The bigger BI picture for Houston Community College
Houston Community College has built a series of dashboards for various performance indicators that has set it upon a path toward developing a business intelligence strategy that will ultimately tie into the school’s overall mission as well as that of the State of Texas’ academic program.

“This is the start to get into speaking about business intelligence and how we’re going to build out our decision support systems,” said Bill Carter, vice-chancellor of IT at Houston Community College.

The college system is composed of six colleges and 80,000 students across Houston and the surrounding area.

The Houston, Tx.-based college’s IT department built a reporting dashboard, on Information Builders Inc.’s WebFocus platform, to measure and track nine performance indicators including student and faculty satisfaction, and financial aid.

Carter said the idea is to eventually get staff and faculty thinking about their degree of success in certain areas and feeding this into the school’s budget, mission and strategy.

But it doesn’t end there. The college’s performance indicators also align rather nicely with the State of Texas’ academic indicators to assess performance-based funding. “What we’re trying to do is get everyone was on the same page and ensure everyone is speaking the same language,” said Carter.

Besides getting everyone on the same page with respect to measuring success, the college needed consistency in the reports produced by staff. “It’s like any organization where people take those reports, massage them, make their own interpretations and come back to meetings with different information,” said Carter.

The dashboard works with the college’s existing infrastructure including an Oracle data warehouse. Martha Oburn, who led the business intelligence project at Houston Community College, said the project was also an opportunity to develop database skills internally. While the school’s existing database team initially worked with a hired consultant, Oburn said now a person in-house has been fully trained and capable of creating additional dashboards moving forward.

The dashboard uses aggregate data to avoid system performance issues. Security precautions were also taken to ensure no individually identifiable information sat outside the firewall.

While the dashboard is for staff and faculty use, students will also benefit very directly. The college’s Web site provides prospective students with measures of success such as historic ratios of program completion and student satisfaction. “It’s part of the enrolment management component,” said Carter.

Tim Beckett, higher education/K-12 solutions manager with Information Builders, said academia is one main area of vertical focus for the New York-based business intelligence vendor. Beckett thinks Houston Community College is unlike most academic communities in terms of how it has chosen to strategize its approach to business intelligence.

Current tough economic times, said Beckett, has resulted in student enrolment in community colleges “skyrocketing” as people are increasingly returning to school to re-orient their careers. Business intelligence, he added, is one way that colleges can better serve students in times like these.

Moving forward, the college will work various stakeholders within the staff and faculty to determine their reporting needs with the goal of further building out this business intelligence strategy. “This is a start to much bigger places as far as dashboards are concerned,” said Carter.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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