How La Trobe University is planning to deliver elevated student experiences through data

Like many organisations today, the tertiary education provider had a data silo problem. We find out how it’s working to find a solution

Universities are data rich, but in comparison to their corporate counterparts, these organisations have been slow to leverage their own assets, according to La Trobe University director of data and analytics, Anthony Perera.

But now La Trobe University wants to change that narrative. When looking to establish the university’s digital strategy, “data became central and recognised as a key asset to help enhance decision making and improve student experience,” Perera told CMO.

So just how much of a problem is data fragmentation? Perera explained as a university with more than 35,000 students, its student journey is orchestrated over multiple applications. This leads to data spread across multiple repositories and datasets, leaving staff without a single view of a record.

“As a result, and across the university, staff were working with disparate data and reporting, often with misaligned business rules that led to a suboptimal result for reporting and analytics,” he said.

It meant the university, like many organisations today, had a common problem: Dreaded data silos. Disparate data affected the university in several ways. It firstly inhibited the group from really understanding the story the data was depicting. It also meant La Trobe spent lots of time debating results and reports rather than solving issues due to the lack of consistency in data.

A solution to consolidate data management efforts and bring consistency to output was required. La Trobe also wanted to develop a new data culture and help support its line-of-business users to better utilise the full picture of its student data. The goal was removing the silos in data wrangling and preparation.

“Overall, we wanted to achieve a single source of truth, not worry about the kind of data we have curated from multiple sources and be able democratise data we can trust,” said Perera. “With a 360-degree view of valid, consistent data that’s fit for business purpose - data that's built on the foundation of collaboration, trust and governance, and can be democratised across the university departments and functions.”

Business readiness over data nirvana

“Like many organisations, the initial aspiration in our implementation journey was to achieve nirvana,” Perera continued. However, the team soon learned this wasn’t a viable option for several reasons. Instead, a more realistic goal of ‘business readiness’ was adopted.

“It was unfair for us, as a project team, to think we could move from zero to hero in the space of months. Instead, we focused our energy on building reusable patterns and processes that we could adopt and build upon, alongside the physical implementation of the software. Data governance is not sexy, but it is a key to building a solid foundation upon which to drive adoption and push toward nirvana,” he said.

La Trobe adopted Informatica Customer 360, a master data management solution to help create a golden record of student data, eliminate data silos, enhance data quality and create a holistic view of trusted data across the organisation.

“We needed a solution that could help consolidate our data management efforts and bring consistency to the output, removing the silos that exist in data wrangling and preparation,” he said.

Thanks to the data platform overhaul, La Trobe has gained the ability to create a 360-degree view of valid, consistent data which can be democratised across the university departments and functions. It’s built on the foundations of collaboration, trust and governance. Perera said the key benefit of a self-service option is the ability for users to get the information they need in real time, just as decisions are being made.

“The whole value proposition for data and analytics teams is to provide information and insights to business users as they need it,” he said. “Self-service and data democratisation plays a huge role in delivering this - and data governance provides the guard rails.”

With a talent squeeze including data analytics professionals, the self-service option is “the key to alleviate those pressures”, he added.

For La Trobe, which has ‘data’ as a foundational pillar of its digital strategy, Informatica’s SaaS offering aligned with both architectural direction and digital strategy. Synthesising student records from multiple sources to create a full view has enabled the university to remove manual overheads and is helping make marketing efforts more efficient.

“Informatica's data governance product was chosen to create trusted data assets, enabling a collaborative approach for the business to participate in co-creating our data assets,” Perera said.

Outcomes and next steps

La Trobe’s goals for the Informatica implementation is to gain trusted, protected data assets enabled through data governance. Perera said the university aspired to promote a data-driven decision-making culture, “and data governance is key to this”.

“Consistent definitions, good data quality and common understanding of how and where the data has been derived from provides assurance to the business users applying the metrics and analytics,” he said.

So far, the University’s completed the design phase of Customer 360 and started implementing Customer 360 covering basic student information. As for next steps, “ultimately the goal is to create a golden record view [360-degree view] of prospective students, applicants and student contacts, to ensure accurate and consistent data are being shared across our organisation,” Perera said.  

“When the project is fully deployed, we’ll use the data generated from the Informatica Customer 360 solution to optimise our communication channels by providing this to our CRM and campaign management systems.”

Long-term, La Trobe wants to hone marketing around a holistic view of the entire student lifecycle. “This in turn allows us to deliver elevated student experiences and enable our students to have a successful academic journey with us,” Perera said. “This underpins La Trobe’s belief in pursuing sustainable practices and innovation.”

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