In a recent blog post by Ray Fleming (Microsoft Education Blog), Ray raises the question of using Microsoft SQL Server for Business Intelligence in the education sector, “Thinking about BI in Education? Want to know more about Business Intelligence programming in Microsoft SQL Server?”.
From my experience, it seems that Universities are the only place that I come across where comments are made that Microsoft SQL Server is NOT “Industrial Strength” – usually within the IT department. In most corporate environments, it is generally accepted that SQL Server provides both performance and scalability that is more than comparable with the other databases out there, especially Oracle (which has a strong presence in the Higher Education Sector in Australia).
Over the last couple of months I have attended a number of conferences on Higher Education in Australia and as can be expected, one of the most prevalent themes is inadequate funding and the drop in Overseas Students, which translate into the need to reduce and managing costs. IT costs in Universities are significant, especially the staff and consulting costs. In a number of discussions with University CIOs, they are aware the costs of maintaining a MS SQL Server environment are significantly lower that Oracle, especially from a staff cost perspective.
In addition, there is a much higher availability of skilled staff on the Microsoft platform. In a white paper published by Greg Shanker from Alinean, the cost of administering Oracle its almost 5 x more expensive than SQL. Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle® Database: A Comparative Study on Total Cost of Administration (TCA) http://www.alinean.com/PDFs/Alinean-MicrosoftAndOracleTCAStudy.pdf
The free eBook (how to get it below) Ray blogs about “Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2” is a good read for anyone who needs to understand the capability and scalability of Microsoft’s offering. I would suggest that the Extract from Chapter 6, on Scalable Data Warehousing is used as a preface for all discussions within a University Environment.
From our experience, effective BI in Universities needs to combine the following data sources and structures:
- Financial Data, including projects and commitments (Accounts Payable)
- HR Data for all categories of staff, including award information
- Student Data with EFTSL information as well as course and program revenue
- Student learning systems and resource utilization
- Facilities information, which can expand on the basic space requirement to other factors for sustainability reporting
- Research data
- Alumni and Donations
It doesn’t all have to be delivered on day 1, its more of an incremental approach.
A number of our education clients have varying volumes of data in their current environments, and are generally adding data all the time to obtain more information and provide significant self-service capabilities to their users.