Automated Reporting at Paul Smith’s CollegeReading time: 4 minutes
More often than not, it’s an accumulation of small improvements (rather than a single large change) that enhances an organization’s operational efficiency. Jeff Walton, the Registrar and Director of Institutional Research at Paul Smith’s College, regularly identifies inefficient data management and reporting processes and automates them for increased effectiveness. This blog post explores how Walton’s process improvements had the cumulative effect of creating a more efficient, collaborative, and data-informed campus.
A Multidisciplinary Background
Nestled in the beauty of New York’s Adirondack mountains, Paul Smith’s College is a 4-year university that combines career training with exploration and study of the natural and societal landscape. While the college is relatively small, it faces the same array of questions and challenges that all universities grapple with. Its setting and specialized academic focus create unique questions for administrators to answer.
Jeff Walton is Paul Smith’s Director of Institutional Research as well as the college’s Registrar. Before assuming his current role, Walton was a member of the faculty. As such, he is intimately familiar with the needs of the departments he now serves data to in his IR role. He brings that understanding into his IR role; he knows what information faculty require to make informed decisions in their day-to-day work and larger strategic plans.
When Walton first transitioned from faculty to IR and Registrar, his predecessor’s existing automated reports made the transition smoother than might ordinarily be anticipated. Since reports continued to run and distribute themselves through Construct on an automated schedule, there was no interruption in the delivery of information while Walton brought himself up to speed. Everyone continued to get the reports they needed to make decisions during the staff changeover.
The Keys to Success
In higher ed, new challenges and questions emerge regularly. An IR department’s ability to adapt and answer questions as they arise (or, in some cases, before they’re even asked) is a marker of its ability to serve its institution at its highest capacity. Paired with Walton’s desire to meet this challenge, Rapid Insight’s Construct data wrangling software enables Walton to effectively address his institution’s needs on an agile and evolving basis.
Thankfully, Construct jobs are easy to update and adjust when the need arises. “Some of the jobs have been running for up to ten years,” Walton said. These legacy jobs sometimes need to be fine-tuned or updated, but their capacity to continue running and delivering results without the need for manual distribution means that work can continue unimpeded when unexpected roadblocks emerge.
Flexibility and automation are the key benefits of Walton’s system. When building a new data job in Construct to deliver a report or dashboard, Walton meets with the beneficiary of the process and analyzes how staff currently complete the task. He notes the desired outcomes, then builds an efficient automated version of the process in Construct. Rather than digging through spreadsheets or copying and pasting data, beneficiaries of Walton’s work now receive a digestible, tailored report at whatever frequency is most helpful.
Increasing Efficiency in Multiple Departments
Essentially, Construct acts as the “data glue” binding the school’s many systems and records. It connects with PowerCampus SIS, Starfish, Canvas LMS, and individual department data sources to compile comprehensive, tailored reports to meet each department’s needs. With Construct’s Scheduler feature, each report is sent automatically on a custom schedule, set on a case-by-case basis.
One example of a streamlined process made possible by Walton’s work is in the Academic Success Center.
Before implementing the automated process, the Center’s administrative staff manually entered tutor and peer mentor assignments into Starfish. Now, through Construct, the same Academic Success Center spreadsheet information is automatically uploaded to Starfish each night. This leads to more comprehensive and efficient record-keeping and easier access to data for the Center’s tutors and instructors.
Another report generates a list of students who have been paired with a roommate and those who still need one.
This gives Student Life an idea of what they need to accomplish to complete move-in planning. Yet another report runs once per hour to automatically generate user and course enrollment files for Canvas the college’s Learning Management System. New users and course enrollment changes are added to the LMS automatically every hour.
The key takeaway is that whatever the data need may be, Walton is able to build a more efficient solution while his previous workflows continue to support baseline needs. As new requests are made of his office, he can resolve those too, in a customized fashion, at whatever frequency the recipient requires.
The Benefits of Automated Reporting
Paul Smith’s College’s automated data system allows end-users to access information in a more streamlined fashion using scalable, low-maintenance solutions. It answers many questions those end-users have before they ask them. And it prevents stakeholders from wasting time digging into spreadsheets and databases to find the information they need.
“I try to be the person that says yes to data requests,” Walton says. Rapid Insight’s Construct enables him to do just that. Paired with his dedication to finding solutions wherever possible, Rapid Insight equips Walton to embody the true spirit and highest value of Institutional Research: delivering the insights the institution needs in order to fulfill its mission.
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