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New software improves access to data, supports decentralized budgeting

The amount of money a school is spending on phone calls, the number of full-time employees and graduate students a department employs, the number of majors in a particular department: all of this data and much more will soon be available with the click of a mouse in schools, colleges, and departments across the University, thanks to new software known as a data warehouse.

The data warehouse package the University has purchased, known as Brio, will enable employees to access elements of data drawn from the University's three main record systems: the Financial Reporting System (FRS), Genesys (the human resources data system), and Thesis (the student records database). It will also produce reports in a variety of formats.

The software will give the University "the capability to access data that we presently don't have," says Fred Maryanski, vice chancellor for academic administration. "It will enable people to perform their jobs more efficiently."

Maryanski says the data warehouse is part of a much broader management information systems project that grew out of the strategic plan, "to develop state-of-the-art systems which provide consistent and easy access to data across the University."

The data warehouse software pulls data from existing databases into a single database that is housed at the UConn Computer Center. The existing systems were not designed with data sharing in mind, but were originally designed to perform a particular task, such as managing students' academic records.

The new system will also be easier to use. "The data warehouse extracts data from operating systems, and offers a user-friendly point-and-click system that allows the user to quickly look at aggregate data," says Malcolm Toedt, executive director of the computer center. "It will enable more people to look at the data, without knowing a particular programming language."

Ultimately the data will include financial, student, and human resources data.

For now, a prototype is under development for financial data that will be made available later this fall to deans. "Initially we are focusing on financial data that will be useful to support deans in managing their budgets under the new decentralized budgeting model," says Bruce DeTora, budget director, who is heading the prototype effort.

Users will be able to extract the information they're interested in, do trend analyses, and relate one element to another, without having to look at the raw data. "The FRS only allows users to look at the account," DeTora says.

The data warehouse is being designed in response to a survey of deans conducted by the management information systems committee. "When we started, we asked the deans what they wanted. The data elements and the reports reflect what they said they wanted," DeTora says.

The prototype has been launched recently with a handful of people who will then train others. The pilot stage will extend to 40 users on campus. Eventually it will be widely available, though privacy and security issues are still being worked out. Toedt says there will be three different levels of access, depending on users' needs and level of expertise.

To date the software has cost $40,000, and it may cost up to $200,000, as the license is extended to a larger number of users. Members of the MIS committee say the cost is a small price to pay, given the expected benefits. Pam Roelfs, director of institutional research, says "The warehouse will provide information that will improve the ability of the University to make good decisions and serve students better."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu