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Planning for Executive Information Systems in Higher Education Copyright 1991 CAUSE From _CAUSE/EFFECT_ Volume 14, Number

3, Fall 1991. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its dateappear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and using information resources in higher education. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301, 303-449-4430, e-mail PLANNING FOR EXECUTIVE INFORMATION SYSTEMS IN HIGHER EDUCATION by Allan R. Frank and R. Schuyler Lesher ************************************************************************ Allan R. Frank is a partner in the national technology and operations consulting practice of KPMG Peat Marwick. He is the firm's leading consultant in the design and implementation of executive information and decision support systems. In addition, he directs many of the firm's internal applied research and development activities which focus on the intuitive navigation of large quantities of management data, the application of graphical user interfaces, and client/server architectures. R. Schuyler Lesher is a former partner with KPMG Peat Marwick where he directed a consulting practice providing information technology planning and implementation services to institutions of higher education. He has been affiliated with Nolan, Norton & Co., a division of KPMG Peat Marwick specializing in information technology strategic planning consulting services, and has over fifteen years of experience implementing systems in colleges and universities. He currently is an independent consultant providing information technology strategic planning and implementation services. ************************************************************************ ABSTRACT: This article deals with the importance of Executive Information Systems (EIS) to colleges and universities, and how they can be used to support the education, research, and administrative activities of a higher education enterprise. The authors highlight design techniques and implementation methodologies that have proven successful in EIS development, and point out common problems in implementing these systems. The Executive Information System (EIS), the newest breed of decisionsupport computer application for organizations, could profoundly change the way colleges and universities are managed. Through a combination of graphics, icons, and mainframe data retrieval software, senior and middle management can now track through the mountains of financial, operating, and other data generated throughout the organization. An EIS can make useful "business" information related to academic, research, and operational activity jump out at the senior manager through easy-toaccess electronic pie charts, color-coded exception reports, trend graphs, and internal memos.

More than just an electronic replica of the old-style briefing book and monthly reporting package, an EIS can give the senior executive instantaneous access to millions of pieces of information in a way that is uniquely consistent with the way he or she views the "business." In addition, the very process of building one of these systems can provide useful insights into how and where information spreads across functions and organizations. Though not readily apparent upon first inspection, implementing an EIS can have a profound impact on the focus and methods of an organization by creating a visual lens that allows the viewer to see into the enterprise, its finances, its operations, its level of service, all of its key elements, and management drivers. In the typical college or university, EIS technology has broad applications not only for executive management, but also in support of key operations and functional management including deans, faculty, researchers, administrators, and even data processing directors. Application of this technology can greatly facilitate cost allocation, revenue analysis, program/function reporting, cost accounting, budgeting, strategic planning, performance analysis and management reporting, and quality improvement initiatives. Like the much-talked-about management information system of the 1970s that never materialized, EIS may sound too good to be true, but advances in personal computers, networks, and software have resulted in the birth of an entirely new genre of systems that can turn data into information. To gain an understanding of the capabilities and implications of EIS technology it is necessary to develop a perspective of how these new systems will fit into the "business" context of the enterprise. In this article we focus on the positioning of EIS in a college or university and how it can be used to support the education, research, and administrative activities of a higher education enterprise, rather than on the technical solutions available to meet EIS needs. Though computers have been around for a while, much of the current technology supported by colleges and universities, just as in commercial enterprises, is directed toward administrative operations (budgeting, finance, accounting, etc.). These systems are often transaction and control oriented and, though essential, are not designed to provide the flexibility, ease of use, and breadth of scope necessary to address the needs of senior management. In today's rapidly changing environment, provosts, deans, department heads, and principal investigators, as well as senior administrators, need vital information on student enrollment, high school student demographics, alumni, facilities, research opportunities, and so forth, along with actual and budgeted revenue and expense information. The EIS concept expands the traditional view of data, focusing on the business context needed to make information of value to the decision-maker. This expanded focus is now possible because fundamentally new types of software, database management systems, and presentation graphics hardware are now readily available. Implementing these systems, however, can be treacherous for the uninitiated. The executive suite is the least understood part of any enterprise. The EIS, in most institutions, is the first fully supported computer application for senior management. It must reflect both the management philosophy of the organization and the style(s) of the senior executives involved. In many cases, this will be the first time the senior administrators will be involved in designing a system that they personally will use to support their daily activities. To be successful,

