“Data-informed decision-making” is becoming an increasingly common maxim in higher education. Indeed, one of higher ed’s most prominent news outlets, The Chronicle of Higher Education, includes a dedicated “Data” section devoted to analysis and commentary on trends. One of the primary challenges in the field of Institutional Research is keeping up with the evolving ways that institutions of higher education seek to leverage data for decision-making.

Student Information Systems, which are complex enough on their own, are typically now just one of many systems that universities use to interact with and support students. How can a complex system of data be integrated and made accessible to campus decision-makers who need it? One answer to this question is: “a data warehouse”.

What is a data warehouse?

A data warehouse is a special type of data infrastructure designed to integrate multiple sources of information in a way that is optimized for reporting & analysis. The data warehouse at Ball State University is a central repository for storing and managing large amounts of data from various sources. It is designed to support the efficient querying and analysis of data by users, making it an essential tool for institutions like Ball State that rely on data to inform decisions.

Given the diversity of systems and information in higher education, it can be a significant challenge to design a warehouse that can combine different types of information in a way that is “harmonious”. Ball State has contracted with a partner to help develop and maintain our data warehouse. While our chosen partner is primarily responsible for the complex ETL (extract, transform load) process that prepares data for analysis, IRDS – partnered with functional areas across campus – is responsible for performing thorough data validation on information contained in the warehouse. Data validation is a difficult and time consuming but necessary step to ensure the accuracy, quality, and consistency of information. IRDS appreciates all the efforts by stakeholders and subject matter experts to confirm that each variable presented from the warehouse takes the appropriate values.

How does a data warehouse support campus decision-making?

Once data has been validated in the warehouse, it can be presented to campus decision-makers in multiple formats; at this time primarily in the form of dashboards. Tableau dashboards provide an interactive visualization environment for campus users to explore and understand university information. The interactive nature of Tableau dashboards gives campus users the power to analyze and explore the data in new ways, revealing actionable trends and patterns. You can access the new Tableau environment at (analytics.bsu.edu), which will eventually replace the legacy dashboard environment.

Among the key advantages of a data warehouse to us is that it allows for data to be integrated from multiple sources, which can allow for more impactful analysis and analytics. Additionally, it enables data to be stored in a consistent format, which makes it easier to access and analyze. It has been designed to ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive data, and it can also be used to track and monitor access to data for compliance with regulations and policies.

The partner-contracted implementation timeline for Ball State’s data warehouse is long-term and includes expansions into areas of employee and financial information that will supplement the existing warehouse. At the same time, IRDS is continually working with stakeholders across the institution to understand how the warehouse can best serve need for information and actionable insights. Ultimately, it is our hope in IRDS that the data warehouse can transform the way Ball State interacts with and understand institutional data.