Regional Management Information Systems: Impact Analysis
There were many staff roles affected by the introduction of the MIS, both the earlier system FEMIS and the later one, NICIS. New responsibilities in using FEMIS were created, for data collection and entry, for report production and for maintaining the system. Existing college roles, in teaching and middle management in particular, changed to create and include the use of FEMIS outputs as elements of decision making processes.
The technology platform on which FEMIS ran pre-dated the graphical user interface (GUI) approach that is commonplace today. Users wanting to extract data from FEMIS were required to write a database query (often referred to as a script). Many staff were provided with a training to help them develop these skills. However, for the many staff with administrative skills and almost no technical expertise, this training was not sufficient and they were unable to successfully query the database to obtain the data they needed. FEMIS was vastly underutilised for this reason. At that time, colleges did not realise that they needed to employ staff with a different skills set to extract the information. This type of person needed to have both the technical knowledge of using operating systems and also the in depth knowledge of the database to extract the information required.
By the time the NICIS system was launched, the software was GUI-based and was more focused on easier access to data for the many potential staff users. One would have expected a welcome for this new system and a drive for access to it. However, many staff were still feeling the effects of their unsatisfactory experiences of FEMIS and their willingness to embrace the NICIS system was severely diminished.
The NICIS system was marked by the provision of a centralised support service that was created to provide advice and guidance for all of Northern Ireland’s colleges. As part of the system installation they provided each college with 2 x 4 day blocks of training, focusing in particular on data collection and entry, and on using some of the pre-defined reports.
Significant amongst such reports were returns for government, to establish enrolment-based funding. With funding strictly based on data in colleges’ MIS, it was essential that such data be absolutely accurate and complete, otherwise funding claims could under represent funding due, or, if government auditors found over claiming, funding would potentially need to be returned. Staff who were closely involved in managing and using NICIS believe that this was an area where staff development did not meet the Colleges’ requirements. Specifically, they didn’t receive sufficient training in analysing and developing robust business processes to produce the highest quality of that most precious commodity, curriculum and learner data.
Questioning the quality of its data output, many senior staff lost faith in the MIS. This loss of faith was compounded by a commonly held view of a significant imbalance between the effort required to feed MIS and the value of return from it. With the focus on producing MIS reports for government, many senior staff were not sufficiently aware of the huge potential for using the data held for a wide range of uses in their everyday job. There were the pre-defined reports, but these were limited in number and scope.
The merger of the 2 colleges brought together 2 MIS teams, with a senior manager from one of the colleges, bringing an in depth knowledge of the NICIS system. This knowledge spanned the MIS data structures and the technical skills to extract data that could add strength to decision making in addition to an understanding of the College and its Curriculum. Realising the gaps in confidence and knowledge David put together a series of staff development activities to address these two issues. His approach was to:
· Put processes in place to strengthen data collection and entry and validation processes
· Train senior staff on how to use reports that the MIS produces, focusing on the relevance of the data contained therein and how it could be used to support their decision making
· Further train senior staff and Heads of Schools on skills which enabled them to drill down into the MIS data, extracting more meaning from it and creating more valuable data to improve decision making.
David’s approach involved training for groups of colleagues, supplemented with one-to-one support where required with a focus upon both how to access the information and how it could be used in the management role.
This programme of staff development has been rolled out over a relatively short recent period, approximately 1 year. Its success is confirmed in the greatly increased use by management of MIS in their everyday work. Senior staff and middle managers are generally comfortable about making decisions based on the output from the system. If there have a query about the data David takes the time to provide sufficient cross-referencing to reassure them of its veracity.
The approach taken to resolve problems with the MIS have worked to date. Lack of faith in MIS has been overcome by not only having accurate data but also showing its veracity. Lack of appreciation of how the data could be used has been remedied by demonstration and working through examples. The MIS imbalance between consumption and production has been adjusted, with an increase in perceived value of MIS. David believes that this process in MIS staff development may take some time to permeate to lecturer and course team level but this tried and tested process should ensure that MIS is used to its optimum in the organisation.
In simple terms if you prove to staff that the data is accurate, show them the benefits of using it then they will do so. Getting staff buy-in to using the data is also a significant element in ensuring its accuracy.
Case Study Process
The exercise of undertaking this case study has been very enlightening in a number of ways:
· As a record for all staff in the merged college, NWRC, of the challenging journey in deploying a complex college tool, and its arrival as a welcome and necessary management resource
· As a guide to those contemplating implementation of such a comprehensive system, in particular highlighting the fundamental necessity for project planning to consider of the implications for business processes and staff roles in reaching a successful implementation.
As all educational establishments who are part of the JISC family use some form of MIS it might be beneficial if JISC were to do further case studies on implementations of MIS and report on key challenges and key success factors. This would leave a valuable resource for future MIS implementations so that the pain of undertaking this complex task would be balanced by the advantages to the institution of a system that adds great value to management decision making.