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BI advice from Southampton Solent University

We were fortunate to have a visit from Neil Randall of Southampton Solent University last month.  Neil and his colleague Paul Colbran gave an excellent presentation at this year’s UCISA conference about their experience of setting up an effective BI service.  I invited Neil to visit Edinburgh to explain their approach to our team and to review our proposed BI architecture.

We began the day with Neil reprising his part of the UCISA presentation and discussing several points arising.  We presented our draft architecture, and then we discussed topics including how to structure and manage a BI service, which ETL tools to use, how best to model data, and how to integrate a data warehouse with relationship management (CRM) software. 

We had a very information conversation about “Extract, Transform, Load” (ETL) tools, which load data from source systems into a data warehouse.  Neil recommended we look at file-based tools rather than database-oriented tools.  Without this advice, we probably would have made the opposite decision, just because we are used to working with database systems.  We will now pilot a file-based tool as part of our initial project, before using this experience to inform our tender for a full procurement.

Among all the topics we discussed, sometimes a really small idea stood out as simple and useful.  One such was that Southampton Solent’s team has a logo that they put on reports derived from the data warehouse, to show that these reports are based on trusted data.  Analysts can use the reporting tools on other data as well, but those reports don’t get the logo, so people reading the reports know they may be more speculative.

We all found Neil’s visit interesting and useful, and we are grateful to him for taking the time to visit Edinburgh.

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