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September 17, 2015

Technology Corner: Business intelligence is growing at Pitt




Last month CSSD hosted the second meeting of Pitt’s business intelligence practice group.  More than 120 staff and administrators from across the Pittsburgh campus attended in person, and staff from the regional campuses viewed a live stream broadcast. Attendance was nearly double that of the first meeting.

Pitt clearly is excited to be talking about business intelligence. But what exactly is business intelligence?

Business intelligence, or BI, is a catchall term for using data and analytics to improve outcomes across an organization. It can be thought of as a set of tools or a complete discipline that can be practiced at any level in the organization. At Pitt, business intelligence is practiced every day by staff and executives in schools and business units. CSSD’s BI group, Pitt’s centralized business intelligence team, provides tools and resources to support BI efforts throughout the University.

Benefits of centralized business intelligence

Across higher education, senior leadership turns to centralized business intelligence to utilize data and analytics so they can provide better services for students and improve operational efficiencies. As a centralized business intelligence team, CSSD’s BI group can identify and build reporting tools for broad use across the University.

Several projects will come online this fall to provide new visual approaches to accessing key University data.

The primary investigator (PI) dashboard will leverage PRISM’s general ledger data to let faculty researchers view their grant budgets and expenditures and also search transactions through a simple interface.

The admissions dashboard will use application data from PeopleSoft, the student information system, to provide University leaders with a daily visual picture of Pitt applications and admissions. It also will allow people to dig deeper into the data, organizing applicants by residency, demographics and other factors and showing trends in those factors over time.

While these dashboards will provide useful standard views of University data, there also is a need for more flexibility and customization in the way Pitt’s users consume data. For this reason, CSSD’s BI group is piloting personal dashboards, which will give users the ability to select from a library of standard reporting and analytics widgets or to create their own. The personal dashboards can provide key performance indicators for senior leadership and operational data for staff, with data aligning exactly across dashboards.

From descriptive to predictive

The admissions, PI and personal dashboards will provide new ways to view descriptive analytics about activity at Pitt.  CSSD’s BI team also is working to use all of the data available in the University Data Warehouse for predictive analytics, with a data scientist on board to develop predictive models of degrees to be conferred, grant dollars to be awarded and student retention. These types of analyses are made possible when advanced data science techniques are paired with a data warehouse rich in many different kinds of data.

The University Data Warehouse is the key to trustworthy descriptive analytics and useful predictive analytics — and also to the prescriptive analytics on the horizon. CSSD’s BI group already is partnering with units such as Student Affairs and Panther Central to bring more data sources into the University Data Warehouse, where they can be joined to other University data to create dashboards, reporting tools and advanced analytics applications.

The University Data Warehouse grows more powerful and more useful to the University with each new contributing system.

Business intelligence practice group

At institutions such as Pitt, the University of Michigan and Purdue, business intelligence practice groups provide individuals with knowledge and tools. Effective use of institutional data requires an informed base of users to take advantage of the analytics, dashboards and database query resources provided by the central business intelligence team.

Pitt’s business intelligence practice group is intended to allow members to:

— Learn how others are using data in their school or business unit;
— Share successes and challenges in supporting data driven decision making; and
— Develop professional networks by meeting others in the University with similar skills and responsibilities.

The meetings of Pitt’s business intelligence practice group already have provided a wealth of insight to its members and to the CSSD team.  At the first meeting, CSSD’s BI team outlined its strategy and vision for the future of data and analytics at Pitt while group members shared the challenges they face and identified support they would like to receive.

Representatives from other central business units fielded questions from users, leading to the type of cross-unit discussion and knowledge-sharing the group was designed to facilitate. At that first meeting, practice group members asked for more transparency and information regarding the University Data Warehouse. That set the agenda for the second meeting, which focused on the data sources and structure of the University Data Warehouse.

CSSD’s BI team has created a SharePoint site for members of the BI practice group in order to continue the conversation via a simple discussion platform.  This site also provides an opportunity for users to review documentation, find training links and weigh in on future additions and features of the University Data Warehouse.

If you’d like to know more about the University Data Warehouse, the CSSD BI team, or if you’re interested in joining the BI practice group, contact Bill Rupp ( or me (

Chad Burton is co-director of CSSD’s BI group.

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