The Computerworld Honors Program
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Final Copy of Case Study
Rochester, NY, US



Education and Academia

Technology Area:
Business intelligence

Rochester Institute of Technology


Academic Reporting and Analysis Initiative

Introductory Overview
Creative students from 50 states and 95 countries attend Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for professional and career-oriented education across 90 different bachelor's degree programs. But who are these students? What are their enrollment criteria? What are retention and graduation trends, internal transfer patterns and future staffing requirements? Like colleges everywhere, RIT wanted answers to these and other questions. But the answers, hidden away across disparate closed systems, are painfully tough for schools to get at. With critical and federally-mandated reports taking up to 5 weeks to produce, RIT retired its hand-coded data interfaces, manual extraction techniques, and reliance on interpretative decision-making  and moved into the future of "education intelligence."

RIT's institution-wide academic reporting and analysis initiative is part of a multiyear strategic plan to create central repositories of information. The initiative was launched by the school's Institutional Research organization to support federally mandated academic reporting to external entities including IPEDS (Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System), CSDE (Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange, College Board), and the New York State Education Department. The initiative quickly evolved to support internal reporting and analysis, providing information on an accelerated basis to analysts, deans, professors and other academic decision makers. This encompasses understanding as much as possible about the academic aspect of the university's  operations, including admissions information regarding its nearly 17,000 enrolled students, and persistence reporting (i.e.: the number of students who stay at RIT in pursuit of a degree). 

At the start of the initiative, RIT was weighed down with silos of data, and much of the university's reporting relied on paper processes and manual extraction. Says Kim Sowers, director of application development, RIT, "We were data rich, but information poor."

Now, due to the ongoing success of the initiative, RIT has mission-critical information available when and where it's needed. If the university president wants to know how many students are enrolled in a particular college, he can now have that information in seconds, either in summary form or in a drill-down detailed format. For the first time, RIT can circulate regular reports on retention and graduation to identify how well the university retains and graduates students, and has the knowledge needed to understand "internal transfers": enrolled students who switch their program of study within the institute. 

Says Sowers about the newfound ability to spot trends, improve the effectiveness of academic programs, and bolster student retention: "We're becoming myth busters. In the past, a lot of our decisions were based on an interpretation about what was really happening. We didn't have the knowledge to validate the decisions we were making. We do now."

The Importance of Technology
How did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
As is the case with many higher education institutions, RIT's data resided in disparate systems, including a mainframe ADABAS environment, linked by one-off, hand-coded interfaces developed over the years. Persistence reporting meant staffers had to continually walking back and forth from the data center with stacks of paper in their arms.  Some key reports took up to 4 or 5 weeks to produce and distribute  putting paid to any notion of timeliness  and there was always the specter of inconsistency across reports or different versions of the same report. 

As part of  modernizing and streamlining its infrastructure, RIT  built an Oracle-based data warehouse, underpinned by the Informatica platform as the data integration backbone. The platform's Informatica Power Center component integrates historical and operational data from a range of sources into the warehouse, and provides reusable integrations and mapping, and team-based codeless development to replace the costly and brittle hand-coded, one-off interfaces of RIT's past. 
The university also deployed the Informatica PowerExchange component of the platform to non-invasively access its ADABAS data on an IBM mainframe without having to develop custom data access programs. Fully integrated with Informatica PowerCenter, PowerExchange has likewise enabled rapid codeless development through a graphical interface. Importantly, the solution reduces risk by accessing the ADABAS data directly. Looking ahead, RIT plans to also deploy the Change Data Capture option of PowerExchange to capture database inserts, updates, and deletes as they occur, thus adding further efficiencies to the new data integration environment. 

Further, RIT profiles specific data for completeness and inaccuracies using Informatica Data Explorer, thus helping to keep its information clean and trusted.

Overall, these technologies have brought about a sea-change in the way RIT manages its data, enabling access to consistent, reliable and accurate data faster than ever before. Notably, it took just 6 months to bring up and go live with the new data integration and warehousing environment. "If we had used the traditional hand-coding methodology, we would have been looking at 14 months, and that would have been unsustainable."

Has your project helped those it was designed to help?  

Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?  