an EIS requires a systems architecture that embodies both a high level of flexibility to support the ever-changing support requirements of the senior executives and a highly structured design for accessing a vast amount of data from across the institution. In this article, we highlight design techniques that have been used effectively to facilitate the understanding and involvement of senior management in defining EIS requirements, and implementation methodologies that have proven successful in developing an EIS. Addressing the higher education enterprise Throughout the 1980s, colleges and universities have undergone tremendous changes. The higher education marketplace has experienced decreased enrollment, increased competition for top quality students, requirements for new programs to meet a changing employment environment and declining demand for older programs, decreased federal and state funding, and external pressures to limit expansion of functions. Like the rest of U.S. business, colleges and universities have had to cut costs, consolidate operations, and focus program offerings. In doing this they have had to redefine their staffing needs, as well as their programs and technology infrastructure. Not to do so could have a serious impact on their abilities to respond to the marketplace and remain competitive into the 1990s. Though higher education has traditionally been paper intensive, new opportunities exist today to leverage advances in computer and image technology to create a paperless environment, increasing productivity and reducing overall costs. Advances in computer graphics, personal computers, and easy-to-use software provide new opportunities to create an electronic window into the institution's student and alumni data, library information, research activity, and financial systems for use by key decision-makers. The traditional paper and information flow of the college or university can be electronically altered to allow direct access by management and/or providers of management information. This process of infrastructure rebuilding can transform the campus into an information-based enterprise of the twenty-first century. In many colleges and universities, such introspection makes apparent the limitations of the existing data processing systems that support management decision-making. These limitations are most pronounced in three areas: 1. information integration--consistency, uniformity, and integration of operating data across the organization; 2. information access--ability to directly access operating information to support decision-making; and 3. information analysis/presentation--provision of end-user automated tools to facilitate the analysis and presentation of management information in a flexible and straightforward manner. In short, management must decide what data should be made accessible to management, where the data should reside for easy access, and what tools must be made available to people who manipulate the data and transform it into useful and presentable information. Information integration Most college and university organizational structures have not

changed very much over the years. Hierarchies created to reflect a command and control strategy now require large numbers of people working together to accomplish specific goals of the institution. However, the hierarchical, command-oriented structures often do not reflect the decentralized operating philosophy of many institutions. Rather, a "network" of organizational relationships, with faculty/researcher working independently, often make up the core of the institutional structure. In this environment individual managers are given responsibility for specific functions or activities--often without the authority to direct others to perform assigned tasks. The manager must function as an overseer to assure others that delegated tasks are performed in a manner consistent with the stated responsibilities of the function. Information is critical to managing in this type of an environment. Unfortunately, human beings have a limited capacity to juggle multiple activities at one time. Span of control was invented to address this issue in hierarchical organizations. In such organizations operating personnel divide up responsibility for the day-to-day running of the institution into separate pieces, i.e., a separate vice president assigned to each major function. These VPs typically have responsibility for academic affairs, research, development, finance, and the like. These VPs then create organizations under them to manage and perform the attendant functions. This further dispersion of management and activities grows like the branches of an upside down tree. The actual work is done by people at the bottom of the hierarchy, with management and control information flowing upward. This hierarchical model is typically applied to maintain control over functions. However, the reasons for a college's or university's existence, teaching and research, often don't operate in this fashion and are not necessarily control oriented. They often operate as a loose confederation of networked operating units, independently performing the teaching and research functions of the institution, with the goal of fostering new ideas and building knowledge within the students, faculty, and researchers. In this very complex world the process of dividing the business into pieces for people to manage and the network of teaching and research functions creates an ever-increasing requirement to integrate information so that at various times the pieces can be reassembled for management decision-making. Figure 1 provides a summary of the six types of information integration required in a typical college or university. The more independent the various components of the institution are, the more difficult the task is to integrate information at both the physical and political levels. Traditional data processing systems in colleges and universities are often designed to get the work done at the bottom of the hierarchy (transaction processing). To support management control, each of these transaction systems must produce critical volume, service, and financial information germane to the person managing the related educational, research, or administrative function. It is usually very difficult, however, to provide automated reporting to management personnel responsible for multiple organizations or functions. Each individual data processing system funnels information upward, but there is no automated process to integrate the information across systems where it can be accessed by individuals whose responsibilities require a greater breadth of view. The higher up in the organizational hierarchy a manager resides, the more difficult the task

