This Northeast state’s University System is also its largest educational enterprise. With annual enrollment of nearly 30,000 students and accessibility provided by multiple campuses located across the state, it positively impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands each year through its educational and cultural offerings, as well as outreach and public service to individuals, businesses, organizations, and policymakers. So, when BlueGranite was offered the opportunity to help with Power BI deployment as the primary data and analytics tool, we could not have been more excited to get on board.
“The University was seeking a partner to provide guidance on Microsoft Power BI implementation across the University System, as well as to provide training on all aspects of Microsoft Power BI administration and governance. This engagement included Discovery and Planning as outlined in our Catalyst Framework for Power BI Adoption, which ultimate led to the decision that Power BI Premium would best fit their needs.” says Josh Crittenden, Pre-Sales Architect at BlueGranite.
Throughout a series of introductory sessions and early pre-engagement activities, BlueGranite was able to help them make the optimal choice of Power BI Architecture. (based on overhead/FTE allocation for administration and support, cost and licensing structure, features and functionality).
“We were able to provide all the information needed to help address security and compliance concerns that ultimately led them towards the selection of Power BI Service and a dedicated Premium Capacity node as opposed to an early favorite – Power BI Report Server on-premises," continues Josh Crittenden. “This level of involvement pre-engagement did come with a longer timeline and delayed start, but we would not have had it any other way, as we wanted to make sure that they are making an educated decision and choosing what would work best for them.”
Enablement and acceleration of data-driven decision-making have become a recurring theme in higher education in recent years. Leadership, faculty, IT, Institutional Research, and other functional departments began working together to understand how the data currently collected and stored can be used to help better resource allocation, curriculum planning, improvement of retention rates, and ultimately the achievement of the ultimate goal: helping more students graduate and prepare them for a brighter future with minimal outstanding financial burden!
Success in the above-mentioned initiatives revolved around being able to provide secure and timely access to a centralized and trustworthy Institutional Data repository while also allowing for flexibility and innovation for decision-makers.
“We are currently in the process of building a set of data marts that may later evolve into a full-fledged data warehouse.” mentions the University System's Manager of Data Systems and Integration Team. “Historically there was no such centralized data repository for analytics and groups from various campuses did manual extracts from Oracle ERP systems and some kept their own solutions.” explains the System's Database Administrator Lead, during our initial project kick-off meeting. ‘"Many had to reach out to third parties that promised to deliver out-of-the-box analytics based on existing data, as we were lacking on tools to do so internally.”
“Indeed, these costly tools provided reports that we are not able to customize or break down to a necessary level of detail to actually make them useful for our advisors and program coordinators." confirms the System's IR Director - Campus-level.
All agreed that they were looking for Power BI as a potential solution to the problem and also as a vehicle for creating repeatable design patterns. They could be deployed and tested by a flagship campus, but then leveraged and adopted by others (in particular, smaller campuses with fewer resources).
Security, Scalability and Performance were key repeating themes in our early conversations, with the System's ERP Director, summarizing it perfectly, “We are looking for the roadmap of things and items that we need to know, to be flexible to continue adding data sources and securely access shared data in the Microsoft Cloud. We need to be able to answer the future questions that we know will come from legal and compliance teams, registrar etc.: Are we doing this right and how can we prove it?”
The primary outcome of the series of initial kick-off, deployment readiness assessments and introductory meetings was a clear set of desired long-term results.
The new platform must be able to support:
For immediate project-level results, BlueGranite was to help:
These early meetings were held in the beginning of February 2020, right before the entire country and world began to shut down and we all had to face the unknown and unprecedented events.
Even though the project kicked off in these most uncertain times, all stakeholders worked tirelessly to adjust to working 100% remotely. “New challenges brought up by the pandemic highlighted the acute need for data and information, they were also primary drivers towards the success of this engagement,” noted Olya Musokhranova, BlueGranite Consultant, who was a Technical Lead on the project.
