Higher Education Poised To Enter World Of Analytics

Nicole Engelbert

Ovum anticipates that 2016 is likely to be the year that higher education moves from discussion to action with the more sophisticated use of data to transform institutional performance.

Colleges and universities globally are reporting analytics as their most important IT project, as measured by spend, over the next 18 months. Whether these investments propel the industry into a brave new world of analytics usage will depend, at least in part, on the ability of institutions to embed analytics into the daily fabric of organizational decision making, from the boardroom to the dorm room and everywhere in between. Key supporting factors to achieving this reality with analytics include a more practical approach to implementation and the selection of agile solutions with industry-specific frameworks such that institutions are able to balance short-term gains with long-term value.

Exploiting institutional data moves to the top of the agenda

The higher education industry stands at the proverbial crossroads. One path leads to a radical rethinking of how institutions support and deliver teaching, learning, and research, and ultimately to the creation of new services and operating paradigms to complement or replace existing approaches. The other leads to continued or even accelerated budgetary retrenchment, and likely decline, as institutions chase decreasing numbers of traditional students, tuition dollars, and public funding support. Recognizing that transformative change is required to thrive or even survive in this next era of higher education, colleges and universities are taking the first steps toward more bold use of data to manage and shape institutional performance in strategic ways. The effective use of analytics will be crucial to getting on and staying on the right path.

Figure 1: Investing in analytics is a top priority for higher education in 2016

Source: Ovum 2015 ICT Enterprise Insights Survey


When asked in Ovum’s 2015 ICT Enterprise Insights Survey (Q315) what IT projects would have the highest priority over the next 18 months, as measured by total spend, the largest percentage of institutional respondents (28%) selected analytics as their number one priority, and 64% rated it as a top-three project. While the more transformative usage of analytics has been a topic of heated discussion for some time in higher education, few institutions have taken the next step and made investments to move these conversations from the theoretical to the concrete. In too many cases, analytics projects have been confined to back-office operations, progressive but siloed departments, or pilot programs with little capacity or planning for scale. These new findings suggest that the institutional willingness and appetite for more transformative efforts is growing and likely to drive investment over the short term. Consequently, Ovum anticipates that 2016 will launch a brave new world for analytics in the higher education industry.

A data-driven culture will contribute to market differentiation

There are early indicators that higher education is becoming a more data-driven industry. Colleges and universities around the globe are increasingly required to report on student outcomes, such as retention, graduation, and even gainful employment rates, which is compelling them to build increasingly sophisticated reporting capabilities. Reporting to state, provincial, and national agencies is no longer an administrative function, but has become an executive imperative. However, complying with regulatory statutes for reporting is only a first step with analytics, and is unlikely to yield the institutional transformation required to thrive in the coming decades. Creating innovative new programs, finding new revenue streams, and moving with more agility in the industry will require institutions to embrace a data-driven culture where leveraging data is an integral part of the decision-making process rather than simply the outcome of it.

The path to a data-driven culture will not be an easy one. Success will require persistent leadership from the highest levels of the institution and the consistent application of analytics across a myriad of diverse decision-making circumstances, from IT governance to academic advisement and even management of the physical plant. Moreover, its implementation and use cannot be confined to the boardroom alone; it should be pervasive across the campus, informing transactions and interactions as varied as a recruiter planning which secondary schools to visit, to a professor selecting readings for an online sociology course. Ovum believes that sustained transformation is possible only when analytics broadly supports the fundamental work of an institution and is a required element for decision making at every level.

Envision transformation, but take quick, incremental steps

The implementation landscape is littered with analytics initiatives that became mired in internal debate and politics, never moving beyond the planning or pilot stages, and as a result, failing to deliver on the promise of institutional transformation. If this next wave of analytics investment is to avoid the shortcomings of the past, Ovum advises institutions to take a stronger hand in leading the consensus-building process and choose technology solutions with more rapid implementation capabilities.

The consensus-driven, shared governance model is unique to higher education, serving as its greatest strength but also its biggest hurdle to more rapid change. While creating a transformative vision is critical to the long-term success of an analytics investment, tightly coupling the solution’s implementation to it is unnecessary. As the vision moves through the consensus-building process, project champions can lead short “sprints” with early adopters. The findings from these pilots can inform the vision creation process and support the business case for continued investment. The challenge, of course, is ensuring that the early pilots ultimately align with the agreed vision and do not function as a deterrent to institution-wide deployment. Selecting a solution that balances flexibility and industry specificity can reduce the risk of these types of problems occurring. Because they are built on highly configurable platforms with higher education-specific frameworks, department-led implementations do not impede the execution of an institution-wide vision. Consequently, colleges and universities are able to realize the transformative value of analytics more rapidly.

Want more on how sophisticated data analytics is helping businesses make better decisions? See The Rise Of Exploratory Analytics.

Nicole Engelbert

About Nicole Engelbert

Director of Research & Analysis, Industries at Ovum Consulting.