Unlocking actionable insights by unifying data across the institution
Institutions can open up a new world of insights by integrating their data.
- Student’s technology expectations are creating extra pressure for institutions to deliver
- Connected data from an authoritative source helps institutions make better, more informed decisions
- Laying a foundation for technology-driven agility is a critical first step for institutions
Jackie Yeaney, Chief Marketing Officer and SVP, and James Willey, SVP of Product Management, Ellucian
JY: Welcome to Ellucian's Powering Achievement. I'm Jackie Yeaney, the chief marketing officer here at Ellucian, and I'm joined today by James Willey, our SVP of product management. Thank you for joining me here today, James.
JW: Thank you.
JY: Tell us a little bit about your role here at Ellucian.
JW: Well, I'm a product manager, which is great. I wake up in the mornings and I think about what technology is impacting the lives of students on campus, and my job is to bring that technology to life.
JY: So, tell me: in your role, what trends are you seeing across higher ed institutions these days?
JW: Well, when we started in 2014 thinking about the problem, we first asked the schools, and the first thing we talked about was this notion of “What is data?” And then, “How do you drive data and insights on campus? And then how do you start to connect it?”
So first, we need a common understanding across the entire campus. And then the next thing we need to do is technically enable all these applications to talk to each other. That was step one. That's the major driver and the pain point that we were seeing.
JY: And you've said to me before that it's almost like there are cities unto themselves.
JW: Oh, absolutely. If you think about every operating department in the city, every single campus has the same thing.
JY: So, tell me a little more about examples of some of this need to connect across a campus, or their “city.”
JW: For me, the easiest way is to put me in the role of someone on campus today. So, if you start with a student—you wake up in the morning; you're looking for a bus schedule. You might be looking at a learning management system to get your class list. You might want to go look at a grade—hopefully not a bad one—and then the next thing is, you know, you might need to talk to your advisor. And, oh, by the way, today's the day you have to finish the financial aid application. All of these could be different places.
JY: Yeah, I actually have a freshman in college and he's very frustrated with all the different systems he has to connect to and actually how he has to walk to the registrar to actually figure out a class. So, it's really something these campuses need. It's obviously a problem. Why has it taken so long for institutions to really take this challenge on?
JW: Well, it took a while to get to this level of complexity, right? And now it's really about “How do you systematically do it?” and “Is the technology available to you today to help you do that?” Because by nature, it's really talking about data and information and how is that all to come together across campus. So, it's not just giving an experience, but it's sort of like the underpinnings. The fabric of the campus also has to be uniform to bring it to life.
JY: And are there some common places where institutions tend to start?
JW: Yes. I like to think there's really three or four different places you can go. The big driver in IT has always been the world of analytics. You wind back a couple of years ago, we used to think of analytics as “Let's solve one big problem, one big cube to answer all the questions.” But…
JY: It never works.
JW: It doesn't work. What we really need to do is step back and say, “If you have all of these different buildings, if we uniform the data and bring it all together, then I can get one view, one lens, for what a student's life looks like. And then ultimately, that's how I can really help impact their success.”
JY: So, let's change gears a little bit and talk about how Ellucian specifically is working to help these institutions in this regard.
JW: Well, in 2014 we started a journey first with talking with our partners, and then also talking with our schools, and the first thing that we noticed was this notion of data and probably the uniformity. So, we started a journey of building a data model, and a data model is really just looking at a common dictionary for how you define what a campus looks like. We start to think about things like, “What is a parking space? What is a meal plan? What is a grade? What is a course?” And all of these different elements had to be described so that people could just understand it. That was step one.
JY: And as a data model, is it different for an institution than any other business?
JW: Oh, absolutely. Higher ed is quite unique. Of course, we're worried about data sovereignty, security. We're talking about people's lives with this information. And also the role of higher education has unique business processes driven around those experiences. You're in the financial aid office. How do you do that? Very unique. And it's also unique to where you work—in what part of the world, what geographic, what course of study and even how study takes place. All of those different things have to be represented into this common understanding.
JY: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, if I'm an Ellucian customer, how am I to get started thinking about this Ethos and data model platform?
JW: The easiest way to get started is to try. I like to say, you pick a story. You find one thing that you'd like to do. Maybe it's to have role-based analytics, or to have information rationalized around one area department.
JY: So, pick a role.
JW: Pick one thing. It doesn't have to be the monumental project, something that's huge.
JY: Well, that's why they usually fail, these analytics efforts and integration efforts.
JW: Yeah. Analytics tend to be those things that get pushed to phase three, four, five. Our goal was to try to make analytics based on content for you and answer the questions you have every single day.
JY: And can you think of an institution that's actually already gotten down the track and has made real progress?
JW: Yeah, I think in terms of just the analytics phase, we've seen schools, you know, where yesterday we talked about how long it takes. Where they can look at student outcomes based on the data coming from multiple systems that have been rationalized into one place. Yesterday, that could have taken months for a single report. But it's about providing it upfront for those users, and probably the most important thing is now driving those insights and those knowledgeable outcomes directly to the people that use the applications, the people that are truly serving the student.
JY: OK, so let's say I buy all that, and I've picked a role on campus, and I want to get started. What do I literally do next?
JW: Well, the first thing you do is we go take a step back and we look at the areas that we're going to target. We can work with our IT department and we can hit the light switch on Ethos and connecting your applications and turning them on. And that just really means we need to get the data moving because we've taken analytics and we treat it like it’s part of the campus, and we want to make sure that we're enabling all the applications and that means turning on our applications. But also we have an extended community of partners that are part of the Ethos family and getting that data to flow into those analytics—
JY: So, this data model isn't just working to connect data from Ellucian systems. It's aiming for the entire campus.
JY: It's open.
JW: Yeah, I think that's a great observation. We were talking about 2014, one of the key discussions, when you sit down with a client, they tell you, “I have this complex world and you're not the center of it. You're a very important part of it.” And then that also means that we have to embrace that ecosystem ourselves, which we have done.
JY: Can you give me an example of an institution that's really begun to see the power and value of using Ethos?
JW: We'll start with data insight. If you think about, “Am I recruiting the right students? And how is my performance of enrollment optimization?” So, we've actually had schools that have now taken that to life in the public space, in the community college—there's one for example that started on Monday, and by Friday they were measuring year-over-year analysis to see how their performance was.
JY: Five days.
JW: Five days. But it's also about—for them it was about, are they getting the right students? So that also comes back to that data. If you take another example, when we talk about business process, things like workflow automation—IT people love to talk about workflow. But it's really about the use cases. So, what if I can help a student when they drop a class? Maybe we want to ask them some questions. “Are you sure you want to drop? What's the financial aid impact of doing this?” We've had schools do that. It's things that are just—we would take for granted as simple. A professor needs to change—
JY: Being really proactive and predictive about helping these students.
JW: Yes, it's really about—it's really about either getting data or events that help them and enable them to be successful.
JY: Excellent. Thank you, James, for joining me here today, and thank you all for joining Ellucian's Powering Achievement.