5 Reasons Your District Needs a Data Warehouse
In the world of education, we know that the Student Information System is head storage unit for all student data as well as teacher and guardian information. While the SIS holds a lot of information, it does not store all types of data in your district. Districts have many systems that store data – from the SIS and HR systems to Library and Assessment data to Bus systems and more.
We know that every day, many different systems in the district need updated. Student data is constantly in flux, making it difficult to upkeep logins and information in the many different teacher and student facing apps used in a district.
Figuring out how to get the data out of the source systems and into the downstream systems often times feel like scaling Mount Everest, but it does not have to be. A data warehouse is the perfect solution for storing, combining, and organizing the data in your district. From solving common problems like exporting data to building the basis for complex analytics and business intelligence, a data warehouse is a tool most districts don’t realize they can’t live without. Here are some common problems faced by districts every day that can be easily solved by a standardized data warehouse.
1. Custom fields in your SIS don’t work for all data.
Districts are amazing when it comes to using what they have to make it work. Nearly every SIS has custom fields that can be used to extend the storage capacity of your Student Information System. The problem with custom fields is that they have limitations. While adding a few additional fields makes sense, when you need a lot more data about a student custom fields just won’t work. A good case is data that repeats. A custom field cannot store repeatable data properly. Sure, you can add a separator like commas or semi-colons, but issues come when you try to use that data. You would need to apply logic to those fields just to separate the data.
A data warehouse based on a standardized model eliminates the needs of adding data to your SIS that you don’t truly need within the SIS system. When a data warehouse is implemented in your district, the data from the SIS would be gathered into the data warehouse where it can be easily combined with data from other systems. We know this does not eliminate the need for custom fields in your SIS, but it does allow you to use the custom fields to support the data in the SIS and not to add extra data just because you have no other place to store it. When selecting your data warehouse, make sure the system you choose is extendible to hold the data in custom fields in the many different source systems.
2. Getting the data you need in the format you need out of the various source systems isn’t easy. The data also exists in multiple sources, making the data even harder to combine.
Source systems, such your SIS and HR system nearly always have ways to export the data. The problem is that when you need the data, you often times need it in specific formats. To work around the problem, you typically have to export the data to a spreadsheet and then manually manipulate the data until it reaches the desired format. There is also the issue of when the data is stored in different source systems. This means more manual manipulation of data from different spreadsheets. This works okay for one time exports, but what happens when this has to happen weekly or even daily? The amount of time needed to upkeep the spreadsheets is immense.
When a data warehouse is implemented in your district, the data is gathered into a standard structure from the many different source systems – including your SIS, HR, library, and bus systems. This means that you no longer need to use the SIS for exporting data and then manually manipulating files to add other data. You would use the data warehouse for exports, where the data has already been organized and matched. This means your exports would be complete and easily managed. Some data warehouse systems even have ways to automatically export the data via SFTP or Schools Interoperability Framework to the downstream systems so you don’t have to manually export the data at all.
3. Keeping track of user accounts for the many different applications in the district can be an overwhelming task.
In many districts, the need to create user accounts in the many different applications in the district is a big contributor to data exports. Every application – from online textbooks to library software to student classroom applications – require districts to provide basic information about students and teachers in order to create user accounts in the software. The overwhelming majority of these systems require districts to create file exports in specific formats the typically include username and password information.
While some districts have single-sign on implementations, not all districts have invested in SSO yet. For districts that have not setup SSO, synchronizing user accounts and passwords is important. When synchronizing the data, districts will typically want to use Active Directory as the key for usernames and passwords.
A standardized data warehouse will help to solve the issue of data exports, as we have discussed earlier. Some data warehouse systems go a step further to integrate with Active Directory or SSO systems to product exports that include usernames and passwords in a secure manner. If a data warehouse system does support this model, be sure to ask about password security and specific on how the data warehouse interacts with Active Directory or other SSO systems.
4. The process of state reporting is both resource and time consuming.
Every district has to manage reporting to their state agencies. This process usually involves extensive time and energy from several staff members at the district to produce file exports, manually manipulate those files, and verify the data within the files.
A data warehouse helps significantly reduce the time it takes to create the files for state reporting. By having the data stored in one place in an organized and standardized manner, the data can be easily exported so that all a district needs to do is verify the data within the export. Some data warehouses even work with validation software to help districts identify problems in their data quickly and easily. Be certain when selecting you data warehouse that it can easily stay up-to-date with the many source systems so that when reporting times come around, the data in your exports is truly accurate when compared to the source. Real-time data warehousing solutions solve the problem by keeping immediately up-to-date via web services, SIF, or other methodologies to ensure the data is always up-to-date.
5. Gathering data for analytics, business intelligence, and decision making support is nearly impossible without the data organized well and in one place.
From parents to teachers to students to administrators – everyone seems to be looking for analytics to analytics to help identify and solve problems through the use of data. Data is a powerful tool that districts can use, but only if they have a way to unlock the potential in the data.
The only way to truly unlock this potential is to start with accurate, up-to-date, and complete data. Without a data warehouse, this is nearly impossible. While many applications have analytics within the app itself, it still does not tell us much about how the data relates across the board. The data within a district has incredible potential to help students and to understand the areas that districts can improve.
After your district has implemented a data warehouse and possibly a validation solution, your district can choose from nearly any reporting application in the market. If you have a specific reporting application in mind, be sure to ask your data warehouse vendor about what reporting systems they support. Some data warehouses have the capability to support any reporting application through custom data stores. This feature allows the district to expand as new application enter the education marketplace.
All in all, a data warehouse is a vital part of the ecosystem of applications working in your district. A modern educational data warehouse should always ensure that the data stored within it is standardized up-to-date, and complete. This gives the district the freedom to use data for exporting, integration, and analyzation and decision making support.