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blogpost

Data is a
four-letter
word. Governance is not.

04.11.19

“The world is one big data problem,” says MIT scientist and visionary Andrew McAfee.

That’s a daunting (though hardly surprising) quote for many in data-rich sectors, including higher education. Yet blaming data is like blaming air for a malfunctioning wind turbine. Data is a valuable asset that can make your institution move.

To many of us, however, data remains a four-letter word. The real culprit behind the perceived data problem is our handling and perception of data and the role it can play in our success—that is, the relegating of data to a select, responsible few, who are usually separated into hardened silos. For example, a common assumption in higher education is that the IT team can handle it. Not so. Data needs to be viewed as an institutional asset, consumed by many and used by the institution for the strategic purposes of student success, scholarship, and more.

The first step in addressing your “big” data problem? Data governance.

What is data governance?

There are various definitions, but the one we use with our clients is “the ongoing and evolutionary process driven by leaders to establish principles, policies, business rules, and metrics for data sharing.”

Please note that the phrase “IT” does not appear anywhere in this definition.

Why is data governance necessary? For many reasons, including:

  1. Data governance enables analytics. Without data governance, it’s difficult to gain value from analytics initiatives which will produce inconsistent results. A critical first step in any data analytics initiative is to make sure that definitions are widely accepted and standards have been established. This step allows decision makers to have confidence in the data being analyzed to describe, predict, and improve operations.
     
  2. Data governance strengthens privacy, security, and compliance. Compliance requirements for both public and private institutions constantly evolve. The more data-reliant your world becomes, the more protected your data needs to be. If an organization does not implement security practices as part of its data governance framework, it becomes easier to fall out of compliance. 
     
  3. Data governance supports agility. How many times have reports for basic information (part-time faculty or student FTEs per semester, for example) been requested, reviewed, and returned for further clarification or correction? And that’s just within your department! Now add multiple requests from the perspective of different departments, and you’re surely going through multiple iterations to create that report. That takes time and effort. By strengthening your data governance framework, you can streamline reporting processes by increasing the level of trust you have in the information you are seeking. Understanding the value of data governance is the easy part/ The real trick is implementing a sustainable data governance framework that recognizes that data is an institutional asset and not just a four-letter word.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series: The how of data governance in higher education. In the meantime, reach out to me if you would like to discuss additional data governance benefits for your institution.

After working with larger CPA firms in the past, I am impressed at how we see the same staff from BerryDunn return year after year, how well they understand the higher education audit requirements and the time they take to really understand Hartwick College. Their knowledge of the College and its financial statements and their willingness to consult with us during the year is invaluable. Working with BerryDunn has been a pleasure.

- Karen V. Zuill, Controller, Hartwick College

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Understanding higher education audit requirements

As a new year is upon us, many people think about “out with the old and in with the new”. For those of us who think about technology, and in particular, blockchain technology, the new year brings with it the realization that blockchain is here to stay (at least in some form). Therefore, higher education leaders need to familiarize themselves with some of the technology’s possible uses, even if they don’t need to grasp the day-to-day operational requirements. Here’s a high-level perspective of blockchain to help you answer some basic questions.

Are blockchain and bitcoin interchangeable terms?

No they aren’t. Bitcoin is an electronic currency that uses blockchain technology, (first developed circa 2008 to record bitcoin transactions). Since 2008, many companies and organizations utilize blockchain technology for a multitude of purposes.

What is a blockchain?

In its simplest terms, a blockchain is a decentralized, digital list (“chain”) of timestamped records (“blocks”) that are connected, secured by cryptography, and updated by participant consensus.

What is cryptography?

Cryptography refers to converting unencrypted information into encrypted information—and vice versa—to both protect data and authenticate users.

What are the pros of using blockchain?

Because blockchain technology is inherently decentralized, you can reduce the need for “middleman” entities (e.g., financial institutions or student clearinghouses). This, in turn, can lower transactional costs and other expenses, and cybersecurity risks—as hackers often like to target large, info-rich, centralized databases.

Decentralization removes central points of failure. In addition, blockchain transactions are generally more secure than other types of transactions, irreversible, and verifiable by the participants. These transaction qualities help prevent fraud, malware attacks, and other risks and issues prevalent today.

What are the cons of using blockchain technology?