becomes to supply her/him with needed information from various crosssections of the enterprise. An EIS is usually expected to address the electronic delivery of pertinent management information that spans the organization. Unfortunately, all too often the campus technology architecture supports neither cross-system data collection nor the electronic delivery of information for access by relatively computer-illiterate management. Information access Figure 2 illustrates why systems within a college or university are sometimes described as a four-level pyramid incorporating transaction systems, control systems, planning/analysis systems, and EIS. Much of the volume and activity of the college or university is generated and collected in the transaction systems (e.g., accounts payable, payroll, equipment inventory, registration, etc.). Summary financial and operating information is fed upward to control systems (e.g., budgeting, general ledger, enrollment management, etc.). Planning and analysis systems are used by academic, research, and administrative functions inside the institution to draw on information from a variety of transaction and control systems for analysis and ultimate reporting to senior management where necessary. Finally, an EIS draws upon critical data from the other levels of the pyramid and presents pertinent information to senior management. At the executive level, most detailed corporate data has been synthesized, integrated, and summarized for consumption. [FIGURE 2 NOT AVAILABLE IN ASCII TEXT VERSION] In most data processing environments, there is no uniform method allowing users throughout the pyramid to readily access data. Many institutions support hundreds of separate databases and files of information. Each one has its own format, method of access, and definition. No overall architectural blueprint exists as to how data from one file flow into another. As a result, it is virtually impossible for a user to directly access the institution-wide information without intervention by technical staff. Though fourth-generation report generation software has been readily available to users, data processing staff in many colleges and universities have been naive in thinking that people will actually master the arcane skills required to instruct a machine to extract data from its stored disk files. Information analysis and presentation Not only does the nature of the underlying systems differ with each level of the pyramid described in Figure 2, but so does the type of management decision-making that must be supported. At the bottom of the pyramid, transaction system processing can be readily prescribed and defined. What the system must do, what reports must be produced, and what functions must be supported can be readily specified. A registration system, for example, processes student course assignments, records and retains historical transaction data, and prepares operational and management reports in a structured manner. Further up the pyramid, planning and analysis systems must support a far more volatile set of requirements. The questions that must be answered from these systems include the following: * What revenue can the institution expect from the anticipated enrollment?

* What effect will market conditions have on program viability? * What are the key cost drivers affecting the bottom line? * Why should the institution enter a particular new market? All of these questions are unstructured. They can arise at any time, and the process of answering them could raise other questions. Since no system can be pre-specified to answer all the questions that can arise from the dynamics of the business, planning and analysis systems must rely on a software architecture that supports a form of ad hoc retrieval, data analysis, and reporting. Finally, at the top of the pyramid, the EIS must support the most unstructured of all decision-making. Few people in the data processing department of a typical college or university understand executive decision-making well enough to develop a system that embodies the information and decision-making requirements of senior management, using traditional technology. Further, executive decision-making must respond to constantly changing external events and an EIS, to be effective, must have the flexibility to adapt to new and rapidly changing demands. Like the planning and analysis system, the EIS requires retrieval capabilities that draw data from many areas of the enterprise. In addition, it must provide an intuitive yet nonlinear method of accessing and presenting information. Though most systems provide paper-reporting capabilities, rarely are easy-to-use data analysis and graphics presentation software integral components of an application directly accessible by management. Designing an EIS An EIS is a computer system designed for use by senior management of the college or university to support their everyday activities, i.e., to make management decisions. It is composed of a high-resolution graphics computer terminal and special software that can access a large database of critical management, financial, and operations data in a manner that requires little or no computer literacy. It is truly a visual window into the institution. The data are fed from various student, financial, human resource, and other transaction systems throughout the college or university to the executive's workstation in such a manner that the executive can use and manipulate the information. Though EIS applications will differ from institution to institution, an EIS architecture encompasses essential common elements which Figure 3 illustrates in generalized terms. As depicted, there are four key components to a comprehensive EIS. Though these components are all technical in nature, each has particular business implications: 1. data pipelines--methods of extracting data from transaction systems to feed a central repository or database for use and access by management personnel or analysts; 2. management database--central repository of management information that is accessible to users and management for retrieval and analysis: 3. hypercube models--specialized multidimensional data models accessible by users and management; and 4. executive workstations--special computer terminals utilizing mouse

