Globally focused and locally engaged, Flinders University has a vision “to become internationally recognised as a world leader in research, an innovator in contemporary education, and the source of Australia’s most enterprising students”. One of the key initiatives supporting the realisation of this vision is the democratisation of the University’s data, making it available to the leadership group to inform and guide their strategic planning and decision making. It has been described by the team at Flinders University as a game changer.
Luke Havelberg, Associate Director, Planning & Analytical Services, led the vision to bring a new self-service capability for insights to the leadership at Flinders University. “We envisaged FLIP being the Google for Flinders staff, an intelligence portal that rolled up all of the University’s relevant data and delivered it via a simple interface – allowing important business questions to be answered.
Luke and his team had already produced a significant amount of work on the new architecture, having moved from Oracle to the Microsoft Azure ecosystem. Using the Azure platform, Databricks and the Power platform enabled the University to pull key data with the express purpose to inform and guide planning and decision making, at scale, with greater rapidity and accuracy. “As you can imagine, we had tons of data on our hands, but the next challenge was in how to make it easier for our customers – both technical and non-technical – to access and make sense of it,” says Luke. “We needed something simple and intuitive.”
The team applied a series of design thinking workshops to arrive at a set of key requirements to move the needle in a short amount of time:
Anthony Paterson, the Analytics Capital Program Lead at the University, who led the technical assessment of the preferred tool to enable FLIP, said they looked at a number of options and that digital dexterity, the ability to exploit both existing and emerging technologies for greater business outcomes, was a factor in searching for the right solution. “Flinders is licensed for Microsoft technologies, so, naturally, we wanted something that could work with what we already had in place.”
The team considered Microsoft’s Home Sites (Modern SharePoint) as a potential option. “SharePoint out-of-the-box has come a long way,” says Anthony. “But we needed something that gave us greater flexibility and control over the UI. That’s when I recalled a LiveTiles event I had attended some months prior: the LiveTiles team had demo-ed one of their products and it occurred to me later that this might fit with what we were trying to achieve.”
The demonstration Anthony had seen at the LiveTiles event was the page designer tool.
The benefit of this tool is that it got around the need for high-end developers by providing configuration over code to its users. The page designer enables quick deployment of portals and dashboards with the consumer-grade design employees have come to also expect from enterprise software. It contains 70+ preconfigured tiles across a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG canvas and gives administrators complete control of the look and feel of the user interface design.
Easy integration of apps like PowerBI and Yammer, the ability to surface content from different systems and an easy installation into their existing Microsoft technologies completed the criteria.
Easy integration of apps like PowerBI and Yammer, the ability to surface content from different systems, as well as include SPFx web parts, and an easy installation into their existing Microsoft technologies met the criteria.
Luke Havelberg’s and Anthony Paterson’s vision around democratising data is a powerful one for the simple reason that leaders and their respective spheres of influence and focus can apply context and action to the data and insights. Equipping and empowering the leadership with relevant data via a simple and intuitive interface positions Flinders University to seize the future with greater assurance than before. Decisions fuelled by data-say, rather than hearsay, reap the rewards of time and cost savings by staying on the bleeding edge of good governance and foresight.
“FLIP has been a hit with our leadership group,” says Luke. “We now have a single source of truth that delivers both generic pages of data and, more specifically, curated data sets that are updated daily – for example, student numbers and revenue projections off the back of that, all of which are now feeding into critical decision-making and planning. Every senior person at Flinders has access to the platform from the Vice-Chancellor down, with access centrally governed by the team to ensure only the right people are seeing the data they should. Data governance is a big focus for us and FLIP enables the team to manage data governance in a consistent and scalable manner. We have also leveraged other features to help accelerate adoption and context via embedded training video content for PowerBI, SharePoint and Teams, as well as Yammer feeds to keep an open dialogue with customers around specific data insights.”
One early use case that stands out post-launch is when a request came from a very senior person in the University for an individually curated suite of dashboards and reports in a private section of FLIP.
The agility of FLIP came to the fore.
“The call came on a Monday,” says Luke. “It went live on the Friday. That’s how quickly we want to move on priorities when we need to.”