A Lesson In Data Warehousing
A consultant's data warehousing solution allows the Florida Department of Education to track performance of individuals, programs, and school districts.
Remember when your teacher warned you about information that could go on your "permanent record"? With the assistance of DMR Consulting (www.dmr.ca) (Montreal and Edison, NJ), a Fujitsu Company, the Florida Department of Education is not only maintaining a permanent digital file, but also using that data to objectively evaluate everything from the effect of curricula on student performance to the performance of a school district. In the 2000-2001 school year alone, Florida spent almost $6.5 billion on K-12 education. Officials turned to a data warehousing solution to be sure that evaluation of program effectiveness was based on facts, not politics.
In late November of 2000, DMR Consulting responded to a detailed statement of work from the Department with a plan for how existing data and incoming data could be migrated into a central data warehouse that would allow modeling and queries. The response from Florida was a request for a solution with an even wider scope and a reworking of the price. By December 26, Bernard Sevigny, VP business intelligence North America, was in Florida pitching the beefed up solution. A deal was struck before the end of the year. With competition from IBM, Accenture, and KPMG, Paul Tremblay, DMR Consulting's head of the community of practice for business intelligence, feels that what set DMR Consulting apart was the practical nature of the proposal and 200 successful data warehousing implementations.
Assure Data Quality Before It Gets To The Warehouse
Using DataStage XE, an ETL (extract, transform, load) tool from Ascential Software (Westborough, MA), DMR Consulting integrates and centralizes data from a mainframe system and other sources. Ascential's Data Quality Manager is used to assure that data is clean before it enters the system. As much of the process as possible has been automated so that transformation and cleansing are seamless to the user. With a metadata solution and business rules in place, data entry workers also see context when looking at a field, which heightens the quality of incoming data.
The data warehouse is so comprehensive that it encompasses information about students from the time they enter the public school system until the time they leave, even if they obtain a doctorate from the state university. By performing queries and testing various data models, the IT staff at the Department of Education can obtain information about individual students, trace the effect that certain courses or programs have on one student or a specific group of students, or even evaluate teacher performance. This allows administrations to objectively see the outcome of a specific program or recognize a particular school district for excellence. The solution is also designed to provide individual feedback regarding employability and job placement after students complete their formal education.
Educators Learning Value of BI
Temblay says that there is growing interest in BI among school districts. The move to client/server applications has encouraged officials to try to get more value from data, but there is also a growing trend toward "customer service" in the public sector. Florida plans to make individualized information available to parents and students via the Internet. It also intends to depersonalize information in the data warehouse, so that students will have access to all information, better allowing them to gauge personal performance.
This created an interesting challenge for DMR Consulting which had to design a system that allowed full access while still maintaining high security standards. Because Social Security numbers are used for so many other activities, students are given distinct ID numbers.
Another challenge was the time frame during which the project was to be implemented. The $2.8 million first phase, architecture and report prototypes, was completed within 6 months. DMR Consulting has an option for up to five years of development as subsets of data are added incrementally. User training runs concurrent with the implementation. Tremblay says that the company sets specific "checkpoints" at which they verify that they are sharing the appropriate knowledge points, tools, and methods. In the case of Florida, where a fairly knowledgeable IT staff exists, they are confident that upon completion the onsite staff will be able to handle day-to-day needs. Where there is no IT staff, DMR Consulting offers management and maintenance services.
Tremblay emphasizes that this kind of solution is a good foundation for any strategic system in any vertical. "I know the hype right now is CRM," says Tremblay. "But in every engagement we have been involved in, success is dependent on the quality of the data you have."Questions about this article? E-mail the author at JackieM@corrypub.com.