Each blockchain transaction requires signature verification and processing, which can be resource-intensive. Furthermore, blockchain technology currently faces strong opposition from certain financial institutions for a variety of reasons. Finally, although blockchains offer a secure platform, they are not impervious to cyberattacks. Blockchain does not guarantee a hacker-proof environment.

How can blockchain benefit higher education institutions?

Blockchain technology can provide higher education institutions with a more secure way of making and recording financial transactions. You can use blockchains to verify and transfer academic credits and certifications, protect student personal identifiable information (PII) while simultaneously allowing students to access and transport their PII, decentralize academic content, and customize learning experiences. At its core, blockchain provides a fresh alternative to traditional methods of identity verification, an ongoing challenge for higher education administration.

As blockchain becomes less of a buzzword and begins to expand beyond the realm of digital currency, colleges and universities need to consider it for common challenges such as identity management, application processing, and student credentialing. If you’d like to discuss the potential benefits blockchain technology provides, please contact me.

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Higher education and blockchain 101: It's not just for bitcoin anymore

The late science fiction writer (and college professor) Isaac Asimov once said: “I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.” Had Asimov worked in higher ed IT management, he might have added: “but above all else, I fear the lack of computer staff.”

Indeed, it can be a challenge for higher education institutions to recruit and retain IT professionals. Private companies often pay more in a good economy, and in certain areas of the nation, open IT positions at colleges and universities outnumber available, qualified IT workers. According to one study from 2016, almost half of higher education IT workers are at risk of leaving the institutions they serve, largely for better opportunities and more supportive workplaces. Understandably, IT leadership fears an uncertain future of vacant roles—yet there are simple tactics that can help you improve the chances of filling open positions.

Emphasize the whole package

You need to leverage your institution’s strengths when recruiting IT talent. A focus on innovation, project leadership, and responsibility for supporting the mission of the institution are important attributes to promote when recruiting. Your institution should sell quality of life, which can be much more attractive than corporate culture. Many candidates are attracted to the energy and activity of college campuses, in addition to the numerous social and recreational outlets colleges provide.

Benefit packages are another strong asset for recruiting top talent. Schools need to ensure potential candidates know the amount of paid leave, retirement, and educational assistance for employees and employee family members. These added perks will pique the interest of many candidates who might otherwise have only looked at salary during the process.

Use the right job title

Some current school vacancies have very specific job titles, such as “Portal Administrator” or “Learning Multimedia Developer.” However, this specificity can limit visibility on popular job posting sites, reducing the number of qualified applicants. Job titles, such as “Web Developer” and “Java Developer,” can yield better search results. Furthermore, some current vacancies include a number or level after the job title (e.g., “System Administrator 2”), which also limits visibility on these sites. By removing these indicators, you can significantly increase the applicant pool.

Focus on service, not just technology

Each year, institutions deploy an increasing number of Software as a Service (SaaS) and hosted applications. As higher education institutions invest more in these applications, they need fewer personnel for day-to-day technology maintenance support. In turn, this allows IT organizations to focus limited resources on services that identify and analyze technology solutions, provide guidance to optimize technology investments, and manage vendor relationships. IT staff with soft skills will become even more valuable to your institution as they engage in more people- and process-centric efforts.

Fill in the future

It may seem like science fiction, but by revising your recruiting and retention tactics, your higher education institution can improve its chances of filling IT positions in a competitive job market. In a future blog, I’ll provide ideas for cultivating staff from your institution via student workers and upcoming graduates. If you’d like to discuss additional staffing tactics, send me an email.

Blog
No science fiction: Tactics for recruiting and retaining higher education IT positions

We humans have a complex attitude toward change. In one sense, we like finding it. For instance: “Now I can buy something from the vending machine!” In reality, we try to avoid change as much as possible. Why? Because it’s frightening. Consider this quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

The key word in that quote is “sudden.” Because the more we prepare for change, the less painful it becomes. One crucial way to prepare for change is to assess how ready we are for something new.

Which brings us to you. The fact you are reading a blog post with the words “Readiness for Enterprise Systems” in its title suggests that you have considered, or are considering, changing your institution’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or other enterprise software, such as LMS, SIS, CRM, etc. This change is no minor adjustment.

Enterprise systems are complex, impacting institutional activities at many levels, from managing student records, finances, and human resources, to enabling student enrollment and registration. Is your institution prepared for transformation across the organization? To find out, assess your institution’s readiness for change. To help illustrate what an assessment might entail, I’ll outline BerryDunn’s method.