BlueGranite was able to apply our Catalyst Framework for Power BI Adoption. The Catalyst-driven approach defines key pillars for Power BI Adoption success and provides recommendations tailored to different industries and organizations and their specific needs.
"We started with a series of collaborative deep dives and sessions focusing on Governance Strategy, Architecture and Security, Premium Capacity, and Gateway Configuration and Planning.” continues Olya, "we wanted a deeper understanding of all the requirements and considerations, along with the desired level of administrative overhead and resources available to provide user support and education.”
“Once we were able to define an approach supporting the goals of accurate self-service analysis and distribution of centrally-created content, the team was ready and eager to solidify their Power BI management foundation” recalls Katy. “They could see how a firm foundation based on proven governance practices could propel their analysts toward success. We were amazed how quickly they grasped the concepts and stood ready to apply them to their environment.”
BlueGranite guided the team’s governance process improvement effort in three main areas:
The findings were used to create a series of tailored documentation, highlighting both best practices but also explicitly stating configurations needed to address the requirements for both secure internal and public external reporting. Four guides were created – Governance, Deployment, Security, and Gateway Administration. Clear roles and responsibilities were outlined for all teams involved in implementation and a Power BI Governance Task Force was formed.
BlueGranite developed a multi-phase Deployment Roadmap plan that outlined key priorities, estimated timelines, a staged rollout approach, and helped the Implementation Team to align existing resources and be able to clearly communicate to all stakeholders: what, when, who, and how will Power BI assets be deployed.
After the guides were created, reviewed, and approved, BlueGranite and Implementation team continued working together to set up Enterprise Gateway servers, apply Tenant settings and configure Premium Capacity according to selected workloads
Our team delivered Power BI Training for Administrators to help educate and empower key implementation team members and to ensure that these resources are available should new personnel be onboarded for one of the designated Power BI Administrator Roles.
“We wanted the Power BI Administrators Team to have knowledge of the automation and auditing and monitoring tools available.” says Olya. “Successful governance relies on being able to make sure that all established guidelines are followed and that environment is secure.” BlueGranite provided a set of automation and monitoring scripts and starter report templates that could later expand into a more robust solution.
After a series of discussions and assessments, framework emerged:
BlueGranite helped define clear workspace naming convention, guidelines for distribution (secure via an App or Workspace Viewer role, or public via Publish to Web), data access via defined Row-level security model and dataset level permissions, dataset certification and promotion process, along with guidelines on what content should be residing in Premium Capacity and what can remain in Shared Capacity.
A set of workspace structure diagrams and access roles membership was created to address all potential usage scenarios. Here are a few examples:
IT-Managed end to end
IT and IR co-ownership scenarios
“I was very impressed at how eager and efficient the Implementation Team was,” states Olya. “In less than 3 weeks, the Team used best practices and framework outlined in primary governance documents to build a pilot user-friendly onboarding training. They also set up a SharePoint community site and a structured secure set of team-level document libraries.”
In just a few months, BlueGranite was able to help this State University System create a scalable and secure deployment architecture that will be able to support and foster data-driven decision making by providing access to centralized and trustworthy data, while being flexible enough to empower innovation and curiosity.
Implementation Roadmap planning exercise helped alignment of resources to key priorities, while also highlighting potential gaps that could have been overlooked with a less holistic approach (in particular, desire for additional expertise and support in data modeling and performance-focused design).
"The BlueGranite team took the time to understand the needs of our stakeholders and make recommendations that best suited our goals.” says the University System's Manager of Data Systems and Integration Team.
During the project close-out and reflection meetings, BlueGranite mentioned potential next steps, and interest was expressed in continued collaboration with us via our managed services – on-demand support offer. Paul Poco, our Senior BI Consultant, is now helping with delivery and creation of the first IT-managed centralized datasets to support Financial Reporting.
Interested in learning more about how BlueGranite accelerates Power BI Deployment and Adoption in Higher Education and State and Local Government? Contact us today.