Applying Business Analysis to Higher Education at Benjamin Franklin Institute of TechnologyReading time: 5 minutes
Data analytics is a valuable tool for measuring trends and forecasting outcomes, but it has applications in the ground-level, day-to-day operations of an organization as well. Typically, the task of identifying and enacting opportunities for operational improvement is the responsibility of a Business Analyst. But this role need not be exclusive to a “business”; organizations of all types can benefit from the principles of business analysis.
As with a business, a great deal of work goes into organizing the daily operations of an institute of higher education. The methods and processes involved in determining priorities and tracking progress tend to be long-standing and ingrained: perfect candidates for business analysis.
This post describes how Amanda Marstaller (pictured right), the Director of Institutional Reporting at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, integrated the principles of business analysis into the school’s daily operating procedures, resulting in substantive improvements in the college’s ability to serve its students.
Business Analysis for Higher Ed
Founded in Boston in 1908, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) is one of New England’s oldest colleges of technology. The private non-profit college offers an affordable education for people seeking technical careers. BFIT is a small, affordable, urban college serving the Boston region and committed to student success and career readiness in technology fields. Through personalized support, hands-on learning, and industry-informed curricula, BFIT prepares graduates for work, life-long learning, and citizenship. With nearly 120 full-time faculty and staff working together to move students forward on their educational pathways, there are many moving pieces and priorities to sort through.
The role Marstaller holds at BFIT is a unique one. It was developed by Marstaller herself, along with leadership at BFIT. Marstaller is the Director of Institutional Reporting. This role blends the traditional role of an Institutional Researcher with that of a Business Analyst. In practice, Marstaller’s position is to gather, organize, and distribute insight in order to improve the day-to-day operations of her institution. It is a major credit to Marstaller and the leadership team at BFIT that they were able to conceive and operationalize this role.
In this role, Marstaller established a self-service data access system at the institution which provides information to a range of departments on campus. Through this system, stakeholders in each department determine their priorities and goals each day, working from an automatically-updated list of the most relevant, timely tasks, sorted in order of urgency to complete.
Marstaller’s implementation of Rapid Insight’s Construct and Bridge at BFIT is a great example of the creative applications that an in-house data analytics platform can bring to an institution. With full access to the data preparation capabilities of Construct and the data sharing functionality of Bridge, Marstaller applied her analytical mindset and identified a creative way to organize her institution’s daily work to drive better results.
It took some effort on Marstaller’s part to persuade her colleagues that changes to procedures would be beneficial. However, once the changes were implemented, they were very welcome. “Like any institution, we have ingrained processes that it took some nudging to get some staff members on board,” said Marstaller. “Once they saw the value of the Bridge dashboard method I was proposing earlier on, it was easy to get buy-in on future projects. It now is a common request: ‘Can we get this in Bridge?'”
Prior to implementing the current data access measures, the Student Services department used a weekly Friday meeting to delegate tasks to attendees under aligned priorities. With much of the meeting dedicated to this delegation, little time was left for discussion. Marstaller’s data access system made it easy for department leaders to use a dashboard to assign work based on urgency before the meeting. Now, the meeting can move past delegation and focus on updates about work progress and larger conversations about strategy.
The Tools of the Trade
As implemented at BFIT, Rapid Insight’s Construct is essentially an ETL Tool.
Marstaller uses Construct to bring in data from Salesforce, CAMS, PowerFaids, Career Services spreadsheets, and archival flat files. She then cleanses and prepares the data to ensure that it is high-quality and error-free.
The end result of this data processing is a number of datasets, including:
- Accepted Student Detail: Admissions staff use this dashboard to track which steps they need to take with each student in order to fully qualify that student for registration
- Ready to Register: Student Services staff use this dataset to onboard and register students who have completed initial steps with admissions and financial aid
- Registered, Not Ready: A dataset that acts as a list of students whose records require cleanup or data entry before they can be moved through the process
Admissions and Student Services staff access these datasets through Rapid Insight’s Bridge. The software enables users to create a custom data dashboard that only shows them the exact information they need to see. Because the dashboard shows only what each individual user requires, it’s a very effective method of delivering precise information on any device in whatever format is most beneficial to the user. In essence, BFIT uses Bridge as a data warehouse. With minimal training, users across several departments can easily access the data they need to see to prioritize their work.
Moving Forward with Analytics
BFIT recently expanded the number of users equipped to access these datasets from 15 to 30. This will allow more users to create dashboards for an even greater range of applications. “Bridge access has been in high demand on our campus for some time,” Marstaller said. “We are in the midst of onboarding additional users. Prior to their Bridge access, they would access datasets in Excel from a shared file folder. Bridge will allow these users to manipulate the data more easily, to filter and create individual dashboards as needed.”
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