Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Overachieves With WebFOCUS

Coordinating Board Uses Business Intelligence to Close Reporting Gaps

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) oversees all public post-secondary education in Texas. The THECB works with the legislature, governor, governing boards, higher education institutions, and other entities to efficiently provide the citizens of Texas with the widest access to higher education of the highest quality possible. Since its creation by the Texas legislature in 1965, the board has worked to achieve college education excellence for Texas students.

One of the key functions of THECB is to develop, implement, and evaluate a long-range strategic plan for Texas higher education. For example, the THECB’s “Closing the Gaps by 2015” initiative centers on four goals: increasing student participation, increasing student success, expanding institutional excellence, and increasing research expenditures.

To reach these and other objectives, THECB needed to increase the efficiency of its staff. At the same time, it needed to improve communication and information sharing with external stakeholders. As THECB was migrating from a mainframe to a server-based environment, the agency turned to Information Builders’ WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) platform to enhance information management across and beyond the organization.

Through a series of dashboards, portals, and reports, the agency has transformed the way data is accessed and used, allowing internal and external users to immediately retrieve and review vital details about the state’s higher education community. This has not only improved internal productivity, but also has dramatically enhanced visibility and accountability among colleges and universities statewide.

Sharing Information Across the State

WebFOCUS was initially leveraged to create an outward-facing query and reporting application known as PREP (Profile Reports Electronically Produced). This environment allows agency staff and public external stakeholders – legislators, schools and higher education institutions, state agencies, educators, researchers, businesses, and professional organizations – to access THECB data stored in a large relational SQL Server data warehouse. The warehouse contains approximately 20 years’ worth of information about enrollment and degrees, as well as more than 10 years of information about faculty, classes, and applicants. Other collections are being added to the warehouse, and PREP will be expanded with links into those collections.

PREP data can be accessed online, formatted as reports, and downloaded in various formats such as Microsoft Excel and Adobe PDF.

PREP replaced a legacy mainframe transaction-processing query facility. Although this was an outward-facing environment, only the most recent five years of data were available, and there were limited selection options. Downloads were available, but with minimal labeling.

After the initial PREP deployment, WebFOCUS was leveraged to develop Online Institutional Resumes, a public-facing application that provides pertinent summaries and statistics in a one-page overview for each institution. The pages are customized by audience, and are end-user selected by year and institution.

Creating a More Agile Organization

Using WebFOCUS, THECB created comprehensive dashboards and portals that support a variety of key functions across the organization. Users throughout various departments, as well as members of the board, now have fast, easy access to vital information about accounting and financial activities, cash receipts, auditing, inventory, loan program management, human resources, grant programs, and more. The reporting dashboard for the human resources department provides insight into demographics, turnover analysis, and salaries. Reports for student financial aid, program and educational incentives, and cost sheets are simplifying and improving budget management organization-wide. The majority of agency data resides in MS SQL Server.

Michael Gillett, systems analyst at THECB, claims that the largest productivity gains have been realized by the accounting department, which faced particularly great challenges due to reporting limitations in its enterprise resource planning (ERP) accounting software package. Financial reports were only produced on a monthly basis due to internal processes, which had to be changed to accommodate the need to display financial data daily.

“Using WebFOCUS dashboards, financial reports can now be generated almost instantly,” Gillett states. “The guided ad hoc capabilities within WebFOCUS have helped us avoid the need to build and deploy hundreds of different reports to satisfy the needs of our broad user base. Users can easily select parameters to obtain a customized view of the data to meet their specific needs.

“WebFOCUS has made everyone more efficient. It has significantly increased the speed and ease with which our staff members can access information in our databases by eliminating the need for them to extract data and then move it into another tool. This improved productivity has become a key benefit for us, as we are under increasing pressure to cut costs and make better use of our resources. I don’t think there’s an area of the organization that isn’t using WebFOCUS to support their day-to-day tasks. Once we deployed it, the value was so significant that everyone jumped on board.”

Closing the Gaps

Dashboards built using WebFOCUS are also instrumental in enabling agency administrators to monitor progress towards milestones related to the Closing the Gaps initiative. “The dashboards that Michael has developed, particularly those associated with the agency’s primary objective of ‘Closing the Gaps’, will provide an invaluable resource for board members, legislators, educational institutions, and the public to allow them to assess our success in meeting the higher education participation and success goals identified in this strategy,” said Sidney F. Hodgson, CIO and assistant commissioner, Information Solutions and Services, THECB.

Members of the board can track metrics about students who enroll in college, enrollment growth over time, degrees awarded, and the ratios of college attendees and graduates by ethnicity. “This is one of the most important programs our agency has ever embarked on,” Gillett explains. “WebFOCUS is helping our leaders ensure that critical goals are being met, and that we are on track to reach our ultimate objective – which is to provide a rich and rewarding higher education experience for all Texas residents.”

Much of this information is also available to the public via the agency website, so they can see the progress the agency is making towards its Closing the Gaps goals. Internal business users are currently participating in training classes to learn how to create reports, graphs, and interactive dashboards without IT intervention. This self-sufficiency will help alleviate the workload on the IT department.

“WebFOCUS has been a valuable tool for everyone, from our internal staff to the Texas community,” Gillett concludes. “Thanks to Information Builders, everyone involved in THECB will have the information, tools, and applications they need to continuously enhance the quality of higher education across the state.”