Dawn Moore (left) and Brenda Ulin (right) pose for a photo.

When it comes to informed decision-making, having reliable data is paramount.

But because simply collecting data isn’t always enough to facilitate a decision in a timely manner, University of Iowa Information Technology Services has initiated an efficiency project aimed at putting the UI’s extensive data resources in a format that can be quickly analyzed.

The Business Intelligence Project aims to support a culture of data-driven decision-making on the UI campus. A large part of the project, which is one of the 16 OneIT@IowaTIER initiatives, is devoted to developing a portfolio of business intelligence (BI) solutions that includes advanced reporting, self-service, and dashboards for admissions, general ledger, and student records data domains. The dashboards enhance reporting and analysis through data visualization in order to inform decision-making.

Project members say the cross-organizational collaboration—which included staff from the Office of Admissions, the Division of Continuing Education, CLAS, and Finance and Operations—contributed to the successful release of these solutions.

“We like to say we are data rich but information starved,” says Brenda Ulin, lead data architect on the BI project who is also affiliated with ITS Administrative Information Systems. “It’s not enough to put the data in front of the user. We have to present the data in the correct context of whatever the larger objective is so that, visually, people can immediately identify outliers, point to successes, or identify key indicators that drive the necessary decisions.”

As interim leader of the newly formed Business Intelligence Shared Service Center (BISSC) within ITS, Ulin and her teammate Dawn Moore, BI architect, created the Enrollment Management Dashboards in partnership with the Office of Enrollment Management. 

“It’s been incredibly gratifying to work with admissions, share our vision about the power of dashboards, and ultimately deliver a product that is driving immediate value,” says Moore.

The dashboards take complex data sets from the UI’s data warehouse and present them in a visual context—using interactive bar charts, line graphs, and key performance indicators—that allow users to more quickly get a sense of where the university stands in relation to institutional goals. 

“Our primary objective is to get the right data to the right people at the right time to enable data-informed decision-making,” says Ulin. “We hope these dashboards help alert people to things they should be concerned about, show them the upside of trends in their environment, and help them with their planning needs.”

In the Office of Admissions, for example, the project is helping Brent Gage, associate vice president for enrollment management, and his team make decisions related to enrollment forecasting for the freshman class of 2016.

After meeting with the BISSC team for a needs assessment in October, where Gage provided the team with a whitepaper to put his office’s business practices into context, the BISSC team met with members of his staff to learn how they might use the data. Then, the team delivered three dashboards that break down data related to student applicants and admits by demographic, academic performance, and the program or college for which they’ve indicated interest.

Since gaining access to the dashboards in December 2015, Gage says his team has been able to make recruiting decisions on a micro level, helping them to pinpoint where they should direct their time and resources to make the most impact.

“It’s truly going to help us decide the best place to put our human effort, paper effort, and financial effort to recruit the students that align with our strategic goals,” says Gage, adding that the BI dashboards provide an immediate, long-term value.

“Enrollment management, admissions, college and department staff now have access to real-time data related to admissions activity in way that they have not had before. This is creating an atmosphere of collaboration where we can work to meet institutional goals at a variety of levels,” Gage says.