Connecting the dots–a look into merging data sets at Ohio State
By: Megan Weyrauch
Ohio State is in the process of building a system to merge multiple student and staff data sets and systems to better understand the student experience through the analysis of the integrated data.
Institutional Research and Planning Director Julie Carpenter-Hubin said that Ohio State presently lacks a unified system to tie its various data sets together.
“The HR data resides in HR and the student data resides in enrollment services,” she said. “You can get to these various data sets but there is not yet a single place where you can go and easily pull data from all of those data sets.”
Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Student Life Dr. Lance Kennedy-Phillips said that there are committees right now that are looking at how the university can connect all of its data.
“We’re a large institution with various data warehouses in various areas of campus,” Kennedy-Phillips said. “We have the infrastructure. We have the data. We just need to figure out how to connect all of the various pieces.”
James Brenza, chief data officer for the Office of the Chief Information Officer, said that while a small portion of the data at Ohio State is already integrated, he is working on building up the infrastructure necessary to integrate all of Ohio State’s data.
In order to merge the data, Brenza said that he is working on building the necessary infrastructure, which includes both a hardware and a software side.
“The hardware side of it, the data warehouse itself became outdated and needs to be replaced, so we are in the process of replacing all of the hardware right now,” Brenza said. “The software aspect of it, then, is how do you pull in all these disparate data sources and get them integrated. So that’s the second piece and the longer ongoing piece.”
Brenza said enough hardware was purchased to cover his teams for the next five years.
“The software side will be an ongoing stream of projects to keep going after piece, after piece, after piece,” he said.
In order to get the different data sets integrated, Brenza said that each piece must be looked at individually and analyzed in a business case, where the return on investment of why you want to integrate that data must be proved.
“Every piece you want to integrate, you have to demonstrate the business case,” Brenza said. “What’s the value of each piece of data? What’s the value of integrating it with other pieces of data? If you were to analyze it, what difference could you make?”
Brenza said that he will have to work with data stewards around the university, including Kennedy-Phillips, to begin integrating the data sets.
Once it is completed, however, Carpenter-Hubin said that she sees a lot of possibilities for the future if this data is integrated.
“I think we see a lot of possibilities but until we have that infrastructure firmly in place it’s going to be hard to do much of anything,” she said. “It’s going to take a little time to connect all of the silos.”
Kennedy-Phillips said that he thinks connecting all of the data would result in a better understanding of the student experience, which could lead to the university providing services to help students succeed.
“I think higher education has an opportunity to really leverage a lot of data that we have to provide better services for our students,” he said. “That is a priority of the institution from my perspective.”