Thank you for reading this! For those who know me, you’ll recognize I’m not a writer – so try to imagine listening to me as you read along. I’ve been looking forward to sharing my thoughts, ideas and information – so please continue to revisit this blog on occasion for more insight. Hopefully you find this valuable as you take time away from your day of preparing our youth of tomorrow. Thank you!
To start, my goal is to empower you with information to better refine your district's strategy for improving performance, measurement, safety, and ultimately providing best-in-class experiences for your staff and students.
This post is specifically about data, and how the role of the financial leadership team should play a more prominent role within the school district’s analytical agenda. For this to be of value I need your help with one thing, if you’re in a position of financial leadership, such as a CFO – you need to suspend all previous beliefs for how to leverage your data sets prior to this moment. Come with me on this quick journey!
If we look at today’s current state of education and even your own school district -- there has been a ton of investment in technology. These investments are unlocking new opportunities for financial leaders and expanding their role from fiscal reporting (Score Keeper) to providing insight and analysis to help support the administration and senior managers.
Many school leaders, including you, likely see the opportunities with technology.
As you can see by the stats below, the industry also feels there is an opportunity:
- In 2015, 4 out of the top 10 IT priorities were to advance data privacy and security
- In 2014, venture capital investment in k12 data was up 600%
- Even most states have a state wide systems underway
All this activity is aligned to improve education overall, but unfortunately most of these efforts are not reaching their goals due to two very simple challenges: 1) a functional issue around ownership of the data agenda, and 2) technical.
The image below is an architectural depiction of a school that had asked us to assess the current state of their data strategy. As you can see, like many of your districts, they have continued investing in technology systems, finance systems, student information, assessment, and human resources.
As you can see, the school district has multiple data sources -- of which none were designed to integrate together! Due to the vast amounts of information within each set, districts have purchased data tools to help extract the transactional data into an analytics format. Otherwise known as a “spreadsheet.”
This creates a fractured and departmentalized agenda. Most of the purposed built or department focused tools are complex, expensive, hard to use, and which typically makes them underutilized and available to a small number of users. What if you need cross-functional intelligence?
- Fiscal performance of an academic program
- Information for analyzing technology investments that measures student achievement
- Data to help improve overall attendance
Typically, this data gets exported into a Google or MS Excel spreadsheet – leaving it disconnected from the source systems and now out in the wild ungoverned.
Meanwhile, district data sources keep coming and the opportunity/challenge gets exponentially worse.
So, who owns the analytic agenda in the school?
Based on what I’ve seen across the state, I’ve simplified the analytic agenda role into four parts:
- Steward of value: Most schools have increasing demands, which compete with flat or declining budgets. It’s no surprise, most schools have limited resources to invest in new programs, and so making sure the district investments are meeting their objectives is key. Revisiting previously made decisions is common practice in order to validate district expectations or evaluating new ones.
- Impartial Guardian: become the impartial guardian of the single source of truth (SSOT) as school data increases, maintaining proper common definition of measures, KPIs, and vocabulary is critical. When someone talks about growth, that measurement gets locked into the system so the data has creditability and carries confidence across the organization.
- Compliance and Risk: Data Privacy and Security is the top of mind today with most schools, and it’s because most districts have lost control over their data. Similar to healthcare, personal information can be easy targets for intrusions. The education market is not exempt from these risks with violations embarrassing and expensive.
- Scalability and Access: Lastly, we have to get the district data into the hands of everyone so they can actually use it in an impactful way every day. We can’t continue to create a work-around every time a disconnected or un-governed spreadsheets surfaces.
I truly believe the answer of ownership is within the question every CFO should ask themselves: If your team were to ask you regarding ownership of data compliance and risk; SSOT; impartial guardianship, or access to data, most would probably say the finance department.
I’m greatly appreciative of your time (for reading this) and I’m interested in your feedback or opinion on this topic. Feel free to contact me through the form at the bottom of this page.