Data Warehousing – Not Just for Big Business

“Data rich/information poor” described the Broward County (Florida) School’s operational systems prior to receiving a $2 million “Reinventing Education” services grant as part of IBM’s Corporate Philanthropy program. The school district had information in its databases, but educators could not readily access the information. Broward County Schools, the fifth largest school district in the United States, provides education for over 237,000 Kindergarten through 12th grade students with 12,000 teachers as part of its staff of over 24,000 in more than 200 schools.

Phyllis Chasser, Ph.D. Senior Data Warehouse Analyst, Education Technology Services (ETS), School Board of Broward County says, “The purpose of the project was to empower teachers and administrators with the information necessary to make instructional decisions that will enhance and improve student achievement.” The school district was able to generate a wealth of data on its students, but getting information to teachers in a timely fashion was difficult. Using an existing Model 720, ETS could generate the requested report, but it would take at least three, and up to seven, days to get that report to the requesting staff member.

IBM sent in a team to set up a data warehouse running on a Model 730 with 407-gigabyte storage capacity that gives teachers immediate access via the school intranet to up-to-date information. The pilot program involved 150 teachers in three schools, an elementary, middle, and a high school. This proved to be a bit problematic; administrators were not part of the first test group and balked at trying something new. Since the initial rollout the administrators have been the first to be part of each school’s venture into data warehousing.

Nightly student information updates give guidance councilors, teachers and other administrative staff access to information on attendance, test scores, grades, etc. that is only one day old rather than waiting a week for the information. The Brio Enterprise software query tools and a DB2 database helps a teacher locate the up to date information they need to develop a curriculum to meet the educational needs of the students. The data warehouse is also used for personnel data relating to certification and education levels of the teachers, helping administrators assign students to the teacher that can best help them. In addition, maintenance information, requests and work orders can be tracked using the data warehouse.

There are currently 173 schools with access to the data warehouse and the remaining schools are waiting for training programs to be complete. Since the end of 1996 user numbers have increased from 150 to 800 in April 2000 nearly doubling to 1500 as of August 2000. The existing desktop mix is 80 - 85 % Apple Macintosh and 15 - 20 % PC and the district is waiting the arrival of a Macintosh Web version of Brio. Once the data warehouse information is accessible to the Macintosh users as well, Chasser expects interest and user numbers to dramatically increase. A future goal is for a parent, with proper security, to be able to access the data warehouse to find out their child’s test scores, homework assignments, and attendance record.

Broward County opted for a data warehouse solution based on its size and relative needs. A smaller district may not have the resources or the need for a data warehouse. Jane Lockett, IBM National Principal, Public sector says there are several options available for solving a school’s information needs. “First, an information management study, and then a data management study. This could be followed by a data-mining project or an executive information system. From that point you could select an operational data store, a data warehouse, or an enterprise data warehouse with small data marts off of the data warehouse” says Lockett.

Districts not wanting to invest in capital equipment could use an IBM hosted offering called Insight at School, accessible over a secure web connection, to provide information storage and report capability. This service can be up and running in 16 to 20 weeks for an initial cost of around $50,000 plus an annual per student fee of five to seven dollars. This compares favorably to an on-site data warehouse at a cost of $100,000 to over $300,000, plus hardware.