In higher-education, the sprawling University of Texas System is garnering kudos for its chancellor's vision of excellence and its commitment to data transparency. The significance hasn't gone unnoticed in analytics circles, either.
The focus is on the UT System Productivity Dashboard, a public portal providing an open view into performance across the system's 15 campuses and system administration. (See: Lassoing Insights From Texas-Size Data.) Anybody -- Texas legislators, the media, any other Texans, and even you or me, if we'd be so inclined -- can explore the data through the dashboard.
Earlier this week at SAS Global Forum 2013, SAS named UT System as the winner of its Excellence in Education award. The honor is meant to spotlight "an educational organization using SAS to improve operations, empower leaders, prepare students for today's workforce, spark innovation, and/or expand educational opportunities," the company explained in its announcement.
The base dashboard, not even two years old yet, is impressive. It's organized around the Framework for Excellence the chancellor and regents created in May 2011, centering on core indicators such as student success, faculty productivity, research and technology transfer, and finance and productivity. "It's one way that we can chart our institution's progress on achieving the chancellor's goals set forth for us," explained Stephanie Huie, vice chancellor, ad interim, for the UT System Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Previously, Huie's team presented UT System a big fact book in static, PDF format. The dynamic, centralized nature of the dashboard much more appropriately addresses the regents' data-orientation, she told me in a phone interview. "The regents, legislators, and constituents were asking tough questions. They really wanted to look at different aspects of the data, and they didn't want just one year. They might want to look at data over time, by gender, race, or ethnicity, for example."
With the BI dashboard, users can manipulate the data, pulling what they want to see and downloading into Excel spreadsheets for even deeper dive statistical analysis or cross tabulations, Huie said. "The dashboard gives them the freedom to let their ideas guide them where they want to go."
The dashboard is chart and graph heavy, of course -- a rolling 10 years' worth of data accessed from the centralized data warehouse built in conjunction with this project. But now the dashboard includes a new "New Data Visualizations" section, too, for a more advanced slice on the data. Huie's team is using the SAS Visual Analytics data visualization and exploration tool to create specialized reports that build context around the data on important issues, like student debt, she said. "So with the Visual Analytics reports, we're not just saying, 'Here's the data on student debt.' We're saying, 'Here's some contextual information, our student debt compared to national student debt and statewide student debt.' "
Visualizing Student Debt
This is one example of the advanced reporting UT System makes available using SAS Visual Analytics.
From an iPad, users can view the data visualizations in the Visual Analytics app, taking the insight with them wherever they may go, Huie added.
With the BI dashboard and advanced data visualization keeping all things transparent, it's understandable that the UT System is fielding inquiries from other systems of higher ed within and outside of Texas, as well as from Educause, an association that uses IT to advance higher education. "This is the way higher ed is going, with more data being made available to the public," Huie noted. "But then the big questions are, 'How do you organize the data? How do you go about getting the data? How do you store it, and present it?' That's a long, complicated process."
Go ahead, play around in the dashboard and with the new data visualizations, then come back here and share your impressions.