Strategic Initiatives to Better Inform Decisions
Are colleges and universities prepared for the rapidly changing higher education landscape and what lies ahead over the next decade? Campuses must consider potential threats such as changing demographics, enrollment from new to student success, affordability, financial constraints, data analytics, technology needs and options for teaching and learning and a myriad of other issues. Cleveland State University (CSU) is grappling with all the issues listed above and more through strategic planning utilizing cross-functional teams to find the solutions. CSU is a 4-year public urban serving institution in Cleveland, Ohio.
Who wants to spend 17 months upgrading an on premise ERP system that delivers no additional functionality? The silence is deafening. These types of efforts are why Cloud computing is quickly becoming the default choice at CSU.
Our journey to the cloud began in 2005 with our employee recruiting system, based on the success of that project all subsequent implementations have been in the Cloud. The only remaining applications on premise are our HCM, financials and student records ERP system, soon to be replaced with a Cloud solution. The speed of implementation, elimination of hardware support, and almost invisible upgrades are benefits that cannot be ignored.
We haven’t found the silver bullet that kick starts innovative thinking, but we have learned that communication is the critical base to get us there
Like all universities we have limited resources, and we want those resources devoted to solving business problems quickly. Gone are the days where IT staff are sequestered and doing “geeky” computer stuff, they are now key partners working with end users in designing efficient and effective solutions. If our staff is busy with regulatory upgrades, or vendor mandated upgrades they aren’t solving business problems. We have analyzed 10 years of projects to find that 70-75 percent of our time is spent on upgrade efforts, while our backlog of business solution requests kept growing.
Almost lost in the discussion of reduced Cloud maintenance, is the improved functionality and mobility of this new generation of Cloud solutions. These modern systems were designed in the shadow of cutting edge consumer applications, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and many more. They’re much more intuitive, reducing training expense, and built to work on all mobile devices from the outset.
The shift to Cloud solutions is allowing us to keep pace with the business requirements of the modern university, lower support efforts, and deliver effective solutions.
Data, data, data, oh my! CSU like many campuses have “big data” but it lives in multiple systems and the question is how we use it to inform decision making? Some of these challenges result in inconsistent or unreliable data, different interpretations as a result of using disparate systems, and minimal data analysis due to lack of expertise outside of institutional research.
Other questions are who are the data trustees and custodians? Who are the audiences both internal and external for data? Do we engage in developing a data warehouse which is cost prohibitive or wait until we go in the cloud? To address some immediate needs, we resurrected a “data users” group to inventory data sets and reports. One of the charges of this group was to establish a data dictionary so that everyone would know what data points meant and how they were extracted for the variety of reports that existed. Additionally, a “data governance” group was formed to address data access and security issues. Data trustees and custodians were identified for the types of data we own.
Big data has an impact on operations through the use of data analytics. In an attempt to move beyond best educational guesses, CSU has moved into using more data analytics in areas of advising, student success, enrollment, and course demand which also can assist in understanding staffing needs. A specific example is a tool for student success where multiple variables are input into the software to identify target student groups for early interventions and development of “safety nets”. Specific course grades will be able to predict whether the student is likely to complete that degree or not.
Go innovate…and don’t screw it up! We’ve all heard that, maybe not in so many words but containing the same sentiment. We want new creative solutions, but not failure. At its core innovation requires experimentation, failure, learning and trust. Are we willing to experiment and possibly fail? Are we prepared to learn something that goes against our long held management beliefs? Do we trust our teams to do these things?
We often struggle with the “silo” effect at CSU. Departments only see their world and are aware of only their own perspective. Communication and collaboration across these silos has been difficult. Recently our IT staff has begun meeting with end users across campus, users we support, along with those we historically haven’t.
The goal was to open up communications while building awareness of each other’s priorities and struggles. What we found was innovation. A brief 20-minute discussion led to an innovative solution that provided much needed software to all students, faculty & staff at much lower cost than previously estimated. Neither party could have come up with this solution on their own, together they did. We’ve used these new connections to build project teams with varied perspectives and common goals.
Now we have these integrated teams ready to develop great solutions. Are our processes and tool sets up to supporting these teams effectively? Many of our methods are firmly rooted in several generations of the past, so it was time to update. We are now leaning forward into agile methodologies. Prototyping tools have proven very useful in confirming initial design decisions, or in some cases proving that some of us are truly from Venus and others from Mars. These methods have freed us from the overly complex design efforts that try to code for everything, into a more organic approach of design & revise.
Improved communications across campus, dynamic project teams and updated tools have helped dramatically. We are continuing to develop a mentality of trust. Trust that the teams will meet their goals, and trust that management will allow them to fail occasionally. This takes time, continued communications, and demonstrated success.
We haven’t found the silver bullet that kick starts innovative thinking, but we have learned that communication is the critical base to get us there. Without effective communication, all other efforts are compromised.