UW News

November 25, 2013

Dashboards to bring culture change in strategic decision-making

News and Information

Years of work on building a system at the University of Washington that will ensure the integrity of key institutional data is paying off.

That work, combined with a new tool for visualizing and analyzing the data and new dashboards for exploring trends, is bringing about a culture change in strategic decision-making at the university.

The keys to this change are the ongoing development of the Enterprise Data Warehouse as the UW’s source of major institutional data, the selection of Tableau as the preferred tool for data visualization, and the release of UW Profiles, a set of Web-based dashboards that provide a dynamic way to explore and analyze basic institutional data.

Tableau presentation of enrollment data

Tableau software makes it possible to present enrollment data visually and interactively.

UW Profiles were created jointly by the Office of Planning & Budgeting and UW Information Technology. They allow users to explore and aggregate data at any level of the institution — university, campus, school, college or department.

“UW Profiles are an important step toward uniform, agreed-upon institutional data and analytics at the University,” said Paul Jenny, vice provost for Planning & Budgeting.

The first release of UW Profiles consists of a series of dashboards on academic data, including enrollment, credit and degree production, student progress, and more. Projected for next year are dashboards on financial information and spending. Activity-based budgeting dashboards will also be produced.

“UW Profiles lowers the barrier to effective decision making,” said Kelli Trosvig, vice president for UW Information Technology and chief information officer. “It offers a broad range of validated information that lets people focus on the meaning and implication of trends.”

“Over time, we think the ease of use of the new tools — based on validated, defined institutional data — will have a major impact on the creation of so-called ‘shadow systems’ for data storage and analysis,” said Anja Canfield-Budde, of the office of information management.

UW Profiles was developed using Tableau, a data visualization tool now available to the UW community. Tableau allows users to create interactive graphics, reports and dashboards more easily than was previously possible.

“Tableau makes it easier and faster to share information,” said Bart Pietrzak, business intelligence solutions architect at UW-IT.  “Under previous systems, a request for a specific report might take six weeks to process. But with this new system, in one six-week period a single individual was able to create multiple dynamic dashboards. A tool such as Tableau is the right one for this job. It allows the analyst to be in charge without having to rely on the expertise of a programmer or coder.”

Tableau creates information online in a way that is easily shared within or across working groups, Pietrzak added. And it’s very easy to change the display as new questions and issues arise in the course of analysis.

Tableau and UW Profiles together can be seen as key tools in a field known as “business intelligence,” a growing trend in the public and private sectors for analyzing masses of data as an aid in strategic decision-making. Tableau for Teaching and Tableau for Students are now available free to faculty for a specific class, and to full-time students. Canfield-Budde expects it will be used in many classes where business intelligence is taught, but also serves any kind of analysis in which visualization of data is important. Tableau is available at a discount for UW staff and research faculty. The UW has the highest number of students taking advantage of Tableau for Students worldwide.