Public Sector / Power BI

Top-ranked, Public University Improves Business Operations with Power BI

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Ensuring the long-term fiscal integrity and resources of a university is integral to the sustainability and viability of any institution. A top-ranked, public university known for innovation is gaining faster, richer operational insights within finance, business, and auxiliary services by harnessing the power of a tailored, expert-led Power BI deployment.

The Challenge

Serving 10's of thousands of student, faculty, and staff, leaders needed to increase workplace efficiency while integrating services in support of teaching, research, and service. While launching new invoicing and general ledger systems, the university wanted to ensure constituents could easily access and analyze data from both new systems as well as from existing systems. They enlisted BlueGranite for Power BI adoption, training, and support for governance and deployment best practices and to create long-term success.

“Power BI was already being used by other departments at the university. Our client was looking to integrate new departments and establish governance and deployment policies that both aligned with previously established standards and allowed them to manage and deploy content to their unique constituents,” says Katy Ghormley, BlueGranite consultant for Modern Business Intelligence. “Project timing was critical: production-ready Power BI solutions were required to help validate and socialize data in new financial systems.”

The Solution

BlueGranite team members supported the university’s Power BI implementation using our Catalyst Framework for Modern BI with three primary objectives:

1. Governance and Deployment – Through partnership with IT, Institutional Research, and finance divisions, a set of guides and documentation was created to support onboarding new divisions into the existing Power BI tenant. Particular emphasis was placed on the approach to content distribution and lifecycle management, as well as On-Premises Data Gateway architecture. These conversations and guides serve as foundational framework for future Power BI adoption at the university. Identifying the roles and responsibilities across the platform creates clear guidance, removing ambiguity around “who does what and when.”

2. Solution Design and Best Practices – BlueGranite team members met with staff from finance, business, and auxiliary services to understand requirements for a new suite of reports spanning several departments and use cases. After thorough conversation and discovery, BlueGranite was able to uncover the need for both reusable and stand-alone datasets. Some datasets required additional row-level security constraints, and some did not. Understanding that “one-size-fits-all” is rarely true, BlueGranite was able to tailor solution designs to meet each unique need.

3. Training for Data Modelers, Report Authors, and Administrators – BlueGranite team members facilitated training for three distinct, yet overlapping audiences: data modelers - those who create Power BI datasets, report authors – those who use those datasets to create reports and visualizations, and administrators – those responsible for maintaining a well-governed environment. These trainings were critical to ensuring the university was prepared to grow the platform footprint and realize successful user adoption.

“We needed to understand the existing Power BI implementation in order to integrate new policies and process,” recalls Katy. “Several collaborative discovery sessions were held with stakeholders across the university to uncover considerations impacting governance, deployment, and solution lifecycle management. From there, we were able to create a governance strategy and training plan to support long-term Power BI adoption success.”

Building on a Firm Foundation

Together, BlueGranite and university team members created a Deployment Guide, Gateway Administration Guide, and several supporting documents related to content creation and management, which will be used as the foundation for future development.

BlueGranite worked with the services divisions to deploy Power BI to replace legacy reporting solutions. The deployment was done concurrently with the roll-out of the information systems to avoid operational disruption.

Quickstart solutions were collaboratively built to:

  • Meet new audit requirements for reconciliation
  • Inventory and track current and historical purchasing cards
  • Track running totals of net contracts leading to university start dates
  • Determine how and where money is being spent based on student residency

BlueGranite collaborated with the service divisions to uncover multiple use cases for each dataset. Following Power BI development and deployment best practices, BlueGranite team members created reusable datasets that can be deployed to the Power BI Service and support several independent reports in what is commonly known as the “hub and spoke approach.” A shared dataset is a data model that is reused across many different reports. These reports can be deployed across different workspaces separately from the parent datasets. This approach reduces proliferation of datasets, minimizes data refresh operations impacting source systems, separates dataset creation responsibilities from report design, and allows low-level security rules to be maintained in few datasets.


PSU Diagram


“Efficiency is key in any solution design, but particularly for a university that is operating on a tightly controlled budget. Uncovering instances where datasets could be reused to answer multiple business questions allows analysts and designers to spend less time tweaking data models, and more time building reports and analyses that increase operational efficiency and support student outcomes,” says Dawn Clement, BlueGranite consultant and industry advisor for Higher Education.

The final step in ensuring university team members were prepared to strike out on their own was to participate in online, instructor led training for data modelers, report authors, and Power BI administrators. Team members participated in four half-day sessions of hands-on lab work addressing dataset, report design, and content deployment fundamentals and best practices. A final half-day session addressing Power BI Administration covered a range of topics from roles and responsibilities, content distribution, data gateway management, and security.

“Wrapping up our project with training really cemented the best practices we discussed in the prior governance and solution design phases. Being able to understand the university’s unique needs allowed us to tailor the training to support their skills, needs, and scenarios. A lot of value came from those trainings – you could almost hear the lightbulbs come on when people were able to use the skills in the labs that we had talked about in the several weeks leading up to it,” remarks Dawn.

The Results

This fast-track support, training, and documentation better prepared stakeholders for immediate and long-term success​ – enabling reporting, analytics, and insights that were not possible before the Power BI deployment. Upon the Power BI Project wrap-up, the executive sponsor and Director of Finance stated “Before you came along, we were just chipping away at it. You helped us set up an environment in which we feel confident moving forward.”

BlueGranite is now gearing up to continue to support the university through a Modern Data Platform implementation using our Catalyst Framework.

Interested in learning more about how BlueGranite accelerates Power BI Deployment and Adoption? Contact us today.



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