David Steinour, Chief Information Officer, The George Washington University
Benefits of cloud computing for the education industry
At the George Washington University, the Division of Information Technology (IT) has moved several applications to the cloud and is working on business plans to do more. The Division of IT is also in the process of looking at condensing its data centers to move them to the cloud as well.
"Prepare, protect and mobilize data is one of the three strategic themes of the GW Division of Information Technology 2021 Strategic Plan"
Higher education is currently facing challenges with budget constraints and talent retention. An investment in cloud computing improves efficiency in the challenging higher education landscape by working with companies focused on a specific area of expertise. It’s important to partner with a reputable company and have a comprehensive contract that protects the university. This contract also needs an exit strategy that is easy to invoke.
Examining the effective and proactive use of data
The GW Division of IT established data governance processes, people and technologies to make data transparent and trusted. It then focused on integrating data that the business needs into a single trusted source calledthe data warehouse. Data integration began with the most important business functions,with the option for value add problems as it developed. An established Business Intelligence (BI) Governance Committee helps to guide priorities and a standard set of BI technologies was introduced to help build a shared community across all business functions with the ability for self-service. Finally, the Division of IT adopted an agile scrum methodology to improve delivery speed and relevancy of solutions to the business.
At GW today, data is actively powering IT’sability to make decisions necessary to move the university forward. Prepare, protect and mobilize data is one of the three strategic themes of the GW Division of Information Technology 2021 Strategic Plan. Data governance, integration and analytics (Business Intelligence) are cornerstone elements of delivering on this theme.
In a short period of time, following the steps outlined below, the GW Division of IT built a very successful Business Intelligence and Data Governance program resulting in 22+robust dashboards used daily by top university leaders (such as the Provost, Deans, Executive Vice President & Treasurer, division heads, finance directors, HR and other leaders) to make accurate, timely and informed decisions about our university's day-to-day operations and future direction. Today, the GW BI and Data Governance program is recognized as an industry best practice. The Education Advisory Board wrote about thepractice in several of their publications, and GW is frequently asked to speak about our program at EDUCAUSE, Data Citizen's Conference, Chief Data Officers Conference, Informatica World and most recently,the MIT Data Conference.
The value of data governance and data quality is critical to the success of the BI program.
Without well-understood, high quality data,BIinsights cannot be trusted and successfully used. Before universities and colleges can use the vast amount of information they have to effectively drive their business, they have to "make data transparent so it can be trusted." (This is the GW data governance definition and GW data governance program tag line). Data governance (and data quality) becomesan integral part of all critical data management processes ensuring the right people are involved in making decisions about data definitions, qualityand use. Coupled with disciplined data integration/warehousing and powerful visualization and analytics technologies, GW’s Division of IT Business Intelligence program is enabling the university to use its data toeffectively drive business.
Here are steps GW took to get to this level:
1. Start by putting in place data governance processes, people and technology to make data transparent and trusted.
2. Put university-wide BI governance in place to help guide university business intelligence priorities.
3. Next, starting with the business's most important and value add problems, beginintegrating data that the business needs to make important, effective and actionable decisionsinto a single trusted source – the university data warehouse. Use an iterative, agile scrumapproach to incrementally deliver on the most important university data needs.
4. Introduce a standard set of BI technologies (GW uses Tableau and IBM Cognos), and build a shared community across all business functions for self-service BI. Thiswill help scale delivery of BI solutions beyond the core BI team.
5. Adopt agile scrum to improve delivery speed and relevancy of BI solutions to the business.
Changing role of CIO
The role of the CIO has changed to become more of visionary and strategist at the university level instead of just information and technology. As universities continue to automate and rely on data to plan and make decisions, the CIO role will become even more essential to the strategic planning process in the future.
CIOs will also become more involved in vendor and contract management. As more services move to cloud solutions, strong relationships and partnerships with the vendor is going to be important to the university. The contracts will need to be written to protect the university, as well as ensure rates do not rise to a level where cloud services become unaffordable. The CIO will also have to ensure there is an exit strategy in the plan and contract. The makeup of the organization that a CIO leads today will also change as higher education relies more on cloud services.