The marketplace of hyper-specialized technologies is rapidly expanding and campus leaders are desperate to take advantage of the functionality they promise. But the ROI of analytics isn't in the new software: It's in data integration. Without accurate, meaningful, actionable data moving between the systems, their utility is drastically reduced.
As leaders move to adopt new technologies, they're outpacing IT's ability to keep up with integration demands. One CIO estimated the demand for integrations has increased over 25% in the past five years, with another IT leader able to demonstrate that the number of integrations on campus has doubled every year since 2014. With limited (or no) new resources to address demand, IT needs to reimagine the way the enterprise integrates.
Continuous integration will be a central tenet of IT's evolving role. In the meantime, to reframe integration as a competitive differentiator rather than an inescapable cost, IT leaders should make five integration facts clear on their campus:
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1. It's not free
Despite what vendors might say as they flash analytics dashboards and mobile apps, integrating new technologies with existing infrastructure is rarely a simple, vendor-catered process. Integrations must be built and they must be maintained—and this takes IT developer time and resources.
If the average integration takes four weeks to build and the developer working on that integration is earning $120,000 a year, you're looking at $10,000 up front, without beginning to understand the cost of maintenance.
The more complicated the project, the more staff involved, and the higher the overall costs. A two-year ERP implementation might take a team of six developers; that's almost $1.5 million in IT staff time that needs to work its way into the project budget.
2. It's not easy
Integration is more than just time spent writing strings of code and transforming data into a different format. True data integration is about addressing process inefficiencies by providing seamless interactions between disparate systems and ironing out miscommunications along the way. It's a long and arduous process to gather data that exists in multiple locations, translate between unit-level definitions and those of vendors, and aggregate information that must be mapped from across campus.
When developers are moving information, they're making business-level decisions when deciding what data to pull, manipulate, aggregate, and pass on to new systems. Business leaders must invest in integration processes and work closely with developers to understand the business needs—and they must articulate it in terms that are meaningful at the level of data information.
3. It's not just an IT problem
Like puppies, data initiatives take significant nurturing and a responsible owner must have ample attention to give.
On the average campus, data lives in lots of locations, is used for lots of reasons, and can be aggregated and programmed in any number of ways. While IT leadership and their staff can be responsible for translating business need into technological capability and enterprise data objects, business owners and campus leaders must be open to discussions that seek to rationalize campus information and harness cross-institutional assets for creative problem solving. Developers can pull data feeds until the cows come home, but without the appropriate problem solving and data needs assessment—and the corresponding time-spend from the unit looking for data—solutions will inevitably fail.
If your functional units can't spare half an employee (at the very least) for the duration of the data integration project, they aren't ready to take advantage of data assets. Like puppies, data initiatives take significant nurturing and a responsible owner must have ample attention to give.
4. It's not a "project"
Data integration isn't a project with a designated beginning and end; it's a continuous process that demands sustained effort from IT professionals and business leaders with stakes in the data provided. Treating integration as a project—or worse, as a line item within your individual SaaS investment—contributes to a systems architecture that will quickly become inoperable. To integrate efficiently and with maximum gains, integration is a continuous effort and planning reaps dividends.
If you're not thinking about how the data you're collecting can benefit the institution beyond the use case in mind, you're not thinking hard enough. With the explosion of unstructured data, currently less than 0.5% of all data created is ever analyzed and used. In campus systems and web-based interactions, higher education is sitting atop a wealth of potential insight. When data can be used effortlessly by more units, it can drive innovation in new and exciting ways.
5. It's not optional
For institutions forging ahead on the enterprise-wide integration path, the benefits of available data and seamless integration are in evidence across campus, surfacing both as value drivers and cost efficiencies. For many, the test case has been student success, particularly in the advising space. But newer initiatives in "self-service" student-facing data are seeking to present campus members with their own personal domains, with personalized data feeds to drive better learning outcomes.
Conversely, for those languishing behind, the inability to integrate sufficiently is short-changing campus investments: new technologies are procured, and “integrated” to the lowest common denominator before IT moves onto the next incoming project. With minimal integration, new systems fail to meet expectations—delivering maybe 50% of the promised functionality—and campus leaders move on to yet newer purchases, initiating the same process again. Campus, throwing good money after bad, is trapped in a cycle of poor integration.
If your campus isn't making the most of its data, it's time for serious investment. Faster IT project deployment, internal capability enhancement, and mission-enablement (from student success through to cost efficiencies) all improve dramatically with rigorous data integration. Treating IT as a cost center—and integration with it—endangers your institution.
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