Published on 05-Aug-2009
Validated on 17 Feb 2011
"IBM Cognos solutions make it very easy to get data into the hands of those who need it, in the format they want." - Felecia Flack, Director of Consulting and Support Services, Administrative Information Technology, Northern Michigan University
Northern Michigan University
Northern Michigan University was successfully using an older IBM® Cognos® system for report authoring, so it was logical to return to the same company with its new requirements.
Aggregate data from different sources and obtain real-time, consolidated views of HR, finance, and academic information to provide more insight into budget, student and school operations.
The IBM Cognos 8 BI system enabled a streamlined approach for NMU to view the university’s data from a single portal.
Real-time line of sight for academic and administrative reports; continuous access to key data; the ability to run reports with no IT input; tight integration with existing ERP systems; the ability to do on-the-fly data analysis .
Northern Michigan University (NMU), located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a dynamic 4-year, public, co-educational university, which offers a wide variety of programs to nearly 9,400 undergraduate and graduate students. Known for providing outstanding personal attention, more than 75 percent of NMU’s 300-plus faculty members have doctorates or the highest degree in their fields, and a hallmark of the NMU experience is that full-time faculty members teach at all levels – from freshmen through graduate students.
An entirely wireless campus, NMU is one of the largest notebook computer campuses in the US, with all full-time students receiving either a ThinkPad or MacBook as part of their studies. Additionally, all faculty, staff and students get a new laptop every two years, so university staff is technology-savvy and expects access to information when needed. The university has national and international awards for its innovative work in the area of technology in higher education.
The 360-acre NMU campus in Marquette, a city of 20,000 residents on the shore of Lake Superior, is also one of three universities in Michigan to serve a community college role for its region. Established in 1899, NMU is known for its safe, clean, friendly and natural environment. The university features 52 facilities, including the newly constructed Seaborg Science Complex, a state-of-the-art venue with more than two dozen laboratories, and the newly renovated Thomas Fine Arts and Art and Design buildings. NMU’s campus also houses a university theater, an award-winning library, a university center, two art galleries, and a three-structure sports and recreation complex, of which one structure is the Superior Dome, the world’s largest wooden dome.
Among NMU’s highly recognized programs are its Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP); First Year Experience (FYE) program; Honors Program; Freshman Fellows, a program that pairs incoming freshmen with faculty members for collaborative research; and its outstanding study abroad program. The university is also the site of the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC), one of only four Olympic training centers in the nation and the only one designated as an education center.
Because it was implementing a new ERP system with very limited reporting capabilities, NMU’s IT group struggled to deliver appropriate data to decision makers expeditiously and efficiently. While adequate for some of the university’s reporting needs, the SunGard® Higher Education’s Banner administrative system did not provide the range of reporting capabilities that NMU required. Departments wanted more timely access to their data whenever it was needed. This prompted NMU to build on its investment in IBM Cognos solutions to deliver Banner data to the users and to tie data from Banner to external systems.
“IBM Cognos solutions make it very easy to get data into the hands of those who need it, in the format they want,” says Felecia Flack, Director of Consulting and Support Services, Administrative Information Technology at Northern Michigan University. “Using the IBM Cognos solution, we have been able to create a whole variety of data presentations – from Student Teaching Assessment Reports for our Education Department to financial data models with drill-down capabilities for our Deans to an Admissions Dashboard for our Enrollment Management Team.”
NMU needed to access data from its Banner ERP system in a quicker and more structured manner so it could meet its users’ needs more efficiently. The university wanted the ability to look at new perspectives, and needed business intelligence capabilities that could facilitate keeping pace with changes in student, administrative and budget data.
The university realized that it needed more effective real-time monitoring capabilities, and a superior BI solution that could be integrated seamlessly with its existing SunGard deployment. NMU implemented IBM Cognos 8 BI in 2004 so that it could gain more insight into all aspects of the university’s operations. NMU also wanted to refine its budgeting and planning process, to make things simpler and faster so the school could be more responsive to budget fluctuations.
Once the decision to deploy the new BI solution was made, IT staff attended meta data modeling and report authoring classes through IBM Cognos Education. With a new ERP system being implemented at the same time and every department needing everything all at once, IT had a real challenge. To address the huge demand, departments were asked to prioritize their reporting needs according to what was most mission-critical. IT staff worked diligently to get data into the hands of the users that needed it. Reports were created with built-in prompts so that users could run reports with a variety of filters. With the combination of excellent IT staff, superior BI tools and IBM Cognos training courses, the reporting challenge was met.
