“Institutional reporting is difficult,” says Scott Flory, director of Data Management for IData, Inc. “It’s been difficult for decades. It’s very difficult for people to get the answers they need out of the system.” Making institutional reporting easier, Flory says, comes down to cultivating a good reporting environment. Of course, that can be easier said than done.

When an institution is struggling with the efficacy of its reporting processes—i.e. data is difficult to retrieve, difficult to interpret, difficult to rely on—one common solution is to change reporting tools. But while reliable reporting software is certainly critical, Flory says it’s “not the whole picture.” Unless you also improve the data governance practices alongside your reporting tools, he says, the same problems are likely to persist.

Data governance has a variety of definitions, but when it comes to institutional reporting, it is generally used to refer to the documentation, procedures, and terminology that support the reporting process. When implemented and maintained correctly, good data governance habits can create a reporting environment that is supportive and intuitive—regardless of the institution’s size, structure, or software.

When looking to implement new data governance practices, you want a structure that does three things: captures organizational memory, standardizes workflows, and validates reporting terminology. With those three needs addressed, reporting becomes much more straightforward.

Capture Your Organizational Memory

One of the key benefits to good data governance is the ability to capture organizational memory. By having a system in place to document—in as much detail as possible—the procedures for performing common reporting tasks, you can start to build an institutional knowledge base. Say you have one member of your reporting staff who’s been there for 20 years and knows the ins and outs of the entire reporting process—having a centralized, organized knowledge base makes it easy for that wealth of knowledge to be accessible to the entire organization—including new hires—and not limited to just one reporting veteran.

A good knowledge base should be designed with upkeep in mind. It’s not enough to just capture a snapshot of what your reporting processes look like at a particular time. You also want a system that is easy to maintain and contribute to over time, so it stays current as your reporting needs evolve.

Standardize Your Reporting Workflow

Another aspect of good data governance is defining a clear workflow structure. Establishing a system for submitting report requests, tracking report status, and facilitating communication between the requester and the report generator can bypass many of the frustrations that arise. By keeping a record of who requested what report when, you can eliminate any uncertainty about who the responsible parties are and how that report should come together, next time it’s requested.

Keep in mind that a workflow solution should integrate well with your knowledge base so that any procedural decisions can be easily recorded and preserved going forward.

Validate Your Term Definitions

The last—and arguably most important—element of data governance is making sure that your knowledge base includes a data dictionary that comprises detailed definitions for every term on every report you run. Since reports are generated for so many different purposes, using a variety of different standards, a given term may not mean the same thing from one report to the next (e.g. FTE on one report is not necessarily calculated the same as FTE on another).

It’s also important to have your definitions validated by the people who know the most about the terms. The process of building your data dictionary should include appointing data stewards, people who will be responsible for writing, editing, and approving the term definitions relevant to their functional area. By appointing content experts as your data stewards, you can ensure the definitions in your data dictionary are as accurate as possible.

The most powerful thing data governance can do for your institution is eliminate confusion. By recording detailed term definitions for every report, you can specify exactly which data points should be included (and how those data points are calculated). This will vastly improve the clarity and the reliability of the reports your institution produces.

What building a good reporting environment comes down to in the end, says Flory, is the answer to the following: “When people look at the data, do they understand it the way it’s meant to be understood? Do they trust that the data is what it says it is?” With good data governance habits, the answer to those questions is much, much more likely to be yes.

How has data governance changed the reporting environment at your institution? Let us know, in the comments section below.

[message_box title=”About IData” color=”blue”]Evisions is proud to have IData as a partner. We encourage you to visit their website for information about their data governance tools, in particular the DataCookbook, a data dictionary solution designed to make good data governance habits easier than ever.[/message_box]

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