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 :-)

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10 years on…

Janette, Me and Kath back in 2006

Janette, Me and Kath back in 2006

This Sunday marks my 10 year anniversary as an employee at Jisc infoNet. Where does the time go? I started life as an assistant multimedia developer and remember the interview as if it was yesterday. I was quite low at the time because I was going through one or two personal issues. I struggled badly in an interview for BT, and having got through to the final stages at Nissan I froze in my presentation. Looking back this was a blessing in disguise because I really couldn’t be more grateful for the time I’ve had working for the service. I remember the interview and test as if it was yesterday, and in particular suggesting quite strongly the service should get rid of the “orange”. Back then Jisc was all about the “orange” but thankfully things have changed!

My first week involved a team planning meeting at Strathclyde, one of the team members was based close by to there at the time. Alan Cameron had just started the week before me and we got to know one another sitting at the end of the table wondering what the hell everyone was talking about. The acronyms overwhelmed us and before long we were both beginning to nod, nudging one another as our heads dropped. Probably not the best way for us to introduce ourselves to the team but they were probably impressed we stayed awake ;-)

But that’s the amazing thing about our team. Everything we’ve ever done has been approached with common sense. We see the funny side of things, understand people aren’t machines and offer support wherever we can which I feel has had a major impact on our productivity. It’s very rare we let things get to us, I think we’d have gone mad otherwise. An amazingly talented team helps too:

  • Bernard Paton – I got engaged while staying at one of Bernard’s Gîtes. I proposed to my wife in French and remember asking Bernard to check my words, which I’d translated through some dodgy site, before doing so. I was meant to say, and thanks to Bernard did say, something like “the older we grow, the more and more I’ll love”. What I had down was more like “the fatter you grow, the more there is to love”.
  • Gill Ferrell – one of the most gifted people I’ve ever known. The way in which she can digest unbelievably complex agendas and describe them in plain English is beyond belief. She is a real credit to the sector and like all the staff believes passionately in making things better.
  • Patrick Bellis – the clarity Patrick brings to the team is something I’m in awe of. No matter what the topic is he is always able to pick out the most relevant piece of information. His vision and organisation has helped take the service from strength to strength, especially our relationship with other Jisc services. He’s one of the kindest people around too, always there for the team.
  • Jacquie Kelly – I’m not sure she knows this but I’ve always thought of Jac as a motherly figure. She’s been amazing to me through my time at infoNet picking me up and dusting me down when needed. Jac, was it the Hawthorne effect?
  • John Burke – the most charismatic, flamboyant joker around. I’ve yet to come across anyone who can strike up a conversation and make people feel at ease as well as what John can. He inspired my interest in project management when I attended one of his workshops.
  • Alan Cameron – he’s not going to bust a gut!
  • Steve Bailey – the rockstar of Records Management often found frequenting with Royalty. Just an absolute legend although I disagree with his love of The Archers haha
  • Janette Hillicks – the nicest person in the world! I love Janette, I’m not usually a touchy feely person but after one or two drinks I love a good hug with wah’ HanetteHillocks. The odd dance move doesn’t go a miss either, always like a bit hoovering on the dance floor.
  • Marianne Sheppard – awesome craic but more often than not I can’t remember our conversations as there’s often wine involved – when she’s not in Birmingham that is. Marianne is one of the most hardworking people you will meet, an all round star.
  • Joanne Hyslop – Joanne wasn’t with us for vey long, I just remember her unbelievable love of the Smiths and cats! What’s not to like? Joanne was another of the team with an unbelievable way of simplifying complex issues, a real credit to the sector.
  • Doug Belshaw – I’ve never known anyone move so fast! A true phenomenon, always pushing the boundaries and delivering. I loved working with Doug, he inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone and I’m hoping to take that even further this year.
  • Susan Heaford – my main memory of Susan is that we’re no longer allowed a toaster in the kitchen haha. Susan was such a lovely woman with a kind heart.
  • Teresa Tocewicz – one of the only team members to make me cry at work, in a good way! Teresa’s love of data is a real benefit to the team and something I think many organisations will be in envy of going forward.
  • Katherine Eade – Kath was the first person I ever met at infoNet. So down to earth and easy to talk to with an unbelievable eye for detail. I’ve missed her over the last year or so and glad she’s back after looking after her beautiful family.
  • Gemma Elliott – I remember when Gemma first started she seemed to lack a bit of confidence. The transformation since then has been unbelievable. Gemma is a real star within the team with a real focus on getting things done and she’s always there for me when I need a whinge.
  • David Cornforth – horizontal. One of the coolest, grumpiest, funny guys I know. I’ve worked with David since he started as a student placement. His progression has been phenomenal. The other great thing about David is his passion to bring the team together, often taking the lead in our social calendar.
  • Owen Roberts – always helped me to see things in a different light, and smile about them. One of the things I admired most about Owen was his approach to risk. I’m quite cautious, Owen was fearless and not scared to fail which is rare. I also loved his snaps of smiling inanimate objects.
  • Adam Hiles – his musical, literary and film knowledge is phenomenal and he always has something interesting to say. I love the way Adam can pick a joke out of anything too, cracking sense of human that’s very similar to some of my closest friends.

It’s not just the staff at infoNet though, it’s the staff I’ve worked with from other Jisc services and from across the sector as a whole. I’m very privileged and not a day goes by when I forget that. Even when I do become frustrated or down, I know I’m working for a service that cares, aiming to make education better across the whole of the UK (maybe even the world) and that’s what’s important to me.

My Work Week in Words #4

Had a crazy couple of weeks with annual leave and getting used to being 30 but I’m back and in full flow (sort of). The beginning of this week started out getting back up-to-date with the current state of play at JISC infoNet, replying to emails, answering any queries received and reviewing my diary and work plan.

Content Review

I spent the majority of the week reviewing content I’m responsible for across the JISC infoNet website. This is inline with a number of improvements we’re aiming to make, for example:

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My Work Week In Words #3

My week focused on an hour-long webinar delivered to a range of projects from the JISC Business and Community Engagement’s Open Innovation and Access to Resources programme.

Evidencing Change

It’s particularly important that any JISC funded project demonstrates impact and benefits for the funding they’ve received. Not because funding bodies are asking about it but because it’s important for the wider sector and the project team itself. In essence, JISC funds risk on behalf of UK further and higher education. From the projects we fund we attempt to assimilate their learning and share it with the wider sector to reduce wasted effort (cost). Where possible a project might turn into a Shared Service, delivered by the sector for the sector.

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