When NMU’s initial reporting needs were addressed, IT rolled out a new level of business intelligence. Data models with multi-dimensional data analysis and drill-down capabilities were created for the areas of finance, student admissions and retention, HR workforce planning and higher education benchmarking. Users in these areas were shown how to use the analysis tool. Now key decision-makers at the university have the power – the data and the tool they need to make effective, timely decisions.
The implementation was not the first IBM Cognos solution installed, though. In 1994, IT managers decided that its users should have their own reporting solution, and they chose IBM Cognos Impromptu® client-based report authoring software to meet their needs. That decision unseated Information Builders as the incumbent reporting solution, and after several years of successfully using the IBM Cognos Impromptu solution, managers decided to implement IBM Cognos 8 BI when the university needed more comprehensive reporting capabilities.
“The departments are extremely satisfied with what IT has developed for them. We have pulled data from multiple data sources, wherever it needs to come from, and put it into the format they want,” Flack says.
At present, there are about 100 active users of the solutions including NMU’s upper-level management. Roughly 75 of these active users use the IBM Cognos solution on a daily basis. By implementing the BI solutions, IT staff was able to meet their users’ diverse needs, and users have given favorable feedback on the system.
From the outset, NMU realized it had more access to data, and at a far quicker pace than ever before. The ability that administrators have to see pertinent information in one report – generated in seconds and in the way they want to view it – has saved the staff countless hours and headaches. A wide range of administrators, including department secretaries, athletic directors and college deans, are running reports on items that include class rosters, course offerings, account balances and athlete eligibility. They are using reports that are centrally created by IT staff and stored where users have instant access to the data.
With the IBM Cognos solution, data can come from many different data sources, which can be linked together within the solution. At NMU, most of the reports that are based on data from within the ERP system run against the university’s standby database, which is also used for disaster recovery. Although the standby database is updated twice daily, reports for areas that need real-time data, such as payroll, are pointed to the production database. Data from the university’s ERP system can be linked to data from in-house developed applications and purchased third-party systems. For example, service learning transcripts are produced by linking data from the in-house developed Superior Edge system to a student’s ERP data, and reports about student payment plans are produced using data linked from the Touchnet® Bill Payment Suite to Banner data.
“IBM Cognos reports are absolutely essential to the smooth operation of our department offices, and the data analysis capabilities of the solution are critical as we compete to attract and retain students,” Flack says.
Based on all these successes, NMU is expanding its use of the IBM Cognos system in the near future. Other departments are set to start using the solution by fall 2009. For example, Career Services will be able to analyze more efficiently where graduating students are landing their first jobs and what salaries they are receiving. This is important data for students as they consider potential future jobs within their reach after graduation.
“That data is very important to our present and potential students and their parents,” Flack says. “They want to know that if they come to Northern Michigan University and study for four years, they’re going to get a good job when they graduate.”
Additionally, based on the value the IBM Cognos system has already created for the university, IT will soon develop an executive dashboard providing the president and vice presidents with quick insight into key performance measures.
While many administrators saw significant benefits early on, the Board of Trustees was impressed when it received a detailed demonstration of the solution’s capabilities at its December 2008 meeting. Regardless of their role, everyone who has used the solution has walked away impressed. Performance management solutions provide higher education institutions with the tools they need to produce great results in a dynamic, competitive environment.
“The biggest benefit is being able to use the solution to get key data into the hands of our management,” Flack concludes. “We have been very successful in giving them the ability to use the IBM Cognos data models. They now have the capacity to analyze data in ways they’ve never had before – all with a few mouse clicks.”
About IBM Cognos BI and Performance Management
IBM Cognos business intelligence (BI) and performance management solutions deliver world-leading enterprise planning, consolidation and BI software, support and services to help companies plan, understand and manage financial and operational performance. IBM Cognos solutions bring together technology, analytical applications, best practices, and a broad network of partners to give customers an open, adaptive and complete performance solution. Over 23,000 customers in more than 135 countries around the world choose IBM Cognos solutions.
For further information or to reach a representative: www.ibm.com/cognos
Products and services used
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