technology, high-resolution graphics, and presentation software for use by senior executives. These components may consist of separately purchased and/or constructed pieces of software and hardware, engineered to address the system's operational needs. The designer must continually remember that the objective is to put on the executive's desktop the information he or she needs to perform normal decision-making functions. Specifically, the information must be provided in a manner which allows the flexibility and intuitive operation necessary to support an executive's thinking patterns. The design concept does not involve "rocket science" techniques. What it does require is innovative designers/developers able to use new technical capabilities to address a very unstructured set of user needs. The new tools and techniques available today permit the design and development of systems that can address each of the key operating requirements of an EIS: 1. extracting data from critical transaction and control systems through data pipelines; 2. manipulating data through the use of a management database containing a higher level of detail than is contained in the source transaction systems; 3. analyzing management data by its inherently multidimensional perspectives, represented by a hypercube (a four-dimensional cube) that can be viewed from different perspectives such as value, time, plan versus actual, and program; and 4. delivering the information to the executive's workstation in a manner that allows individuals who have no need or time to learn complex commands or languages to use and understand the functionality of the system. This is accomplished through the use of icons or picture symbols that can be activated through the manipulation of a mouse. The hypercube metaphor is especially powerful in light of the limitations of existing database software. As illustrated in Figure 4, if data could be made accessible as if it were formed into a hypercube, management could be given a software-driven capability to rotate, slice, and cut the data along its four dimensions as if it were a series of stacked spreadsheets. Traditional computer files are structured as records and fields and are, therefore, two-dimensional. To allow the user to reorganize and present the data along any of four dimensions, a significant amount of programming and computer processing is required behind the scenes. In addition, modifications often occur in data needs (e.g., changes in the organizational hierarchy) that may require the traditional database to be restructured or recoded. Fortunately, hypercubes can be built using multidimensional modeling software packages that are readily available today. Although not mutually exclusive of the management database that contains a full repository of historical and prospective data, the unique hypercube data structures contain a duplicate set of data that is directly accessible to management through a special software window. This software visually allows the executive to drill down into thousands of pieces of data with ease, and provides necessary flexibility. This capability can be

developed, along with an integrated set of data pipelines, database management, and executive workstation tools, to support a senior executive's decision-making process. Building an EIS Constructing an EIS is unlike any other system development effort previously undertaken by an organization, and applying traditional systems development methodologies rarely guarantees success. Some of the major factors that can influence the implementation strategy include the following: * Senior management audience. An EIS has the ultimate visibility "up the ladder" since executives use it. When something goes wrong, managing expectations takes on a whole new meaning for data processing and other EIS support staff. * Unstructured requirements. It is often difficult for in-house EIS development staff to have the knowledge and breadth of business experience to specify management information requirements. Also, the time that any senior executive can spend on definition activities is frequently limited. * High degree of micro/mainframe connectivity. In many organizations, the EIS may be the first computer business application to couple the mainframe with a desktop micro and to provide the manager with the aesthetic feel of interacting with data at the personal level. Unfortunately, many colleges and universities do not have an adequate network technology architecture to allow a user to work with multiple computers (micro and mainframe) simultaneously. Although an actual EIS implementation project will require hundreds of discrete tasks, the steps must include the following: * Defining the scope of EIS development. Although all of the organization's strategic and functional management information requirements can be addressed at one time, it is best to select a single target audience forapplication of the initial EIS. It is important to remember that building automated feeds for the source data takes as much time as building everything else. The more initial sources of data, the more work. * Identifying key indicators. This is essentially a process whereby relevant management personnel must provide insights into what are the most significant enterprise measures that should be displayed. These measures might include student/faculty contact time, information technology investment per student, SAT scores for incoming students, tuition revenue per student, and many others. The purpose of this task is to work with the executive to define critical information requirements. Frequently, a series of relatively brief brainstorming, dialogue, and "white-board" sessions are used to guide the manager through the process of self-examination. * Identifying data sources. This task, primarily technical in nature, consists of going on a search-and-locate mission to identify computer file(s) from which the data must come. A data pipeline must be built from each source computer file to the destination management database. In certain cases, the data may not physically reside on a campus computer file, or may reside outside the college or university computers, or in personal spreadsheets or memos. In each of these cases

a means must be devised to load this information into the EIS for automated presentation on the executive workstation if the information is to be accessible. If a cost-effective means is not readily available to incorporate such information, the users must assess the cost/benefit of undertaking the effort to make the information available on the workstation. * Selecting the EIS tool set. The purpose of this task is to evaluate and select alternative EIS vendor products if they don't already exist in-house. There are a number of EIS vendors in the marketplace providing workstation, pipeline, hypercube (multidimensional data management modeling software), database, and presentation capabilities. * Developing a prototype workstation. This task consists of customizing PC workstation software to allow the executive to navigate through the information. These activities include screen design, report and graphics design, menu design, software customization, and testing. * Developing data pipelines. For each source of data, it is necessary to write computer programs that extract the data from the source computer file and translate the data, as required, for entry into the management database. The time and complexity of this task is a function of the number of computer files to access and the lack of uniformity in coding the data across the files (i.e., a value or code means different things in different files). * Developing management database and multidimensional data management models. The purpose of this task is to construct the physical database repository for all data to be accessed by the executive. In addition, any multidimensional models (hypercubes) must also be built. During this task, it is also necessary to address the nature and frequency of updating and maintaining the databases, as well as integrity, security, and backup issues. * Integrating EIS architecture. Since the preceding three implementation steps can be performed in parallel, all the pieces must be pulled together and tested. Data must be extracted from source systems, loaded into the management database and hypercubes, and presented on command on the executive's workstation. * Roll-out EIS. After the system has been tested, must be addressed prior to the executive's using the executive training, user documentation (kept short), network configuration, PC configuration, and ongoing a number of issues system, including technical support, maintenance.

