By Published On: March 26th, 2021

For many years university leaders have been bombarded with messages about the power of data and the need to invest in data as the new ‘black gold’. What has become apparent through the current pandemic and the resulting operational and financial disruption is the power of data as a crisis management tool.

As part of a series of interviews Cubane conducted with university leaders, we heard a consistent message: that investment in good systems and good data have never paid off more than now. Instead of flying blind, those with the ability to make data available quickly and accurately were much more focused in their decision making for both the short and longer term.

When considering the various aspects that make for a successful response to a major disruption, here are three ways that good data can be crucial.

#1 – Accelerating time to action with local ownership

While a strong central control room is important to manage a disruption, the distributed nature of many university campuses require local leadership to evaluate their on-ground realities and make quick decisions. Good data shared broadly allows management from across the university to take ownership and accountability for managing their own areas through the crises (e.g. good student data allows for rapid and effective student engagement, staff and position data allows quick re-deployment where required).

The UniForum program staff dataset is something that is collected through staff engagement throughout the university thus creating local buy-in. This data can then be shared through various reports with unit leaders to understand how work is being done and how it may need to be shifted to respond.

One major advantage UniForum data brings is being able to redeploy staff to different activities as demands change. This can be done rapidly through the richness of the data showing which functions various roles across the university are focused on, wherever these staff are based.


Figure 1: Identifying roles for redeployment to other pandemic related priorities

#2 – Avoiding a one size fits all approach

Many institutions have been forced to make budget cuts due to direct enrolment shortfalls or due to declining funding from governments faced with significant deficits. In some instances, needing to make large reductions in a short period of time can lead to institutions taking a one size fits all approach with an ask to all departments to reduce spending by 5% as an example. However, this approach tends to penalize units which may already be operating efficiently, or units that may require continued strategic investment even in lean times.

Investing in data which provides clarity on how work is delivered across the institution and tied to how these spend areas are contributing to the core mission, can result in drastically different decision making. For example, knowing that Function X is comparatively more expensive to deliver at your institution in relation to peers, creates a clear area of focus. Conversely, understanding which functions or units are comparatively under-resourced may demonstrate potential areas for investment to increase service stability.


Figure 2: Identifying the top 10 areas of opportunity relative to benchmark

#3 – Creating the case for real change

Although having a good insurance policy for challenging times is crucial, the best preparation is often one of prevention. Institutions that chose to actively invest in redesigning administrative service delivery found themselves much more prepared for a world doing more with less, and rapidly changing service user needs.

As a first step, investing in data which puts up a mirror to the institution about its true state of efficiency and effectiveness creates the moral imperative to change. Proactive decision making allows an institution to transform on its own terms and timelines before that change is forced through a budget crisis.

As part of our interviews with leaders, Cubane heard about the need to have rapid access to near real-time data. To respond to this need we have introduced the new UniForum Progressive Collections which allows institutions to have an up-to-date picture of resourcing across functions throughout the year. This resourcing view can also allow for earlier intervention by identifying trends sooner.

If you are interested in learning more about how the UniForum program can be a key tool in your strategic decision-making toolbox, please contact us here for an introductory conversation.

About the Author: Haseeb Kamal

Haseeb is the Managing Director of Cubane in Canada and has spent over 10 years advising clients in the education sector including K-12 and Higher Education. Prior to joining Cubane, Haseeb was a leader in Deloitte's Higher Education practice working with clients across a wide range of topics including student experience, registrar, finance, and HR process re-design, operating and service delivery model refreshes, IT strategy and business cases. He has worked with numerous colleges and Universities across Canada advising clients at the C-Suite level. In addition to Higher Education, Haseeb has also worked across numerous public sector organizations including municipal, healthcare, justice, and transportation. He also built expertise across multiple advisory and implementation domains including Robotics Process Automation, Enterprise Risk Management, and internal Audit. Haseeb is a qualified Chartered Accountant and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. To contact Haseeb please email [email protected]