What is business intelligence (BI)?
A quick internet search will return as many definitions of ‘business intelligence’ as you could wish for, each with their own pros and cons.
Whilst not at all seeking to claim ours is any better or worse than others, we have used the following as a source of reference during the production of this resource and during the initiatives which led up to it:
‘Evidence-based decision-making and the processes that gather, present, and use that evidence base. It can extend from providing evidence to support potential students’ decisions whether or not to apply for a course, through evidence to support individual faculty and staff members, teams and departments, to evidence to support strategic decisions for the whole organisation.’
Why is BI important?
“Supporting management decisions: Good and relevant data will facilitate a better understanding of where savings can be made, allow an assessment of how much can be or has been saved from efficiency initiatives (for example through baselining costs), and support the development of benchmarks.”
Professor Ian Diamond, Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education report (2011)
Organisations require access to accurate, timely and meaningful information about their core businesses and the environment in which they operate, if they are to adapt and thrive during times of great uncertainty.
Business intelligence is an essential element of decision-making in the private sector. The education sector needs to catch up. Strategy and planning, and the need to respond quickly to change, have to be based on accurate data about the state of your organisation and the environment in which it operates. Colleges and universities often do not have the accurate, understandable and accessible information that they need to make confident, sound business decisions.
See our recent work with HESA to develop a business intelligence shared service for UK education
Business intelligence provides accurate, up to date and easily-accessible data about the organisation and its environment, allowing the college or university to be competitive; it can also adapt more quickly to changing circumstances, plan for the future and optimise limited resources.
Business intelligence systems can also help organisations gather information and present evidence on which to plan for the future, benchmark different aspects of their performance against other organisations, and deploy limited resources to best effect.
Organisations automatically collect data on how their customers (students, academics etc) interact with their standard business systems (finance, library etc). By analysing this data, organisations are increasingly realising that they can uncover hidden patterns to help improve their business or services. Improving your BI capabilities will also help position your organisation to take best advantage of the emerging potential of advances in data analysis (so called ‘analytics’) of this type.
The origins and development of this guide
This is the second version of the BI guide. The first version launched in March 2011 was based on extensive research and consultation both in the UK higher education sector and beyond and was subsequently reviewed and commented on by over forty practitioners from within the sector. It also formed the starting point for eleven projects, each of 18 months’ duration, funded by Jisc and aimed at exploring various elements of BI in an organisational context.
Version two of the guide draws heavily from the experiences of these projects and is therefore closely aligned with current thinking and practice. It has also benefited from the input of two highly experienced ‘critical friends’, Stuart Bolton and David Price, who both worked with the projects throughout their duration, and worked with Jisc infoNet to extract and synthesise their learning in the production of this resource.