McMastering advanced analytics

After more than 10 years of enduring disparate databases and manual reporting systems, McMaster University has got smarter with data warehousing and business intelligence tools.

And the Hamilton-based university is getting a lot of help from the SAS Intelligence Value Chain, SAS Institute’s latest end-to-end BI offering with advanced analytic capabilities.

“[Many of our] systems didn’t talk to each other…so to do comprehensive reporting, we spent a lot of time manually compiling the information and verifying it. We also had inconsistent definitions and standards especially amongst data quality,” said Debbie Weisensee, senior business analyst and project manager at McMaster University.

Tedious manual processes prevented university employees from devoting sufficient time to planning and analysis. In some cases, decision-making was based on insufficient data, Weisensee said.

The rollout offers users a “single, authoritative source of data” that aids informed decision-making process. It also expands information sharing and accessibility among users. The automated database management saved employees six weeks of work time.

Gone are the days of manual report generation. The new tool allows users to create customized reports according to their specific role and requirements, said Weisensee.

The university started running SAS applications on a test environment last summer, and expects to rollout the application in September.

From then on, all faculty and staff will have access to the data and the applications, said Weisensee.

McMaster began its BI journey by focusing on its rich but segregated research-funding database. The challenge was to integrate data from various platforms – DB2, IMS, Oracle, Flat Files – to enable comprehensive electronic reporting and analytic capabilities.

Project proponents were clear on what the university needed – an enterprise-wide data warehousing system and Web-based query and reporting tools.

The university implemented SAS’s ETL Studio, Management Console, Enterprise Guide, Information Map Studio and Web Report Studio.

“(SAS) covered all aspects (of our data management), we have our tools for data warehousing, data capture, data analysis and reporting, and we were really impressed by that,” said Weisensee.

In implementing a BI system, the steps taken to achieve this objective can be as important as the actual acquisition of the applications, according to Michael Turney, manager for strategy and market development, SAS Canada.

He said the methodology for implementing any BI program begins with planning and strategizing, in which existing systems are evaluated, the gaps are determined, and goals are set.

The next phase is implementing an ETL system that mines data from different sources into a single information repository. The ETL product, he said, must ensure the quality of data. Then companies can implement intelligence tools that will allow query and reporting, as well as advanced analytics, with predictive intelligence capability, Turney said.

According to Turney, many organizations launch BI initiatives without the necessary spadework. Such a project is doomed to failure, if companies fail to identify why they need it in the first place. Or else, companies will not be able “to measure the benefits of implementing it in the first place.”

McMaster recently purchased SAS’s Strategic Performance Management software, which will be used for generating balance scorecard and performance measurements, Weisensee said.

The software will also give McMaster predictive analytics capabilities, allowing them to make strategic decisions based on intelligent forecasts.

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