CATEGORY: Data Warehouse Design, Administration & Management

REVIEWER: Tom Bohannon, vice president for institutional research and testing (IRT) for Baylor University.

BACKGROUND: Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas and affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baylor is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state and the largest Baptist university in the world. With more than 13,000 students, Baylor’s nationally recognized academic divisions provide 158 baccalaureate degree programs at the undergraduate level. The university also offers 23 master’s degrees with 65 programs of study, one educational specialist and 15 doctoral degree programs through the graduate school. Baylor also offers the juris doctor degree through the law school and the master of divinity, master of divinity/master of music and doctor of ministry through George W. Truett Theological Seminary.


PROBLEM SOLVED: With data scattered across the university, Baylor wanted to provide usable information to support effective decision making and future planning in a timely fashion. To solve the problem, the department of institutional research and testing (IRT) chose to build a data warehouse and decision support system that would span the university and bring together disparate data to answer previously unanswerable questions. Also, IRT wanted to empower the university’s decision-makers with the ability to pull reports and to perform ad hoc queries and analyses without waiting for IT requests to be filled.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: By providing access to information and by allowing models to demonstrate that information in creative and strategic ways, SAS is enabling better decision making so that Baylor’s scarce resources are put to good use. The SAS data warehouse allows the university to integrate data from several sources relating to recruiting specific students and prospects, tracking when they made contact, what information they had received in the mail, whether they have visited campus and their major interests. It also houses information on students once they enroll in one of the degree programs. Information is fed into Baylor’s enterprise information system to allow decision-makers to evaluate various programs and academic departments as well as information pertaining to applications for scholarships, internships and campus jobs. Instead of isolating information in separate departments and databases, Baylor forms a 360-degree record of individual students, allowing the school to create personalized interactions before admissions, during enrollment and after graduation. Therefore, not only is Baylor enhancing recruitment and retention efforts, it is also compiling an alumni data mart with which the school can develop predictive models to identify potential donors.

STRENGTHS: SAS’ greatest strengths are the exceptional access to information it provides and the decreased turnaround time for generating reports, both of which greatly ease the burden on IT staff. Consequently, reports that used to take days or weeks to produce now take minutes – even seconds – and more people benefit from the information housed in the data warehouse.

WEAKNESSES: If one had to identify a weakness in the product, it would be the ability of a beginning user to produce custom reports. With training and experience these reports can be generated, but for the beginning user producing reports might present a challenge.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Initially, the strategy was to start small and add elements as the project grew. Three requirements were established for the data warehouse project: The system had to be flexible to accommodate a wide variety of users, it had to be easy to use, and installation and maintenance had to be uncomplicated. After evaluating several options, university officials decided to use SAS technology for the data warehouse and to provide access to it through the university intranet. SAS met all three of the access requirements and allowed IRT staff to use existing SAS programs and knowledge. It also made sense to use a SAS data repository because much of the data was already stored in SAS data tables or in other formats accessed by SAS technology, such as DB2 and Oracle.

DELIVERABLES: Because Baylor has numerous transaction processing systems, all using different databases and processes, it had previously been quite difficult to integrate data across those systems and transform it into the knowledge needed for fact-based decision making. With SAS, we have created a data warehouse that reaches into these various information sources and allows us to use models to better understand what is occurring across the entire university. Users, ranging from recruiters to vice presidents and deans, access the data warehouse daily to retrieve information regarding inquiries from prospective students, to estimate enrollment for upcoming semesters, to evaluate graduate and undergraduate programs and academic departments, and to identify areas where more resources are needed.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The relationship between Baylor and SAS is unique and reaches far beyond the typical relationship we have with other vendors. SAS feels they are successful only if we achieve our objectives. Consequently, there exists a true partnership, extending all the way from purchasing products, services and support to the important intangible benefit of knowing SAS employees and having a close, personal interaction with them.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is excellent. In those few cases where we required additional assistance or information, we found the SAS help line to be very helpful.

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