Riding the BI wave

What a day! I’m currently heading North in a cramped East coast carriage from #thatLondon happy as Larry (no, I’m not sure who he is either). To see a Jisc project deliver, and deliver emphatically is beyond joyous; and Myles, Janette, Lee and the rest of the gang should be so proud of what they’ve achieved. Along with HESA and HESPA we have developed a Business Intelligence environment — Heidi Lab — that has allowed a wide range of UK Universities to work together to develop a range of top quality dashboards that are pretty much ready for use, helping to inform strategic decision-making.

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We asked participants to sum up their experience of Heidi Lab in one sentence…

What is Heidi Lab?

Universities are regulated by and receive funding from UK government. To help with that, higher education providers are required to submit a range of data sets e.g. on their students, staff, finances and estate. This data is also useful for a whole range of other purposes such as strategic decision-making, research and transparency. The data is collected and managed by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and stored in the Higher Education Information Database for Institutions (HEIDI). Don’t you just love acronyms?

The long standing problem, however, is that the data is particularly difficult to access and turn into something meaningful. Trust me, I tried for my MSc! In collaboration with HESA, and input from the sector, Jisc aimed to resolve this whilst providing access to a wider range of data sets to answer questions pertinent to the sector as a whole. And so, the Business Intelligence project was born.

The project itself had two distinct parts:

  1. Heidi Plus — an enhancement to HEIDI, hence ‘Plus’. The key change being the delivery of data sets through a data explorer tool, along with a new layer of analyses and visualisations.
  2. Heidi Lab — an environment where teams, from across higher education, can work together to solve problems not yet covered by Heidi Plus.

Heidi Lab is very difficult to conceptualise, without seeing the outputs, as it was as much about bringing people together as it was the development of new data visualisation dashboards.

What has been achieved?

First and foremost, Heidi Plus is live. It was launched on Monday 30 November 2015. It’s being used and HESA are in the process of managing the transfer of all UK higher education providers to the new system.

The team also ran a Business Intelligence Maturity survey, which received 50 responses and is available as a dashboard through the Business Intelligence project website.

Screenshot - BI Maturity Survey Dashboard

Heidi Lab completed today. There were two cycles of activity where teams came together to produce a range of dashboards. A Winter cycle comprising four teams that presented its outputs back in February, and a Spring cycle comprising five teams that presented its outputs today. The standard of those deliverables was outstanding, considering they were only aiming to develop ‘proof of concepts’. Outputs from the Winter Cycle are earmarked to be added into Heidi Lab, potentially by August, and I’m pretty certain many, if not all, the Spring dashboards will make it too. Examples of the kinds of dashboards that have been produced today include:

  • A graduate destination dashboard
  • An institutional staff/student diversity dashboard
  • A widening participation dashboard
  • A course provision dashboard
  • A post-graduate research populations and funding dashboard

I’m going to go out on a limb here, perhaps my knowledge is limited, but I have a feeling the UK education sector might well be leading the way here in terms of a coordinated approach to business intelligence (I’d love to know if I’m wrong). And that is testament to the work of HESA, Jisc and the Higher Education Strategic Planners Association (HESPA) in bringing it all together.

What next?

Heidi Lab has run its course, however we are still riding the BI wave. We’re using a similar model to focus in on the library community. I should have said that the core audience thus far has been strategic planners. In this next phase we want to see what’s possible by mashing up some of the sector’s library data sets with existing data sets from elsewhere. And it doesn’t stop there with new developments in the pipeline, but more on that later :-)


What’s wrong with Hull?

I struggled to drag my arse out of bed on Monday but I’m glad I did. The New Year is off to a flying start. One of my main aims this year is to get my knee and ankle sorted, not the easiest when you’re missing a posterior cruciate ligament but I’ll give it a go. So it was an early start on Monday off to the physio at the University Hospital in Durham. My physio seems to have set himself a New Year’s resolution too, beast everyone. My legs have felt like lead weights all week. No pain, no gain I guess.

Monday was rather strange, I’d had a rubbish night sleep — Sunday night insomnia maybe?, and yet after returning from physio, I felt really energised and managed to get through quite a lot. I got caught up with a number of emails leftover from before Christmas, finalised a number of meetings, organised my travel for those meetings, handled a couple of customer queries, carried out some detective work for a colleague, and began to think through my objectives for the year ahead.

After a good night’s sleep, I felt horrendous on Tuesday. I was so tired but at the same time had a bit of a lie in. Am I a morning person, or was it the exercise? I believe it’s a bit of both. Physio early on Thursday morning bore the same results as Monday. Early starts FTW!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetTuesday, was predominantly preparation and travel. Off to Hull to support the University with it’s Learning and Teaching conference. I met the rest of the team in Hull where we ran through the activities for the day to make sure we were all on the same wavelength. All good, and so then it was a question of where to head for a quick drink and bite to eat. For some reason, the first reaction of most people when I said I was going to Hull was “rather you than me”. I’m not really sure why, because I’m glad to report we had a really nice meal in the Old Custom House, and an amazing pint in Ye Olde White Harte. The weirdest thing about Hull is the empty streets! There is no one about. We were half expecting a Zombie Apocolypse to reign down on us.

