Monday, July 30, 2012

What ConnectUGA is About

One of the more memorable experiences from earlier in my career was sitting with the Director of Human Resources at Texas A&M and hearing her recount a frustrating experience she had had with the IT director managing the University’s payroll system. She and I were talking about a project to better manage the University’s classification and employment records and she was telling me about her need for authoritative data about employees. What she got from the payroll system wasn’t quite what she wanted and certainly was less helpful than expected. When Susan asked the IT director about what some of the data meant he responded by saying “what do you want the data to mean?” And that was one of my first real lessons on why authoritative data is really, really, important.

Most in higher education can recount a similar experience when faced with an inability to get at timely, accurate, and authoritative information when it was needed. Yet, among the same group of individuals, you would never find a single one who could tell you when either they or someone they know made the conscious decision to choose not to have authoritative data. That’s because problems with data management in higher education do not happen because of commitments we make at a more conceptual level, it happens as the sum total of smaller, more isolated decisions that don’t seem to matter much by themselves, but over-time result in untenable situations where institutions are not sure how much timely and accurate data they really have and where it might be. That shortcoming is handicapping higher education at a very critical juncture in its history.

Timely, responsive, and accurate data has never been more important to institutions of higher education. When you look at the challenges institutions face collectively, as well as the challenges each institution faces uniquely, responding to them requires that decision-maker’s have the most relevant, the most timely, and the most authoritative data available to them to inform decision-making. Student information system replacement projects like the one we are now embarking on at UGA – the ConnectUGA project – at their core are really building better capacity for authoritative data.

The challenge with such projects is that it is very easy to get off track and if you are not careful you can end up on a circular path that leads you back to the same exact circumstances that you began with. That’s because technical issues tend to not be the largest drivers behind a lack of authoritative data, it is a symptom of decentralized business practices, too much decision-making by exception instead of policy, and by many times choosing specialization when best practices would have been enough. A project charter that outlines the desired outcomes of the project, the guiding principles that are associated with those outcomes, plus appropriate financial resources and an institutional commitment to stick to it are key if these projects are to avoid the circular path. We are blessed to have all of those things at the University of Georgia.

But as critical as they are, those are not the most important component. In the end, successful projects find that their work was really about people and was much less about the technology itself. The expertise, dedication, loyalty, and creativity of the individuals working on these projects are the reason they succeed. They are the most valuable and important resource that the entire institution possesses. In this regard, we are very blessed at the University of Georgia as well.


  1. Nice post Tim. I know you were writing about the need for clear and authoritative data, but I thought about how IT professionals need to cultivate a clear and authoritative executive presence to support their clear and authoritative data. I'll take great data with bad delivery, but I hope that one day well see the marriage of great data with great executive presence.

  2. Thanks, Hugh. I like your recent blog on this.