Business Intelligence (BI)

Project dates August 2008 - August 2012
Project manager Sarah Lord ( ext 5380
Project status Closed

Project aims and objectives

The Business Intelligence project aims to collect, integrate, analyse and present business information to support better business decision making. This three year project will provide accessible, accurate, relevant and timely management information at the desktop for the Vice Chancellors Executive Group (VCEG), Senior Management Group (SMG) and managers in Schools and Services.  As the system develops it will ultimately provide reporting capabilities across student, research, HR, finance and estates data with functions that allow for retrospective and forward planning analysis.

The initial phase of the project is focused on reviewing and improving the planning process, and introducing a new tool to ensure we have a robust and powerful planning platform to support the financial planning elements of this process. We are also working with owners of data across the University to ensure the quality and accuracy of data in source systems which will feed both the planning tool, and the reporting tool when the project progresses to produce KPI and performance data during 2011.

Business Planning

The initial focus of the Business Planning workstream was in replacing the current Excel budgeting spreadsheets with a robust planning platform, which will be used by all Colleges and Professional Services to build up, approve and consolidate, their Five Year Consolidated Plans. A suite of reports were also built to allow analysis of the planned data.

Performance Intelligence

Performance Intelligence aims to provide accessible, accurate, relevant and timely management information at the desktop for the Vice Chancellor's Executive Group (VCEG), Senior Management Group (SMG) and managers in Schools and Services. These data will be oriented around the University’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Performance Indicators (PIs), producing a dashboard to monitor performance against our peer group, and analysis of each of the individual KPIs (Achievement and Progression; Research income per staff FTE; International student population; National student survey; Graduate destinations; UG entry qualifications; Earned income; PGR per academic staff FTE, PGT population and RAE).

The University continues to aim higher, and a key part of our ‘Top 10 by 2012’ ambition will rely on our ability to gather, report, and respond to management information, making informed and accurate decisions based on realistic and up-to-date information.

At present, much of our data analysis is retrospective, even historic, and they risk failing to spot very recent, current and emerging trends. We tend not to look across different data sources to identify emerging issues. By giving managers access to robust and relevant real-time and predictive information, issues that have just arisen, or are arising, or are likely to arise will be readily identifiable at all levels of the University. Pre-emptive action planning will also be made possible. The use of BI will enable more effective actions to be taken by managers, to improve in-year and future performance in the most critical areas.

In addition to retrospective views of data (including comparative for peer group HEIs), there will be real-time views of current performance. Drawing on a variety of data sources, there will also be forward-looking predictive analyses providing early warnings. The views will be adjustable by the user in a range of configurations, including pan-University, Colleges/subjects, and date-ranges.

Ultimately, the reporting system will enable analyses across student, HR, finance and estate data. The reporting will be from a ‘data warehouse’, which will contain cleansed and analysed data from the constituent databases, updated at defined intervals.

Business Intelligence is not a single system solution. It involves building a data warehouse from a number of data areas that hold source data from the key or required administrative databases. This could also involve data sourced externally, where applicable. This data is extracted from our core systems, transformed into a format more suitable for reporting, and loaded into process-specific business areas. This process will also involve translating the often-cryptic field names in the source systems into something meaningful to the business user. Reports can then be written against this data using a Business Intelligence reporting tool.

Business Intelligence can be used for the production of standard or ad-hoc reports with reduced need for specialist IT support, and can provide drill-down functionality from highly summarised data to a specified level of detail in a single report.

Lessons learnt from implementations at other HEIs and from organisations in other sectors will be applied to the project. This is a major project, but there are some strong foundations in place. There is VC-led emphasis on evidence-based policy and planning, and a well-resourced Planning Team who provide well-received KPI data. There is a group reviewing the next stage of University ambition and associated KPIs, and Colleges and Services are focused on sustaining excellence across research, education and external affairs.

Key documents

Project Initiation Document (PID)
Investment Appraisal Project Plan
Key Messages and Communications Plan
User Benefits Document
BI Project Calendar

A revised project plan showing the key workstreams scheduled for the current year will be uploaded once approved.BI Project Calendar User Benefits Document

Latest news

The initial suite of key performance indicator reports, centred on the student experience, were launched to a pilot group in. We provided a number of reports, charts and tables providing analysis of both internal data (taken from SITS) and external data (provided by HESA and the results of the National Student Survey), to compare Exeter's performance to that of other institutions. The reports will be updated with feedback from the pilot group and will be rolled out to more users shortly.

Further information about using the Cognos BI software implemented under this project can be found on the Business Intelligence system web pages.

A number of further initiatives related to the original aims and objectives of the BI Project have been identified to be implemented over the coming year. The priorities identified are:

  • Enabling sensitivity analysis to be carried out against key elements of the business plans
  • Providing monitoring reports (planned versus actual costs and revenue)
  • Completing the remaining KPI reports
  • Upgrading to the latest version of Cognos software

Project Board/BI Strategy Group

The Project Board will make decisions which may involve change of scope, budget or timescales for the project. They also determine the high priority initiatives to be taken forward by the BI team.

Strategy Group members

Member Job title or representative Position on Board
Patrick Kennedy Director, Strategic Planning & Change Chair and Project Sponsor
Ariel Edge College Manager, College of Humanities
College representative
Paul Lightowlers
Head of Corporate Systems
Technical representative
Anne Shrubshall Assistant Director of Finance, Corporate
Finance representative
Sarah Lord
Technical Project Manager, Change Team
Project Manager


Project Team

The Project Team will monitor the project, meeting regularly to review progress and agree actions and refer issues involving change of scope, budget or timescales to the sponsor and/or Project Board as appropriate.

Project Team members

 Member  Job title or role
Sarah Lord  Project Manager
Jim Lackie  BI Developer
John Donnelly
 BI Developer
Paul Lightowlers
 Head of Corporate Systems (Technical Team Lead)
Gill Still
Business Analyst
Paul Ruddock
Planning Analyst

 Anne Shrubshall and Dan Isaac were also valuable members of the Financial Planning workstream team, and are continuing to support users of the Cognos financial planning solution now that the system is live.