With the abundance of information that is collected and retained in our information systems, the challenge of uncovering and highlighting the most meaningful data often becomes unmanageable and overwhelming. One must know what specific sources to target and how to combine data to create context. Once that data has been obtained, the real trick then becomes distilling and presenting data in a clear view.
University data sets are very similar, in that each captures information about its business, including customer demographics, academic offerings, financial operations, and historical records. What higher education leadership has struggled with over time is having access to tools that allow their teams to view information in new ways. Recent product offerings in the market seem to understand this, and current trends indicate that the presentation of the data is the missing component.
Stand in line at a grocery store checkout, and you'll see rows of magazines related to pop culture, current events, health and fitness, and culinary adventures. With a few minutes to spare, flip through any of the food magazines and eye the beautiful plates and balanced arrangements of the meals featured in this month's issue. The meals aren't necessarily extravagant. In fact, save one or two ingredients, the meals are highlighted for readers in hopes that they may attempt to replicate them in their own kitchens. Often, the recipes are even included alongside the glossy photos.
However, when we prepare the same meal at home for family and friends, seldom does our dish look like the one on the pages of the magazine. Does that mean that our meal tastes any better or worse than the one gracing the current issue of Cook's Illustrated? Probably not. But it's in the presentation of the meal and how the dish is plated that incites our appetites. Ultimately, that is what leaves us with a sense of awe in the finished product.
Like the home chef with a pantry full of herbs and spices, many colleges and universities already have the right ingredients. The difficulty comes in creating a meaningful picture from its data. This undertaking requires time, resources, and the right tools to build a presentation that its administration has been missing.