Data and information management

Purpose

Virginia Commonwealth University uses various complex information systems to conduct its business operations and academic affairs. These systems consist of large administrative Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems as well as a wide spectrum of educational and business-specific systems (Student Housing, Sponsored Research Administration, Development and Alumni Relations, etc.). The “Institutional Data” within these systems and “Institutional information” that is derived from these systems are strategic assets of the university.

When ungoverned or unmanaged they cause operational inefficiencies and pose great risks to security and privacy.  Managing these assets according to sound data and information management policies and procedures ensures that data and information being governed are well defined and understood throughout the organization. Implementing a solid university-wide data and information management program will make sure that the proper policies, processes, tools and architecture are in place to effectively utilize these assets to increase business value, build university-wide trust in institutional data and to reduce risks and vulnerability concerning compliance, security, and privacy.

Effective data governance and information management will enable VCU to be more efficient by reducing costs, allowing re-use of data, and support institutional analytics. However, data governance requires more than just a few people with a project plan. It requires active participation, commitment, and collaboration from all line of businesses within the institution, as well as senior-level executive sponsorship. 

The data governance and information management program will aid VCU to effectively manage data assets by assigning responsibilities and rules of the engagement; illustrating the intersection of the business data and technical knowledge spread throughout the institution; and transcending artificial boundaries imposed by an organizational chart (where different departments or business functions appear as independent of the rest of the university).

University-wide collaboration and communication will be the most important factors for ensuring success in the data and information management program. The willingness of people all across the enterprise to mutually pledge to each other, their communication, cooperation, and trust will ensure VCU’s success.  Data and Information Management Council will communicate the importance of data and information management to stakeholders at every level throughout the organization and explain why it is needed for VCU. It will regularly inform stakeholders about the steps that are being taken and how those steps will benefit the institution as a whole. Listening to stakeholders and communities of interest to incorporate their ideas and feedback into the data and information management program will encourage active participation and permanent success.

Background

The majority of the administrative information systems at VCU are batch and transaction oriented. As a result, it is not easy to access institutional data for analytical and/or reporting purposes. Basic and analytical reporting capabilities of VCU’s ERP system are not meeting the growing demand of lines of businesses for data and information and forcing them into overlapping and isolated reporting efforts to support their operational and strategic needs.

VCU has long been aware of the challenges it faces with its data and its ability to efficiently and effectively support vital decision-making at all levels of the organization. However, this knowledge was based primarily on anecdotal information and not as a result of the systematic analysis.  Therefore, in spring 2010, VCU hired an outside firm (IBM) to conduct an assessment of its data management capabilities, the underlying issues, and environment that influence them, and to recommend a roadmap for improvement.  The study found that in addition to the centralized ERP system VCU has many decentralized (silo) information systems that are the sources of record for institutional data. In addition, VCU has many shadow data resources that have grown over time to satisfy particular business needs. This situation has led to confusion and isolation amongst data management professionals, resulting in everyone interpreting institutional data according to their own rules and definitions.

Institutional reports coming out of central offices such as Office of Planning and Decision Support rarely balance with the reports generated by administrative or academic units.  Overall, this hinders VCU’s ability to use its institutional data and information efficiently and effectively to support vital decision-making at all levels of the organization. 

Specifically, the study found that:

  • VCU does not have a set of consistent, unified, core data;
  • VCU does not have a formal mechanism to govern its data or data related issues – much of VCU’s knowledge resides with individuals, is not well documented, and is not transparent across the organization;
  • A lot of data is collected and stored in disparate systems, in inconsistent formats, with a great deal of redundancy, nor is it easily connected to other data; and finally, that
  • VCU consumes enormous human resources to connect and analyze the most basic university-level data.  Reporting is fundamentally functional in nature, not university-wide, resulting in duplicated efforts and inconsistent reporting.

Enterprise Analytics and Advanced Research unit within the Office of Planning and Decision Support facilitates the implementation of university-wide Data and Information Management Program that focuses on creating and maintaining university-wide policies and standards concerning data and information management; leveraging institutional data as a mission critical asset asset throughout the university; and ensuring data quality, data privacy and security, all in support of VCU's strategic goals.

Enterprise Analytics and Advanced Research also performs administrative tasks for the program such as maintaining the programs' website and other information resources and collaborative work environments.