m looking at you Workday) and all are suddenly required to play well with others.
This new environment means interfaces that support plug-and-play are preferred, allowing stored ERP finance data to swim in the same waters as daily customer trajectories. Example: If we can identify common patterns for students experiencing success, it’s reasonable to think that we can replicate those patterns for students who are struggling and measure the outcome.
Identifying the Fork in the Road
So here we are, facing the fork in the technological road.
Option 1: We can keep plugging along, collecting infinite data and do nothing smart with it.
Option 2: We can start getting serious about figuring out what our data is telling us to do.
The latter path leads to our denouement. We know we need to tie up these loose ends to make the best use of our data collections, but how?
In a sea of ERP systems, one-off specialized solutions, data repositories in outdated, unsecure virtual boxes, and a continuously morphing customer, vendor and donor audience, we are seemingly drowning in data points.
How do we manage this smartly? Let’s get started!
7 Tips for Leadership: Driving the Data Train
1. Find your systems, find your data
It’s important to know what you’re dealing with, data-wise. What are your systems and what data do they store? Why, how and where do they store it? Who and what do your systems impact? Map your systems and data repositories in a way that facilitates easy identification of duplicative systems.
2. Know your business
Embrace the institutional vision and any associated strategic plan. What is your business, what are your goals short- and long-term, what does success and/or improvement look like?
3. Lead the discussion
Invite business leadership for a starter discussion on collaborative problem-solving for a data-driven future. Highlight your overarching business vision and goals. Introduce a few (one to three) targeted data points that would be useful in making decisions geared to achieve business goals. Share a visual resource (an image or a map, for example) outlining the current state of data sprawl then follow with a plan of attack for pulling it all together.
4. Build the team
Purchasing a “magic pill” enterprise software solution to solve data problems before investing in and building the data team complicates the project and lengthens successful delivery. These solutions need to be architected by data professionals and business owners together.
5. Take a deep breath
Just like data itself, always know your environment will never reach a perfect or completed status. Embrace and socialize the benefit and struggle of a constantly changing data ecosystem and be prepared to continuously maintain it.
6. Prioritize, document, measure
While the creation of useful data output will be slow at first, the tempo will speed up. Prioritizing outcomes is key in minimizing scope creep.
Celebrate both quick wins and benchmark achievements. Keep your institution engaged in understanding the benefit of data strategy investment.
The Many Benefits of Integration
The benefits of an integrated technology environment are nearly unparalleled.
First, integration of systems allows for a seamless user experience. Regardless of the number of wildly sporadic systems, when tied together, the “face” of the business is empowered to look and feel consistent across the entire environment.
A consistent experience makes a user feel welcome, on the right path and familiar with the institution. A business can double down on their branding and marketing efforts in a highly unobtrusive way, ensuring optimum coverage as the more engaged a user feels the longer they tend to stick around. In addition, a deliberate integration of systems removes the complexity of scores of data, making it much easier to study of institutional data and hone in on smart decisions based on actual experience.
So, finally, we reach the denouement. We’ve tied up the loose ends. This act, in my estimation, is the most critical piece in every story. From an IT ecosystem standpoint, without the tying up of loose ends, we miss “the why,” we miss “the whole story,” and ultimately, we miss out on the ability to interpret the bulk of words we’ve consumed or the capacity to make sense of next steps.
Without the denouement of solid integration, you’ve collected all the words that define the smartest next steps but stop short of making sense of them. Build and sustain the integrations, take advantage of the wealth of collected data, make decisions based on the best steps taken over time. Then measure and repeat.
Solid, sustainable integrations empower decisions that ensure your happily-ever-after.
Author Perspective: Administrator