In 2011 the strategic planning and management information team was formed at MMU, and it was clear that there was data everywhere but not much insight. The tools that the team were using were dated and cumbersome and it became clear that a new focused data warehouse and MI reporting solution was required. Waterstons were engaged to improve the visibility of the University’s quantitative performance data across the organisation to drive improved student retention, satisfaction and success. The long-term objectives were to migrate MMU’s existing Oracle based data warehouse to a SQL Server based solution, and expand on the existing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and reporting available to all staff.
Waterstons’ track record in developing complex data warehouses and management information solutions meant they were well equipped with the experience and skills needed to lead the development of the data warehouse and centralised reporting mechanisms, while conducting a comprehensive knowledge transfer to the MMU technical staff through training workshops and a collaborative development process.
In the early discussions with the project stakeholders it was evident that MMU had very specific data visualisation requirements for the programme leader reports. The aim was to present data in clear, concise, but also rich charts with the information presented in context; for example showing the metrics in relation to faculty average and previous periods. They also wanted tight control over how much interactivity was built into the reports and to incorporate Microsoft SharePoint features to structure follow-up actions from tutors based on the information presented to them.
Waterstons designed the architecture for the reporting solution based on Microsoft’s business intelligence suite, using SQL Server 2012 enterprise level features and helping MMU to scale, install and configure the platform components. Using consistent design patterns in the extract transform and load (ETL) layer and dimensional modelling techniques, there is a solid and reliable foundation for the data warehouse. A multi-dimensional OLAP layer serves a dual purpose of high-performance delivery of aggregated metrics from large volumes of data through to the reports, as well as providing a well-structured and understandable data model for ad-hoc analytic reports.
MMU technical staff needed to make the transition from primarily Oracle based database skills to the full suite of Microsoft database and BI tools. The solution was developed collaboratively under technical leadership from Waterstons’ BI specialists who developed a strong working relationship and coached the MMU team through the implementation of all layers of the solution. Using workshops to demonstrate best-practice, design patterns, and creative use of reporting services charting components to meet detailed visualisation designs from the project stakeholders, the team was equipped with the skills to deliver the project to a high quality and on time.
Waterstons’ SharePoint specialists designed, built and delivered the SharePoint platform in another project which is now used to present reports to end-users through a secure portal. With guidance from Waterstons, MMU have customised SharePoint to present the reports in a consistent visual framework with additional features that enable programme leaders to record and track follow-up actions based on the insights they derive from the reports.
The warehouse is capable of integrating learners’ demographic information with satisfaction, engagement, submission, retention, marks, VLE and resource usage data. This integrated data model, which cuts across many areas of the organisation, has made possible sophisticated analytics over a combination of data sources; almost immediately learning analytics reports highlighted patterns and correlations worthy of investigation. The BI system and reporting portal is instrumental to MMU’s plans to move forward with a data-driven approach to continuous improvement, and supportive action-research culture for identifying and evaluating interventions designed to improve student outcomes.
In addition, this is a platform that will continue to be extended to draw more and more value from MMU’s corporate data assets creating insight that the business can react to, and the skills transfer process has empowered the MMU technical staff to maintain the system, continue on their business intelligence and analytics journey and to develop new features.