What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
Vital to realizing institutional goals, RIT's academic reporting and analysis initiative provides information on an accelerated basis to academic decision makers, thus providing a myriad of knowledge-driven strategic and tactical benefits. These benefits include (1) enabling faster, easier evaluation of retention to determine how well the university is doing in retaining students as their degree programs progress, (2) providing the knowledge to identify which enrolled students switch their areas of concentration, (3) streamlining the delivery of a high visibility grants assessment program, (4) supporting the development of a new student housing program, (5) underpinning the university's valuable study abroad program through cross-enterprise data integration between RIT and a third-party ASP's systems, (6) driving more consistent reporting (consistent set of business rules now get applied to the creation of reports and analyses), (7) enabling same-day reporting where it used to take up to 5 weeks to extract, validate and report on the data and manually distribute the reports.

If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
The list goes on as RIT decision-makers continually turn to the data integration and warehousing solution. In one case, it has supported a high-visibility assessment of the effectiveness of a specific academic program geared towards high-school students preparing for college conducted by RIT's Institutional Research department. According to Kevin Dudarchik, manager of data management services, RIT,  "The cleanliness and availability of the data in the warehouse greatly reduced the time associated with performing this assessment and the resulting accuracy of it."

On the IT side, the initiative has greatly reduced the costs and risks associated with integrating data and systems, and accelerated time-to-value for integration projects and changes to the environment. With only limited resources, for example, RIT has thus far delivered 3 releases of the data integration and warehouse environment. The initiative has also fostered a close cooperation between IT and the university's information consumers.

Is it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind?   Most effective

What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
All universities need to leverage their information assets for strategic planning and to realize strategic goals and our objectives. Prior to this initiative, RIT was fairly typical among higher education institutions in being data rich, but information poor. The academic reporting and analysis initiative was instrumental and exceptional in changing that so completely in so quick a time, so that RIT is now both data and information rich  and is able to use that information to improve the quality of academic learning.
On the technical side, much of this is due to the deployment of a well-integrated, unified data integration platform, which has enabled the university to optimally leverage its limited IT resources (a chronic condition in education) in quickly building out the new infrastructure, and in quickly making changes to it as required.  This includes the ability to leverage reusable data integration objects across tasks and projects, codeless development, and various change management facilities within the platform For example, changes can be made once, and seamlessly migrated through to deployment to end users to reduce the chance for human error.

What were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
Among the difficulties to overcome was limited technical resources. As discussed above, that was greatly mitigated through the deployment of a unified data integration platform with codeless development and extensive reusability. Professional Services from Informatica also helped to mentor and transfer knowledge to RIT's staff, which facilitated rapid development of subsequent iterations of the data warehouse environment.

A technical difficulty revolved around ADABAS-based data sources (including student records and the admissions system) that resided on an IBM mainframe, which presented a challenge in terms of clean integration and effective integration. This was overcome through the use of Informatica PowerExchange to seamlessly extract the data.

Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
There was not necessarily financial, but political pressure to go with another data integration solution.  However, some felt strongly that the Informatica platform's performance, usability and ability to integrate with ADABAS made it the correct fit for RIT and its strategic direction for its data center, and thus went to bat on the belief that it would help ensure the success of the initiative.

Has your project achieved or exceeded its goals?  

Is it fully operational?   Yes

How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
The initiative is considered a great success in that it is making considerable amounts of information available to groups that did not previously have access to it,  and doing so in a very timely fashion, particularly compared to the recent past.  The initiative is also providing a lot more capability and flexibility in terms of how people can view that information. In this regard, it is a model for other educational institutions, most of whom face the same problems of silo'd information and the need to more fully leverage their information assets to meet institution goals.
Notably, the initiative stands also as a model for Business/IT collaboration and alignment, having been catalyzed by a business need (the new director of Institutional Research wanted a better way to drive reporting to external organizations) and grew from there with IT support.

How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
The initiative was embraced very quickly. In fact, the project team has been the victim of their own success in that  there are numerous other data integration challenges facing RIT and because of the success of the warehouse and its strong data integration underpinnings, the team is flooded by requests to kick off further data integration projects. Hence the team is looking to expand and leverage its data integration platform for the broader integration services as well.

As for the reporting and analysis initiative in and of itself, people have taken the information originally given to them to use for specific purposes and have found interesting new ways to apply that same information to other needs. An example is regulatory reporting and associated analytics that summarizes how well does RIT holds onto its students. That same information was also turned around and used RIT's Institutional Research group for another strategic initiative by virtue of the fact of having that information available, and the flexibility with which it was available.

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