New business intelligence service to widen access to data insights

Jisc and HESA are working together to develop a business intelligence shared service for UK education
Universities need insights about the wider environment in which they operate to help them make better informed decisions about their products and services, taking a significant step towards effectiveness and efficiency gains. A new business intelligence service will be launched by Jisc and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) later this year to support university staff in making the most of the data available to them.

From November 2015, higher education providers will have access to a new business intelligence service which is designed to simplify information discovery and analysis.

 The service will eventually replace HESA’s Higher Education Information Database for Institutions (Heidi), which has been providing the sector with datasets relating to university staff, students and finances since 2007.

 The new service will make it possible for decision makers at all levels of an organisation to more easily access, analyse, understand and act on information anytime and anywhere.

Jisc and HESA developed the service with input and support from the Higher Education Strategic Planners Association (HESPA) and plan to initially launch it in beta testing form to HESA’s Heidi stakeholder group and a selected number of institutions. They will continue testing and developing based on feedback before rolling it out more widely to the sector as a beta service in September and as a full service from November.

‘Bespoke analyses’

Jonathan Waller, HESA’s director of information and analysis, explained that the new service will both provide prepared content and enable users to get creative to generate their own insights to inform evidence-based decision making. “The new service will provide access to dashboards and visualisations developed to help answer the common business questions higher education providers face but it will also make it possible to generate bespoke analyses and visualisations based on HESA data sets, and other sector data, to answer providers’ own priority business questions.”

Previously, users had to manipulate columns of data and needed some expertise in data analysis and the Heidi user interface. While Heidi is very heavily used with over 4,500 registered users, the number of tools commercially available for business intelligence has expanded since its launch.

Many higher education data analysts have responded by developing their own tools for analysis and visualisation, while using Heidi to source data.

The new service differs in how users interact with data and is more flexible, with extra features including visualisations, case studies, narrative, examples of insights gained and actions taken. It aims to open up access to closed data sets and demonstrate the usefulness of data collections to users.

Jisc’s Myles Danson said business intelligence capability across UK Higher Education is currently patchy. “Many institutions will have much to gain from a national coordinated approach, whether they’re just starting out or have already invested heavily in business intelligence capability.”

Wider range of sources

Jisc will be carrying out further research and development to refresh the range of dashboards being offered, as well as looking for other opportunities. Working with data experts in the sector, Jisc intends to identify and negotiate access to a wider range of data sources to enhance business intelligence. A co-development approach will provide new analyses and visualisations with the most promising being made widely available.

By lowering the bar to identifying trends in data, expanding the range of data sources in use, negotiating access at national level and taking data inspired insights to a far wider range of staff groups, Jisc and HESA hope the service will provide benefits that institutions working alone may struggle to achieve, along with sector wide efficiency and effectiveness improvements.

The service will be made available to all publicly funded HE providers.

Rosie Niven
Rosie is the content editor at Efficiency Exchange