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Data Futures: A software provider perspective

Steve Chambers, Delivery Lead at Tribal discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by the Data Futures programme.

At Tribal, we have been preparing for Data Futures for a number of years. A number of us at the company including myself have been involved since it was the CACHED programme as part of the Higher Education Data and Information Improvement Programme (HEDIIP) and since the first Data Futures software suppliers day.

However, this year is when things 'got real' in my personal view. We have taken a multi-phased approach to development; the first focus area to prepare some parts in advance whilst HESA were getting the data model ready. This gave our users some new tools, but importantly for us, we got user input at an extremely early stage. We then held internal design meetings, and we began development in earnest from January 2018.

We released the first 'drop' of functionality (SITS beta) in May 2018. We have already received a wealth of helpful feedback from our customer base. 

The main challenges we addressed included a shift in mindset, regarding the data model. Initially, quite a few team members were challenged with the fact that certain parts of the model no longer needed to be updated every academic year. It took us a little time to get our head around this; however, once we did it was full steam ahead. 

Empowering providers to be more data-driven, and to spread data capability throughout their organisations

The other challenge we had was that although a large portion of the HE sector use SITS, they all have variances in how they run their system, operationally, and our new HESA reporting approach needed to accommodate that variance.  

Ahead of this project we agreed with our user community that we needed to establish a Data Futures user group that would fit in with the rest of our user group community. This group had representation from many of our provider clients, and have been great to work with. We have been running for quite a while now. Alongside the user group, the SITS community at large have been pivotal in building the solution.

We published our data model interpretation in early 2018 and got a lot of useful feedback from providers. We felt very fortunate to have such an engaging and collaborative user community, and quite simply, the solution built would not have been possible without their input.  

The opportunities we see from the Data Futures programme lie in empowering providers to be more data-driven, and to spread data capability throughout their organisations. We recognised early on that whilst some providers will want to use technology to lessen their reporting burden, other providers will want to keep to their existing approach and activity.  

The next steps for us will be to add more and more of the Data Futures entities as the beta phase progresses, so that providers will be in a strong position when the mandatory trial submission begins. Our colleagues in [SITS] Professional Services are also bolstering their training offering and supporting providers with the required business change to ensure that they can be prepared. We’re also going to keep the high level of engagement we have with our user community, as we’ve still got a lot of work to do.  


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