Thinking about BI in Education? Want to know more about Business Intelligence programming in Microsoft SQL Server?

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If you’d describe yourself as an ‘end user’ of data, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re the kind of person that is wondering how to bring your different sets of data together to get real insight into some aspect of your school/TAFE/university, then read on. Especially if you’re job title includes the word ‘data’ or ‘developer’, or you think of yourself as a ‘power user’.

The case for using Business Intelligence (BI) in education is growing stronger all the time, as massive amounts of data that could enable individual students to achieve of their potential is being collected and made available from external sources. As it’s in its infancy here in Australia, then the leading edge users are going to need to understand more about the technical intricacies, so that they know what’s possible so that they can become demanding users & buyers.

Book coverThe free ebook ‘Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2’ (wow, mouthful) is aimed at database administrators, data analysts and data programmers – and I think they are the kind of people that are going to start on page 1 and work their way through to page 213.

However, the whole of the second part of the book is specifically about the Business Intelligence -BI – capabilities that are built into the system (really important point here: You get Business Intelligence as part of your Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 – you don’t have to buy an additional BI system from us).

I’ve read across these BI sections to understand what’s valuable reading if you are thinking about BI in education contexts – such as performing complex mixing of school data and learning analysis reports. And I’m wondering if the book is the wrong way around for people like you and I – because the most useful, and technically least challenging, part is Chapter 10.

Where to start from a “BI in Education” point of view

My recommendation is that you take a look at Chapter 10 – about PowerPivot – to understand how you can give self-service BI for principals, senior leaders and teachers/lecturers. And instead of producing reams of reports that tell them things they may want to know, you see if it could help you produce simple spreadsheets that they can manipulate easily, so that they can answer their own questions – and be inspired by being able to dig into their data.

If Chapter 10 is good for you, then perhaps work your way back through Chapter 9 and 7, looking at some of the other facilities added (and stop when it starts to get too complex).

Here’s the full detail on Part 2 of the book – Business Intelligence Development

I’ve listed the chapters in Part 2 in reverse order, because that’s the order you might want to read it.

  • Chapter 10
    Self-Service Analysis with PowerPivot
    PowerPivot is without doubt the unsung hero of the business intelligence system. The reason is that it keeps control of the data in a central place – where it can be secured, cleaned and managed – and it devolves analysis out to users, by giving them a toolset that means that they can dig into data, understanding reports, patterns, and performing ad-hoc analyses in Excel. It means that you can link together multiple data sources, and analyse them simply from one spreadsheet – through the PowerPivot Excel add-in. If you are used to working with any of the usual reporting tools, to create reports and datasets for other users, then PowerPivot will make things much easier – for both you and your users. And because it can bring together data from lots of different sources, it is ideal for the massively fragmented data challenge that exists in education. (For example, it can bring data together from SQL, Oracle, Access, Informix, Sybase and other ODBC databases, as well as from Excel spreadsheets, plain text files, SharePoint lists, and commercial datasets online.
    To the end user, it simply looks like you’ve created a friendly-spreadsheet, with the ability to filter and select different information. In some ways, a bit like a pivot table, but drawn from many sources.
  • Chapter 9
    Reporting Services Enhancements
    This chapter, with Chapter 10, are probably the two that are the most widely useful, as they look at the less technical services available – and help you to understand how you could link the multiple data sources within your institution together. Although these are still written for programmer/IT Services level readers, they do a good job of explaining the kinds of scenarios that the reporting systems in SQL Server 2008 R2 allow – such as having a single reporting system that can collect data from its own SQL database, as well as users’ Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint lists. And report them in tabular, chart or map format.
  • Chapter 8
    Complex Event Processing with StreamInsight
    This is all about aggregating and handling rapid streams of complex data, and acting upon triggers. Although this might be a feature that is used extensively already in university research projects, there are likely to be more scenarios where school education systems are coping with rapid streams of data, as we move to fully online, real-time assessment
  • Chapter 7
    Master Data Services
    This chapter is about the maintenance and organisation of ‘master data’ – the things which tend to be more static (eg students/academics/places) as opposed to transactional data (eg attendance records for each lesson/lecture; assessment marks). Master Data Services is all about creating a Single Point of Truth – the one student identity record or one authoritative source of a student’s address(es)and then sharing that across the applications that need it.
  • Chapter 6
    Scalable Data Warehousing
    Probably not the place to start, as this is principally about massive data appliances, which would only be used at the top-end projects for BI in education (such as university research, or massive scale analysis)

How to get the free ebook

The good news is that the ebook is free, and available in a number of different formats

I guarantee, you’re either going to learn something that you can use yourself, or some important questions to ask potential BI suppliers.


* Mike Henegan, at Calumo (one of our BI partners in education here in Australia), has weighed in with his thoughts on this too – take a look over on his blog.

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