DAILY INSIGHT: Database decisions

By Jason Epstein, CIO Advisor

When I was hired as a CIO for the first time, I was not fully aware of what exactly the word “information” encompassed. I knew I would be responsible for school technology, back and front end. I knew I would be working with integration of technology. I knew I would have to support systems that ran on the network; phones, wireless technologies, security applications and, of course, databases.

At my school, we have been analyzing our data and looking at its flow. The IS department is in charge of our main student management system, but along with that, we have databases in many other areas of the school. We have one in our admission office (we are an independent school), we have one in college counseling, we have one in our development office, one in our alumni office, one for our nurses, one for our trainers and several much smaller applications that are fed from data retrieved from our SMS.

When we began looking at the data flow, we also began looking at the policies that we use to ensure data quality. As we delved into the policies, we also began to ask several essential questions:

  1. Who owns the data? In an article by Navin Sharma on the website Information Management, the idea of data ownership is directly tied to data quality.
  2. What is the flow of the data both in and out and who are the “stewards” of this data?

When we began looking at these two questions, we realized we were dealing with a problem all too familiar in schools: the silo effect. A different person or office in our school was managing each database, and each office had different rules/policies that were dictating data quality. This epiphany set us on a path to begin to break down the silo walls and bring our data stewards together.

As CIO, I am working with my department’s database team to be the lead on unifying the stewards. We are starting by drafting out several documents. We will be working on a draft of rules/policies that can be used for all databases in the institution to establish a standard and to add consistency to data. We will also be referencing two charts—one that shows the flow of information from beginning to end with people assigned to each step of the process, and the other to show the path of data accounting for good/inaccurate information while maintaining the same information flow.

In a second article by Fabio Corzo and Malcolm Chisholm on the Information Management website, the idea of Data Owner Driven Master Data Management fits well into the paradigm our school is working with now. In a digital age where information systems impact almost every facet of our schools, and transparency is essential, we are going to give our community first dibs on making sure the data entered is correct. After all, they are the first to know when the information changes.

Both of the aforementioned articles are written with the corporate environment in mind, but each concept can be neatly adapted to a school setting. If we are truly information officers, shouldn’t we be active in the information flow that runs through our school, which will set up our school communities for the greatest success? In particular, this data can increase enrollment, enhance retention, improve marketing, get alumni more connected, give current families information at a more rapid pace and in a more efficient manner, and much more. As CIOs, we have a responsibility to know all the areas of information that we reach; even those that are not necessarily marquee-type systems are in need of our stewardship and care.

Jason Epstein is CIO of Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. This blog is cross posted at teachtalk.