Step #1: Understanding Key Indicators for Readiness
When assisting a client to determine readiness, BerryDunn begins engaging stakeholders from across the institution (e.g., staff, faculty, and students) to understand the current environment. This allows us to address seven key indicators for change readiness:

  1. Stakeholder Buy-In. The key to success in changing an ERP platform is for users to understand the value that the change will bring. “Do stakeholders know how the new system will benefit them? Or, from their perspective, ‘What’s in it for me (aka, WIIFM)?’”
  2. Executive Sponsorship. In order to obtain stakeholder buy-in, leaders have to communicate effectively with various parties about change. They will be required to display strong and consistent leadership when stakeholders are faced with challenges with vendors, timing, scope creep, or other issues. “Are leaders prepared to lead the charge? Are they committed to change?”
     
  3. Vendor Ability. Each institution has specific operational needs and programmatic objectives. ERP vendors will highlight their strengths and may de-emphasize weaknesses that may exist in their products. “Are vendors actually able to meet the institution’s functional needs and align their software with strategic objectives?”
     
  4. Business Process Redesign. As mentioned above, it can be a struggle to align operational needs and programmatic objectives with vendor software. It’s even harder to achieve this while ensuring that, in implementing a new ERP system, an institution won’t lose valuable functionality that had been provided by the previous ERP. “Does the client fully understand the impact of a new ERP system on their processes?”
     
  5. Project Management. Proactive project management is critical when changing an ERP system. Project managers need to engage institutional stakeholders, project sponsors, and vendors to keep them apprised of progress. “Are project managers empowered to maintain strong communication with all stakeholders?”
     
  6. Data Governance. Another key indicator of ERP readiness is how well-defined data management is before implementation. ERP replacement projects are jeopardized when institutions don’t understand their data assets, or don’t know what level of data migration is necessary. “Is the institution prepared for data migration?”
     
  7. Software Change Management. As ERP vendors move their products to the cloud, the software they sell will become less customizable, but more configurable. In other words, customers won’t necessarily be able to modify the base software code, but they will have more options in regards to defined fields, workflow, and user interface. Although this sounds limiting, it is actually an opportunity to streamline operations, add discipline to software update timelines, and require organizations to consider how to best complete their administrative functions. It is critical that an institution adapt its software change management practices to meet this reality. “Do the institution’s software change management practices reflect how software is delivered by vendors today?”

Step #2: Establish Agreed-Upon Metrics
Based on our analysis from Step #1, we then score these indicators of readiness based on a maturity scale from 0 – 5, using the following parameters:

0  Non-existent
1  Aware, but not ready to change
2  Aware and open to change, but lack understanding of path forward
3  Accept that change is needed, but clear action plan is not in place
4  Accept that change is imminent and is being planned for
5  Readiness for change has broad understanding, is accepted, and is being executed 

Step #3: Score the Readiness of Your Organization
When you work with a consulting firm to assess your institution’s readiness for change, you should expect tangible takeaways that will inform stakeholders and provide a baseline metric. For example, we prepare a brief report that outlines a score for each of the seven maturity indicators of ERP readiness and provides supporting information for the basis of each score.

Here is an example of a Software Change Management section from a hypothetical ERP Readiness Report:

READINESS INDICATORS

BASIS FOR SCORE

SCORE (0 – 5)

Software Change Management

The University does have an effective software change management methodology, and a standard process for prioritizing requests to its current ERP system. This model may change significantly if a cloud system is chosen, and will require a new approach to configuration and asset management.

3


Finally, based on the weighted aggregate score of the report, BerryDunn determines the institution’s readiness for change, and provides recommendations on how to remediate low scores, and sustain higher scores.

Now for the good news. By setting a baseline early in your readiness planning, the scoring can be revisited over time to measure progress and provide project leadership with a simple, but effective, approach to tracking change management within the organization.

Next Steps
As you can see, implementing a new ERP doesn’t have to be a monstrous experience. You simply need to determine your ERP readiness, and follow a common-sense plan for change management. If you’d like to talk more about this process, send me an email: dhoule@berrydunn.com. I look forward to learning about the great changes your institution has planned.

Blog
Assessing organizational readiness for enterprise systems

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