University of Ulster driving better analysis and planning

The University of Ulster, which has 24,000 students, is updating its business intelligence capabilities and simplifying its array of software in that field, to enable it to keep a better track of how it is performing against its own targets.

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The University of Ulster, which has 24,000 students, is updating its business intelligence capabilities and simplifying its array of software in that field, to enable it to keep a better track of how it is performing against its own targets.

The university is also improving forward planning in an attempt to better judge capacity requirements for housing, campuses and facilities, and make good estimates on resource requirements.

Within the realm of business intelligence, the university has begun upgrading from a mixture of Cognos 6, Cognos Impromptu reporting, and Cognos PowerPlay analytical processing software, to Cognos 8. It claimed the latter was cost effective and would enable the university to produce standard format reports for a variety of variables.

UNIVERSITY OF ULSTER - AT A GLANCE

3,500 staff, 24,000 students

Specialisms include IT, biomedics, nanotechnology, business studies, creative industries

Five campus locations and one “virtual campus” for online learning

15 information systems developers

SunGard Operation Data Store reporting software newly implemented

Servers running Sun Solaris (for Cognos 8) and Microsoft software for (Cognos Planning)

Other key enterprise software includes: Oracle Application Server and an Oracle database

The company will also run its recently implemented SunGard Operational Data Store system, which is a database architecture product for higher education institutions. It said that because of SunGard and Cognos’ ongoing vendor collaboration it made sense to run the Cognos technology with the SunGard software.

Cognos dashboard capabilities would enable a clearer view of dropout rates, the percentage of students receiving a good degree result, student retention by course, and expenditure, the university said. Scorecards would help it compare performance against targets.

By January the university aims to be using Cognos 8 to extract initial operational reports on programmes and modules. It will then also evaluate expanding to use SunGard Enterprise Data Warehouse growing for deeper analytical capabilities. In forward planning, the university will employ the Cognos Planning program to test multiple future scenarios with the aim of helping it make sound judgements on investments.

Patrick McLaughlin, database development manager, said that it was impossible to maintain high education standards and attract new students without “an accurate overview of what does and doesn’t work”.

“We wanted to standardise on one single platform to ensure consistent reporting,” he added.

The university also examined solutions from other vendors, but maintained that Cognos 8 was more cost effective and easy to manage - two key challenges.

The institution is also examining a potential mix of Cognos 8 with Oracle’s Discoverer software, which has previously used. McLaughlin claimed this could provide the benefits of Oracle's “ad hoc reporting capabilities” and Cognos systems' ability to deliver "corporate style” analysis.

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