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We were up early the next day to get across to the University. The focus of the conference was Digital Capability and we’d agreed to give an update on Jisc’s Building digital capability project. We didn’t have long to explore that in detail, more of a head’s up before examining how different individual’s behave in different digital spaces using the Visitors and Residents model. The second activity explored existing good practice and areas for future development. It was a great day, with about 100 or so like-minded people actively debating their use of digital services and what it means more widely for the University. See Mike Ewen’s storify for more. Next steps? The University’s Technology Enhanced Learning team are exploring all of the outputs to inform future direction, which they’ll revisit in their Summer conference.

Digital literacy is about mastering ideas, not keystrokes — Gilster, P., 1997. Digital Literacy. New York: Wiley.

I blocked Thursday morning out to reflect on the conference but didn’t get a chance until later that afternoon. The morning was spent following up a couple of new opportunities to support the sector and then I got caught side tracked continuing to think through my objectives from earlier in the week. All good though because I certainly feel like I’ve got a better handle on what I need to be doing over the next month or so which is already looking extremely busy. Anyway, I’ll leave it at that for this week and wish you all a fantastic weekend!

Ps, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Hull. It made the rough guide’s list of best places to visit in 2016 and is the City of Culture for 2017. The Old Town is beautiful with fantastic pubs and the University campus is stunning. Don’t believe me? See for yourself!

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Which mailing lists should I subscribe to?

“Which mailing lists should I subscribe to?” is a question that I’m often asked. My honest answer to that question… “I have absolutely no idea”. It’s such a personal thing, dependent upon your specific role, wider contextual issues you need to keep up-to-date with, what you’re interested in more generally, and whether or not mailing lists actually suit you. Let’s be honest, are you the type of person that can keep up with the influx of email or is it just going to make you even more stressed out?

Let’s look at the options

I first of all want to have a look at some alternative options. We’re very lucky in the education sector to have such an active directory of mailing lists, especially in the form of JiscMail. If you’re after detail, support, and examples of experience then that’s definitely the place to look. If, on the other hand, you’re just after the latest news or updates then there are other options. Here’s my top 3:

  1. Signing up to a newsletter. My advice here being to select carefully, what’s most important to you, for your role? It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the influx of mail so use rules to manage it. An older post on organising your email highlights some useful tools if you become unstuck. Difficulty — easy.
  2. Follow relevant social feeds. They often provide you with the most up-to-date information about an organisation or specific product/service. Twitter is my weapon of choice in this category but I use Tweetdeck to manage my network and Nuzzel (h/t Doug Belshaw) to catch-up on popular feeds. Difficulty — moderate.
  3. RSS readers pull in relevant feeds that you sign up to. It can take a little time to get your head around but seriously, invest some time in working out how to make it work for you. My weapon of choice for RSS readers is feedly but there are loads out there, well worth investigating. It can be difficult to find a good working practice with RSS feeds but once you do they really pay off. Difficulty – hard.
A screenshot of my feedly account, you can see my feeds down the left and unread posts in the centre of the screen.

A screenshot of my feedly account, you can see my feeds down the left and unread posts in the centre of the screen.

Keeping up with Jisc

We’re often criticised for how much we — Jisc — do as an organisation. Over the last year or so we’ve streamlined the way we work, our portfolio of products and services, and our organisational structures. That won’t stop because we’re committed to continuous improvement. But there’s still a lot going on, a lot of important stuff which is needed if we’re to do our job! So what’s the best way of keeping up to date?

Signing up to Jisc Announce is perhaps the best place to start. You’ll receive regular email updates on our most recent news, events and advice.

Tom Mitchell is our lead on all things social and he’s doing a fantastic job. Personally, I’d recommend following Jisc’s twitter account. Almost everything we do gets a mention on there and it’s a fantastic way to keep up with what we’re doing as you can ask questions and see what kinds of conversations are generated from that content.

If you prefer your RSS feeds, there are a few to choose from, but definitely worth following the blog, news and events feeds.

If you’re interested in our research and development activities I’ve pulled together a spreadsheet of useful information channels that highlights what we’ve got going on. Please note: this might not be 100% accurate but I’ll try to stay on top of it and update it when I find errors.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet containing links to useful channels of information for Jisc R&D projects, mailing lists I follow, and professional bodies I like to keep an eye on.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet containing links to useful channels of information for Jisc R&D projects, mailing lists I follow, and professional bodies I like to keep an eye on.

It’s always interesting to see what mailing lists other people are on, so I’ve included my subscriptions in the second worksheet of that spreadsheet (excluding internal mailing lists). And worksheet three highlights a list of professional bodies that I tend to keep a watching eye on. It’s worth knowing that my background was predominantly in higher education so I’m in the process of developing my understanding of FE and Skills. There are really useful search facilities on JiscMail, but I also find it really useful to browse the lists by category and review these every six months or so.

The key to all of this? Find out what you need to know and how to get it!