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Who is doing our data laundry?

In EDUCAUSE Review article, CIO Brad Wheeler examines the surge in firms with offers to reformat institutions' data and make it available as dashboards, with trends and models. Wheeler says it is time to ask: Who is doing our data laundry, and why?

By Brad Wheeler
IU vice president for information technology and chief information officer, professor of information systems in IU's Kelley School of Business

We all like to wear clean clothes, but few of us enjoy the chore of doing the laundry. Sorting, washing, drying, folding, ironing, buying soap, and repairing the washer are often viewed as a necessary distraction from how we would prefer to spend our time. Sometimes we let the clothes pile up, and other times the laundry becomes urgent. Some of us dispense with the chore altogether and outsource it to a dry cleaner or hire help.

Similarly, the data at our institutions is piling up and taking on a new urgency for the challenges ahead. Who is or should be doing an institution's data laundry? By data laundry, I am referring to the legitimate process of transforming and repurposing abundant data into timely, insightful, and relevant information for another context. It is a mostly unseen, antecedent process that unlocks data's value and insights for the needs of decision makers. I am not referring to data laundering, which seeks to obscure, remove, or fabricate the provenance of illegally obtained data for nefarious purposes.

At least two forces are motivating an accelerating demand for this process. First, market forces are changing the economics of higher education as financing a college education becomes more of a private good and less of a subsidized public good. Greater transparency of information also fuels increased shopping among colleges and universities by students, parents, donors, and state legislatures as they make choices for educational investments. A second force is the growing belief that computational analyses of big data from colleges and universities will yield formerly unknown insights regarding new efficiencies and effectiveness in the competitive market.

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