Interview with Vice-Rector for Information Technologies in Education of the SPbSPU A.V. Rechinsky, the magazine "CNews", September 22, 2010

How to create an analytical center in high school: the experience of RAMEK



We are used to hear about the application of BI-systems in retail, banks, insurance companies. But the problems of higher educational institutions in collecting and consolidating data are not much different from the problems of any large organization. The St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University has become one of the pioneers of Russian education, which applies in his daily work an analytical system. The project was implemented in cooperation with RAMEK.



A.V. Rechinsky

As in many Russian universities, in the SPbSPU there are over a dozen information systems, each of which is responsible for implementing a certain area of the educational process. Although these systems were created at different times on different technological platforms, by the efforts of various developers, according to the opinion of the high school management, they are coping well with their tasks: attending reception of applicants, carrying out the exams, supervising of research and development. But the fragmentation of the accounting systems has not allowed to receive complete and accurate information about every aspect of the university.

 "Our Western colleagues use analytical systems everywhere – from the prediction of students' progress to control updating the library collection," – says Alexander Rechinsky, Vice-Rector for information technologies and education of the SPbSPU. "Everybody has embarked on the path of the search of "the single version of truth" the same way: first, merged the data, sorted, found inconsistencies and then, based on clean data, created functional analytic applications."



Goal – the reliability and availability



Before the introduction of analytic system, the preparing of the reporting documentation on the work of the high school, necessary both to the management and heads of structural divisions of learning and education quality control, was done by the Management of informational technology.

The greatest difficulty in the preparing was caused by unusual customer requests. To perform such a request, the IT professionals had to write unique SQL-queries to several databases of accounting systems and the preparation of analytical information could take up to several weeks – depending on the amount of data required. The results were received by the users in the form of files MS Excel, so when they had to drill some data, the Office of Information Technology received the next request.


The analytical system of the SPbSPU has got two tasks. First, consolidate data and ensure their reliability. Secondly, it was necessary to create tools to access the analytical data so that each university employee, regardless of his level of technical training could quickly and efficiently access the required information.

In late 2009, the company RAMEK in collaboration with the Office of Information Technology, of the St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University launched a project to create an information-analytical system.



ACT – flexible solutions and cost minimization



Being one of the leading Russian technical universities, the SPbSPU is actively using the software with the open code – both for information systems, providing training activities, and for the management of organizational processes. Therefore, when choosing a technology platform for the project were considered not only the proprietary solutions, but the ACT, among which the solution was chosen, which is used by many foreign high schools and research centers – Pentaho BI Suite.

"In favor of an open platform, there were two considerations. First, it gives the flexibility to adapt the solution. A large number of ready libraries in conjunction with the popular development platform allow us to improve the system without involving the provider. Secondly, during the pilot project, we were able to verify the effectiveness of the solution without significant financial cost that would have been inevitable in case of commercial products", –
Mr. Rechinsky explained.

To implement the project in the SPbSPU, the platform Pentaho BI Suite was located and refined by expert integrator. For the version that is being developed by the community, additional tools were created for the design of dashboards, preparing of the documentation for the system.



From pilot project – to the result



The pilot project of BI-systems had, rather, research tasks. It was necessary to determine the general line of development of the solutions, on the example of several object areas: create a structure data repository and describe the subject areas in terms of analytical measurements, determine the method of operation of the system, prove the effectiveness and convenience of the solutions to end users.


As the subject areas for the pilot project were chosen several areas, the most significant for the university: human resources and training of scientific personnel of higher qualification (postgraduate, doctoral, dissertation councils). Indicators for these subject areas are also key to calculate the ranking position of high school, passage by an educational institution of state certification and are considered a guarantee of the high quality education.

For these subject areas there was determined the structure of analytic repository, ETL- procedures prepared for the transfer of data from accounting systems to the sources, elaborated data marts and OLAP-cubes. The solution of these problems was done by the tools included in the package of Pentaho BI Suite, which ensured to the customer the unity analytical environment.


Functions of reporting preparation provide to every employee who needs analytical information, the tools for self-creation of analytical reports. Different instruments are proposed for the users with different level of technical and analytical knowledge.

The management of the university needs to see key performance indicators of the university as a whole, their dynamics, to predict the development of the situation in the coming academic year. The personal of the units required other tools. It is not a secret that education is one of the most heavily regulated industries, and the documentation, provided to higher authorities, is constantly changing. As a result of the project of the university staff was able to automatically generate both standard (routine) reports, and adjusted forms, where the user can choose himself the data for the analyses.



In early 2010, the SPbSPU has received the status of a national research university of Russia. That means that the institution must confirm the effectiveness of educational and scientific innovation, to maintain the momentum of development and human potential. New challenges and point of application came out for the analytical system. Now, with the support of RAMEK, the connection to the system of new subject areas for the control of research and analysis of scientific publications of the university is going on.


"I am confident that in the initial stages of implementing, an educational institution needs the support and expertise of a strong partner who understands the specifics of the university, knows our processes. It is a pledge to achieve the result which we had planned. But we can not always depend on a vendor of the solutions: our employees took over the experiences of working with analytical platform. Over the next year the system will be fully transferred to the support of the Office of Information Technology of the SPbSPU, – Alexander Rechinsky says.



Towards a comprehensive automation



Already during the pilot operation the system proved its effectiveness: there were found gaps and discrepancies in data from different sources. Their adjustment has greatly increased the reliability of stored data, providing the management of the high school one more tool for making decisions.

The specialists of the IT service of the organization got a new tool for operational reporting on non-standard requests, and users – access to shared data. Before the introduction of an analytic system each unit employee had access only to data of the database with which he worked directly.

Assessing the benefits of working with a common information base and having the opportunity to review the quality of data available, the university management has decided to transfer a number of functional IP on a new sole platform. As in the case of the analytical system, the introduction will be phased, starting with a pilot zone.

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