* Providing ongoing EIS support. It is important to understand that the EIS will continue to evolve. Additional scope of data, new screens, and new areas of the institution covered by the EIS will require expanding the capabilities of the workstations as the vice presidents, deans, department heads, faculty members, principal investigators, and others obtain value from the system. Staffing and support services must also be put in place to facilitate expanding the system technically and to provide ongoing problem resolution and support. Though not readily apparent, data extraction, database expansion, workstation enhancement, and roll-out will be performed iteratively after the initial EIS implementation. Referred to as iterative prototyping, this approach is frequently used when the system must be constructed with unstructured or ill-defined requirements. In light of

the audience involved and the nature of the task, iterative prototyping is the recommended method in EIS development. Why are there so few of these systems in operation? Having worked with a number of colleges and universities in addressing EIS issues in various forms, we believe there are three major reasons why there are so few EIS in operation today in colleges and universities. The first reason is that implementing an EIS requires that all the components described must be in place before it will work effectively. Many institutions have portions of the architecture in place today; however, few have implemented all the necessary pieces. Most institutions have effective computerized transaction systems. Many institutions have networks, microcomputer capabilities, micro-based tools, and e-mail. Often, however, the missing links are the management database and the pipelines. In some cases institutions have expended substantial resources in reengineering their transaction systems in an attempt to address EIS issues. However, these efforts seldom address the pipeline and management database issues and, therefore, do not address the issues of flow and analysis of management data. A second reason is that EIS development efforts require substantial participation by senior executives to be successful. Not only is it very difficult to gain access to these individuals, for a variety of reasons, but the old system development methodologies are not effective in involving senior executives in the system development process. Without their participation, an EIS development process cannot be successful. A third reason is that EIS development efforts have not been adequately defined or funded. This is partly a failure of senior executives to fully understand EIS issues and partly the legacy of years of overselling transaction systems as the solution to senior management's information needs. After an institution has invested heavily in its transaction systems with the belief that the systems will meet desired EIS goals, senior officials are unwilling to invest more money in something they thought they were already getting. Institutions must recognize that building the pipelines and the management database is a major undertaking and is in addition to basic transaction systems development efforts. An EIS project team is often given a charge to develop an EIS for the entire institution. With a project defined so broadly, the team gets too involved in overall organizational issues to complete any single portion of the project. It is much more effective to build an EIS in sections focusing on individual executives and/or departments. Further, senior management may not be serious about the project. They may approve a minimum budget to enable the project to exist, but fail to assign full-time resources. They may provide little senior-level participation, or continually rotate key personnel on the project. The project team must be dedicated to the effort and have a specific timeframe to complete the project. Although most effective EIS project teams are small, they must cut across functional disciplines including both technical and user personnel. Further, since the project should have a fixed duration, individuals assigned to the project must feel secure in knowing that, at the conclusion of the project, they will still have a job.

Certainly each individual institution will have to address unique issues in designing and implementing an EIS. However, in a broader context, it is important to recognize that EIS issues are not unique to higher education. The architecture for an EIS is conceptually the same for both universities and corporations. In looking for solutions to EIS issues, colleges and universities should not forget the corporate environment. There are good ideas and/or solutions being developed in the corporate world which may be applicable in the college or university setting. Conclusion An EIS may profoundly alter the nature of management and information flow in an organization. As the first technological advancement that actively fosters the synergy of computers and the senior executive, the EIS is a lever by which management can influence, direct, and control the organization. By providing institutions pathways for information up the corporate ladder, power structures maintained by middle management can be fundamentally altered. Over time, streamlined access to information at all levels in the organizational pyramid will enhance the institution's ability to alter its organizational structure to respond more quickly to needed changes in strategies and tactics. Information is critical to the management process, and EIS is the vehicle that can deliver the information senior executives need to allow their institutions to compete successfully in the educational marketplace. ************************************************************************