CIO Review >> Magazine >> December  2013  Education Technology Special issue

Balancing Technological Innovations To Bring About A Change In The Organization


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rajeev Bukralia The ubiquity of information technology has led to the emergence of Big Data, which has the potential to impact everyone’s life. The arrival of Big Data has brought new opportunities to improve education. Big Data is characterized as having high velocity, high variety, high volume, and high complexity. The integration of disparate computer systems on campuses has increased the volume and availability of both user data and computer-generated log data. These data sources can be further combined with data available from external sources and the web. This persistent and voluminous flow of both structured and unstructured data can be used to find meaningful patterns and to create predictive, prescriptive, and optimization models for a variety of problems. In higher education, for example, big data analytics offers solutions to many long-standing academic and business problems. Some examples include using data from the learning management system and the student information system to identify academically at-risk students in real time, providing a more personalized online learning environment based on a student’s learning pace and style, forecasting enrollment, and connecting with prospective students and potential donors with more precision. Big Data has a role in improving scientific research and scholarly pursuits.

Big Data also comes with big challenges. It is often messy and not of the quality needed to build reliable analytics models. Since Big Data is often about people and their behavior, it can pose ethical dilemmas for organizations. Data privacy, data ownership, and data governance are major concerns with Big Data. The limited availability of a trained workforce that knows how to collect, store, and analyze Big Data is another constraint, especially for smaller organizations. The culture of the organization may be a hurdle if it does not integrate data-driven decision making.

As technology leaders, we have the responsibility of carefully balancing the technological innovation with the effective execution of solutions to help support the mission of the organization. It is important to create a Big Data strategy that can identify business problems where Big Data analytics can provide solutions. The strategy should identify all data sources available and should include safeguards to ensure data privacy, security, and integrity. Before we are lured by Big Data as the silver bullet solution, it is important to focus on the problem we are trying to solve or investigate, along with its associated processes and the people who interact with the technology. It is essential to create buy-in within the organization, including with top leaders, before deploying a Big Data solution. Since algorithms for analyzing Big Data are evolving, it is important to cross validate the accuracy of these models with different data sets. When shopping for a Big Data solution, be sure to carefully examine one-size-fits-all products, since each institution is unique in its mission, strategic goals, organizational culture, resources, and the people it serves.